press enter to search

Keeping Betawi cuisine alive

News Desk
News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, March 12, 2018 | 08:43 am
Keeping Betawi cuisine alive

A bowl of soto Betawi. (JP/Bangkit Jaya Putra)

As a native Betawi, Fachrul Zain felt a responsibility to keep his roots alive.

He resigned from his office job in January and decided to develop his family’s Betawi culinary business.

“[Betawi] cuisine is not only about the taste, but also about the feeling while both cooking and eating it. Most Betawi foods are known [by a sense of] togetherness, brought by the energy of the cooks,” said the resident of Condet, East Jakarta.

“In my family, my mother has always been the main energy source that brings all her seven children and 10 grandchildren to gather to enjoy her amazing Betawi dishes,” the 38-year-old added.

Fachrul named several Betawi traditional dishes her mother, Hajah Nena, 65, often makes, such as sayur godog (unripe papaya soup), opor ayam (chicken stewed in coconut milk), semur jengkol (dogfruit stew) and asinan (Betawi-style vegetable salad with peanut sauce).

“My mother has been catering for Betawi families’ events since I was a child. Now I want to make the business more professional,” he said.

On Friday, Fachrul — accompanied by his wife, both dressed in traditional Betawi clothing — served their customers in a Betawi culinary bazaar held at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Central Jakarta.

Not so far from Fachrul’s stand, Yusuf was busy stirring Betawi dodol(traditional sticky candy) in a huge copper wok, while his friend, Ridwan, interacted with several customers who had just tasted their dodol.

“I’m quite content just knowing people still like the taste of Betawi dodol,” said Fachrul.

Unlike dodol from other places in Indonesia, Betawi dodol has its own special charm. “It tastes savory because it contains more coconut milk. Give it a try,” he said.

The dodol business is owned by Rizal, also a Betawi, who lives in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta.

He inherited the business from his parents. Yusuf has been Rizal’s employee for three years.

Rizal has his own strategy in marketing his products, Yusuf added, which is by bringing the huge woks to every culinary bazaar, Betawi cultural event and car-free day in Jl. Sudirman, Central Jakarta, in which they set up a stand.

“It’s funny and challenging when youngsters, who mostly have no idea whatdodol is, come over. They’d ask general questions like ‘What are you making?’, ‘What are the ingredients?’ and ‘Can I try stirring?’” the 31-year-old said.

“I always feel like I’m doing a noble job, preserving my ancestors’ traditional cuisine,” he added.

While Fachrul and Yusuf are true Betawi men by blood, Noeke Noerhanny has her own romanticism with Betawi cuisine. 

Noeke was helped by her daughter, Cyprine Arudhipta Dewayani, to sell jamu(herbal drink), bir pletok (Betawi herb-and-spice-based beverage) and buburase (rice porridge topped with asinan and beef stew).

Noeke, who was born and raised in Malang, East Java, decided to move to the capital in 1967 and live in Menteng, Central Jakarta. Her early life in the city had allowed her to taste various Betawi dishes and fall in love with them.

“By the time my husband passed away in 1995, I started my career as a cook to survive. I made and modified several Betawi dishes then sold them to my neighbors,” she said.

“The first time I ate bubur ase was from my friend’s Betawi [late] mother. When I asked her to try my [first attempt at] bubur ase, she was suddenly in tears saying that the taste was identical to the one her mother used to make. That was the moment I got the confidence to sell it to other people,” the 70-year-old added.

Noeke, who labels her products Njonjah Menteng (Menteng Lady), however, is more famous for her jamu. She was the State Palace’s official jamu supplier for countless official state events during the reign of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Sooner or later, I will have to pass on my talent [of cooking] along with the [traditional food and beverage] business to my daughter,” she said, noting that she expected her daughter to also learn how to cook traditional cuisines of other ethnic groups in Indonesia. (vla)