Jakarta is a city that many heads to for all sorts of business and leisure purposes. It has come a long way since I first visited in the 80s. They now have an underground MRT system that actually takes you to places you should go. Makan wise, it is a vast city and makan hotspots abound, but it’s often inconvenient to get to due to the traffic snarl, especially at peak hours. Increasingly, more are also headed to the ancient city of Yogyakarta, the only city with an officially recognised monarchy and a Sultan. This is the place with an international airport and has more than the famed Borobudur temple to offer. Just look at the creative energies of the young with their ways via the creative city art and graffiti, funky cafes, concerts, street jazz buskers, the “lesehan” culture (where they sit on the floor to makan). Culinary icons abound, like Bakpia Pathok, a sort of Chinese style tau sa pia, and also Sate Klatak, a goat meat satay that uses a hot steel skewer. And of course, there’s Gudeg, arguably the most famous dish from Yogyakarta.
RM Soto Betawi, Senen Market, Jl. St. Senen, RT.18/RW.4, Senen, Kec. Senen, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota (side lane food stalls) from 9am till sold out daily
If the only soto you are familiar with is soto ayam, then you have to make more makan trips to Indonesia, the land of soto. There’s Soto Makassar, Soto Lambongan, Soto Padang, Soto Tongseng, Soto Rawon, Opor Ayam and I am just scratching the surface. Soto Betawi (beef soup) which hails from Jakarta is a local icon. Many folks I know and those who recognise me, pointed me this way to this little stall in a market. I have had more than my fair share of Soto Betawis and this one takes the cake. It came beefy rich, enhanced with fresh coconut milk and chunks of soft stewed beef. You take it further with spoons of chilli and a splash of sweet soy sauce or kicap manis. The bits of greens and tomato with belinjo crackers over it are insanely well paired toppings. You can order chicken or beef or even have it without coconut milk, but I rather the richness anytime, as there are other beef based soups that use no milk, like Sup Buntut (oxtail soup).
Gudeg Mercon, street booth along Jalan Asem Gede (no 8), Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 9pm till sold out daily
The main profile in this dish is the sweetish, spicy and umami laden stew made with young jackfruit core. That soft and comforting topping over rice is amazingly moreish but the main action here is the chilli sambal and they call it “mercon” as in fireworks (you’ve been warned). A delivery scooter heads to this street side food shrine at 8.45pm each night and the boss, Ibu Tinah, all dolled up and stern looking, lays the 8 items on the street food platform and the queue magically forms. They pick from a selection of stewed and fried chicken, greens, stewed beef skin, braised egg, tofu, lamb satay, beef and even soft stewed chicken feet. Over fluffy rice, this is Yogyakarta on a plate. You sit “lesehan” style on the floor across the street, barefoot and laid with mats, in true street food fashion. The queue can get 50 thick on weekends and it’s best to go early at 8.30pm to minimise the wait.