Stevie Emilia, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon
Cirebon is popularly known as ""Shrimp City"", and sampling a wide range of tasty seafood is a must when visiting the city.
The good news is that there is no limit to your options, starting out with sidewalk food stalls offering bargains for grilled shrimp, fish or crab. If money is no object, there are also several restaurants that serve delicious seafood.
One of the best known restaurants in town, maybe the oldest one too, is Maxim's Seafood on Jl. Syarief Abdurrachman (better know as Jl. Bahagia), Nos.45-47 (Tel: 0231-208045).
Set up in 1979, the family-run restaurant is located in the busy shopping area not far from Kasepuhan Palace.
From the outside, the restaurant is unassuming. If you do not happen to see the glass painting of a blue fish on one of its windows, or read the sign outside, it looks like the house of a wealthy person. Inside, the decor is minimal, no fancy table settings or decorations. But the restaurant, which is open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., is always busy, especially during weekends.
""Although we've been in the business for over 20 years, we still consider ourselves to be just like roadside vendors. For us, taste is everything, though our service and atmosphere may not be star-rated,"" said the restaurant's operational manager, Herry Subrata.
The food is indeed delicious. Kepiting soka (fried crab covered in flour and served with sauce) is perfect, not too greasy it tasted just right, while the seafood tofu sapo (hot pot) is a stimulating dish, spicy without being too fiery.
""The secret is fresh ingredients. We only use fresh produce and strictly control our ingredients,"" Herry said.
Prices are generally reasonable, although some famous pricey Chinese dishes, such as shark's fin soup (Rp 75,000) and abalone served with ""special"" sauce (Rp 400,000), are available.
Apart from seafood, Cirebon has its own special dishes that should be tried during a visit.
Most popular are nasi jamblang (steamed rice wrapped in a leaf and served with an array of side dishes of your choices), nasi lengko (steamed rice served with small pieces of fried tempeh, tofu, peanut sauce and usually served alongside goat satay), empal gentong (spicy meat soup served with rice cake or steamed rice) and sate kalong (it literally means bat satay but it's actually beef!).
There are plenty of eateries serving the popular food but the renowned ones are usually named after those who run the businesses or the place where they are located, and their names have become well known.
For instance, the most sought-after nasi jamblang is served at the eatery once owned by the late Mang (Sir) Dul. Apart from the site in the busy Gunungsari area near Grage shopping mall, it has also opened several outlets at major shopping centers.
A popular nasi lengko eatery is the one on Jl. Pagongan, known as Nasi Lengko Pagongan, and the popular empal gentong run by the late Mang Darma.
According to Mang Dul's son Mas Mustofa, who is now running the family business, they have been hired to cater for official meetings or wedding ceremonies as far away as Jakarta.
""In this outlet alone, we make a profit of between Rp 5 million and Rp 6 million a day,"" Mustofa said, of the Gunungsari outlet.
It is not easy getting a taste of nasi jamblang. You have to get up early. At the Gunungsari outlet, the food is served from 5 a.m. until all the food is consumed. On working days, all the food is gone by about 1 p.m., while on weekends, it disappears by 10 a.m.
And don't expect a cool atmosphere like in most restaurants. There is no fancy menu and the seating arrangements are simple with only tables and benches, on which you might find yourself seated next to a stranger. But, you can choose your favorite food and pay before you leave. When paying (cash only), each customer only has to mention what they have consumed and the cashier will calculate the total price.
The food on offer is amazingly cheap, between Rp 300 to Rp 2,500 for each dish (although in branches at shopping malls, the prices might be a bit more expensive). The choice of side dishes includes fried tempeh, fried tofu, fried egg, potato satay, semur hati (stewed liver), semur daging (stewed meat), sambal goreng (fried chili), pepes jamur (steamed mushroom cooked in banana leaves), pepes kerang (steamed clams cooked in banana leaves). All of them are served right out of the kitchen.
""We plan to open more outlets soon,"" Mustafa said.
If you don't feel seafood or traditional food is to your taste, Padang restaurant Sinar Budi, on Jl. Pasuketan near Hero supermarket and a new one on Jl. Siliwangi near the train station, might serve what you need.
As with the tradition at Padang restaurants, the food will be swiftly served in front of you. It is spicy without being overpowering. The selection includes various kinds of curry -- beef, chicken, fish and goat -- oxtail soup, grilled chicken, dendeng balado (dried beef in chili), the most popular Padang food rendang (beef stewed in coconut milk and spices), and a little twist, pepes hati (chicken livers steamed in banana leaves).
The food comes at affordable prices, at no more than Rp 50,000 for two, including fruit juices.