Diet has a strong relationship with food culture and changes in it are likely to be involved in the pathogenesis of newly emergent degenerative diseases. To obtain in-depth opinions about the food culture of Minangkabau people, focus group discussions were conducted in a Minangkabau region, represented by four villages in West Sumatra, Indonesia, from January to March 1999. The members of the discussion groups were principally women aged from 35 to 82 years old. Minangkabau culture is matriarchal and matrilineal which accounts for female gender dominants in the discussions. Rice, fish, coconut and chilli are the basic ingredients of the Minangkabau meals. Meat, especially beef and chicken, is mainly prepared for special occasions; pork is not halal and therefore not eaten by Muslim Minangkabau people; and for reasons of taste preference and availability, lamb, goat and wild game are rarely eaten. However, rendang, a popular meat dish, has been identified as one of the Minangkabau food culture characteristic dishes. Vegetables are consumed daily. Fruit is mainly seasonal, although certain kinds of fruit, such as banana, papaya and citrus, can be found all year around. Coconut has an important role in Minangkabau food culture and is the main source of dietary fat. While almost all food items consumed by the Minangkabau can be cooked with coconut milk, fried food with coconut oil is considered to be a daily basic food. Desiccated coconut is also used as a food ingredient on about a weekly basis and in snack foods almost every day. Although there have been no changes in food preparation and there is a slight difference in taste preference between the young and the old generations, there has been a dramatic shift in food preferences, which is reflected in the changing percentage of energy consumed over the past 15 years. The traditional combination of rice, fish and coconut in Minangkabau culture goes back hundreds of years, long before the emergence of the degenerative diseases of the newer economies, and is likely to offer food security and health protection to the Minangkabau for as long as the lifestyle remains traditional. Whether or not a recent increase in energy intake from fat and the quality of fat may contribute to the shift of disease pattern is fundamentally important for the Minangkabau, it seems unlikely the traditional use of coconut and its products was a health issue. Moreover, it was clear from the focus group discussions that the use of coconut encouraged the consumption of fish and vegetables.