The Cuisine of Madura: Java

Once, when watching the kerapan sapi, traditional bull racing in a small Madura village, I remember the bulls coming nearer and nearer, their steaming nostrils and reddish eyes promising impending doom. It seemed they were heading right for us. Thank goodness a matador interceded it and saved our skin.
I told a friend from Pamekasan this story. She advised me to cherish the memory of the racing bulls, but more so Madura’s food as Indonesia’s top gastronome and epicurean el supremo, Suryatini N. Ganie, explains.

Madura deserves an honorable place on the archipelago’s culinary map. Soto Ayam Madura, for example, is already a common item on oversees Indonesian restaurant menus.

However, it was the charging bulls that truly aroused my curiosity.

I wondered how they were kept so fit and looked so strong given that they are relatively small compared to bulls in a Spanish corrida.

My Pamekasan friend told me how the bulls were treated like kings. They would be bathed two or three times a day to keep clean, fed one kilogram of hen’s eggs daily, increasing to two kilograms when races drew near.

The eggs are mixed with a glass of pure honey and a bottle of soda water and wine. The soda water serves to quench thirst, while the eggs, honey and wine give strength.

On the day of the races, the bulls are fed one kg of mashed cabai rawit, tiny chilies, which are also massaged onto their hind quarters to convince them to keep on running.

And all that is just for the racing bulls. For spectators and guests to the house of the champion bull owner, there is a typical Madurese rice plate called nasi jhajhan.

Nasi jhajhan consists of rice supported by an array of dishes, including fish or squid with curry, a soupy dish of local spinach, salted fish, eggs in fermented shrimp sauce and thinly sliced beef filetts.

Our hostess at the fight also served a blackish looking drink called cendol celeng, which was made from black colored rice flour balls in a cold, sweet, thin, coconut sauce.

“I forgot to tell you”, my friend said as we were presented with the cendol celeng, “we like black. In food it is fascinating and mysterious.”

The color is obtained by sifting finely stamped grilled dry rice straws, which are then added to the food by the teaspoon as required.