Yogyakarta Cuisine: Central Java

I will be traveling throughout Indonesia, at least in the culinary sense, and have a taste of the very diverse kitchens of the different provinces. Though signs of global warming are also very much noted in Indonesia, food still remains one of the main needs of man. Let us be optimistic, and have some palate-pleasing dishes to taste, and or at least to read about what kind of dishes the locals prefer as Indonesia’s leading gastronome, Suryanti N. Ganie, explains.

Let me begin with Yogyakarta, hub of Javanese culture and founded by one of the most renowned dynasties of Central Java which began in 1755, when Prince Mangkubumi took the title of Hamengkubuwono I, after the Treaty of Gijanti arbitrated by the Dutch and by which the Kingdom of Mataram was divided into the Sultanate of Surakarta and the Sultanate of Yogyakarta.

From succession to succession, the sultans of Yogyakarta have been keen about what their people consume and they often taste the results of the able cooks of the royal household when using local produce.

I remember my grandmother enthusiastically telling us grandchildren about the making of the court’s apem, a leavened pancake from rice meal and brown sugar made by several women to be served at certain events.

Mixing the batter was hard work because of the giant size of the apem. This kind of apem is still made today to commemorate the demise of a beloved one and a coin is put into the center of it. Why a coin? “Just to furnish the deceased with money in the hereafter,” Grandma answered much to our surprise, because we knew that after the commemoration rituals we got some of the apem and we ate it with gusto! And the coin? Gone with the wind because of so many small hands around.

Another famous dish which was very much liked by the members of the court was gudeg. This is a rural delicacy made from young nangka (jackfruit), accompanied by side dishes like sambal goreng krecek, a spicy curry made of ox or water buffalo skin, moist opor ayam, a white chicken curry, and pindang telur, hard-boiled eggs cooked with guava leaves and shallot skins and topped with a thick dollop of coconut cream called areh.

Using the abundance of teak trees in the environment, the gudeg clay cooking pot is closed with some teak leaves giving a dark reddish brown color to the jackfruit pieces in the pot.

Gudeg can be enjoyed at any time of the day, from early morning to late evenings.

The eating style is lesehan, where guests sit cross-legged on the floor on mats as they do on Malioboro, the main street in Yogyakarta. The aristocrats also encouraged people to set up early mornings stalls of breakfast fare and many other foods in their spacious front yards.

The saying goes that the best gudeg is made and sold by a former servant of the palace who set up a gudeg stall on Wijilan, leaning on one of the pillars that forms the entrance to the palace.

Many sultans were noted for their cooking skills and some delicious results of their activities in the culinary field became set dishes in the palace. Sultan Hamengkubowono IX, our second vice president, was one of them.

Some traditional Chinese snacks have become renowned “Yogya” snacks. The bakpia pathuk for example, a sweet, mashed, mung bean paste-filled, Chinese delicacy made in Pathuk, a Yogyakarta suburb, is now sold throughout Indonesia.

After the last terrible earthquake, when business seemed to be destroyed forever, many a food outlet became active again thanks to members of the younger generation of the court who gave moral support and helped revive old customs, redesigning the presentation and packaging of food and thus creating a very active living again.

Visit Yogyakarta, please, be adventurous, and enjoy its local foods.