Gudeg (jackfruit stewed in coconut milk) is an everyday dish for people living in Yogyakarta. Visitors to the city will usually go and search for the signature dish to satiate their palates or simply to put an end to their curiosity.
I was among those people who took gudeg for granted, eating it without realizing the arduous cooking process. I spent four years studying in Yogyakarta and often had this dish for breakfast or dinner. Gudeg komplit (gudeg with various side dishes) would be considered a lavish dinner for a poor student like me.
All grown up, I thought it was the right time for me to learn how to cook gudeg properly. For me, it was like a mission considering that this is a culinary heritage and my favorite dish. Searching for a mentor. I connected with Ibu Hartati, who has been making gudeg since 1982.
Hartati, now 61, used to have a successful restaurant business in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, where she built her own restaurant and opened a number of branches in different locations, including in a shopping mall. The business enabled her to send her three children to college.
As the business grew, she invested in a property business only to be cheated by her business partner. Her culinary business collapsed and the bank seized her house. She later moved to her late husband’s house in Yogyakarta, where she intended to start anew.
The grandmother of six is currently busy renovating the house, which is located next to the tourist-filled area of Water Castle on Jl. Taman in Patehan subdistrict, Kraton district. She plans to open a café in her house once the renovation is complete.
“It hurts to recall the memories of my success in Banjarmasin. I wonder if I can repeat the same success here, but I want to give it a try,” she told The Jakarta Post.
Her children are her biggest fans. The eldest one, Wiwied, said she believes in her mother’s cooking and will make all possible efforts to rebuild the business for her.
“We do everything to make mom happy,” she said.
Learning gudeg from Hartati requires effort, as I am not related to her at all. Her past business experience also made her more careful in making a decision to teach me her recipe, which has not been passed down even to her children.
After numerous calls and agreeing to various conditions, she finally welcomed me in her kitchen, where we cooked gudeg komplit. A recipe for gudeg can actually be found by searching on Google, but it was the long process and some details that make her gudeg special.
She never forgets to wash all ingredients to make sure that they are clean. She also dutifully follows the traditional process of using charcoal because she believes it produces stronger heat than gas stoves.
Hartati uses all Indonesian herbs and ingredients to make gudeg, which include: jackfruits, shallots, garlic, palm sugar, bay leaves, galangal, candlenut, coriander, bone ribs and coconut water.
“The bone ribs will make gudeg more delicious,” she said.
She put all the ingredients along with boiled duck eggs that had been peeled, tofu and tempeh in a big pot while I was struggling to make fire in a traditional charcoal anglo (brazier) by means of matches, newspaper and used cooking oil. The ingredients in the big pot were boiled for over six hours until the fire let down.
We also made gudeg side dishes like ayam, tahu and tempe bacem (chicken, tofu and soybean cake cooked in palm sugar) and sambal (chili sauce).
On the second day, I woke up early to light the charcoal brazier again. This time, the coconut milk and water that filled the big pot had been reduced to two thirds its starting amount. The delicious and sweet aroma of gudeg invaded my nostrils as I opened the pot cover.
“It now has a nice brown color and is actually ready to be served. This is called gudeg basah (wet gudeg). We have to dry it up to make gudeg kering (dry gudeg), which can last to three days,” Hartati said.
She gave some tips for heating up dry gudeg. Never adds water to the gudeg. Just heat it on a pan or steam it without adding anything.
On the third day, she moved gudeg that is almost dry in a big pan and heated it on a gas stove. I stirred the gudeg slowly for almost an hour, sweating as if I was inside a sauna. We also made krecek made from crispy buffalo skin, cow peas, shallots, garlic, red chili, lime leaf and bay leaf.
I invited two friends to come over and have lunch at the house.
“It’s very delicious. I think it’s even more delicious than the one in Yu Djum,” my friend Melly said, referring to a famous gudeg stall in the city.
She continued to ask how long it took to cook it. Her eyes grew big and she slowed down her spoon movement to enjoy the last of the gudeg on her plate after hearing that it took three days to make.
I sent a package of gudeg komplit to a friend in Jakarta and brought some home for myself. The gudeg was still delicious two days later. Mission accomplished.
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