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Jakarta Post

Tracing the path of '€˜gudeg'€™

  • Arif Suryobuwono

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, July 4, 2014   /  02:14 pm
Tracing the path of '€˜gudeg'€™ Secret recipe: Ingredients for making gudeg komplit (jackfruit stewed in coconut milk with side dishes). (JP/Indah Setiawati)" border="0" height="400" width="597">Secret recipe: Ingredients for making gudeg komplit (jackfruit stewed in coconut milk with side dishes). (JP/Indah Setiawati)

Gudeg, jackfruit stewed in coconut milk, is said to have originally been intended to provide a quick source of carbohydrates to palace soldiers in Yogyakarta.

It probably explains why it has to be sweet and dry, to make it last longer. It may also explain why gudeg — being rank-and-file food — is not on offer at Bale Raos, a restaurant featuring Yogyakarta Palace royal food within the Palace’s compound.

A source says that dry, longer-lasting gudeg was introduced for travelers who had to journey for hours to get home. Still, another source says the original gudeg was made from young, tender coconut flowers known as manggar in Javanese.

However, it is said that no new bunch of flowers will ever emerge from the spot where its predecessor was cut. So, supplies are quite limited, which is why people switched to young jackfruit, and occassionally to bamboo shots to make gudeg.

Due to the limited supply, gudeg manggar is usually reserved for special occasions and royal celebrations.

But this is not strictly true. Although young jackfruit is more readily available than young coconut flowers, the latter are quite abundant in Yogyakarta’s Bantul area, according to Dullah, a resident from Jebukan in Bantul. Once a bunch of flowers is removed, he said other ones will appear elsewhere.

So, despite being more pricey, gudeg manggar is not an inaccessible rarity.

Dullah’s gudeg manggar is so far the best I have ever had. The taste is savory, the texture soft. In sweetening his gudeg, Dullah uses coconut sugar instead of sugar cane to prevent a burnt sensation (sangit) from creeping into the dish.

Unlike ordinary jackfruit gudeg, which has to be kept for one day before being fit for consumption, manggar gudeg becomes edible after two days.

Ready to go: A clay pot and banana leaves filled with gudeg and side dishes. (JP/Indah Setiawati)

Secret recipe: Ingredients for making gudeg komplit (jackfruit stewed in coconut milk with side dishes). (JP/Indah Setiawati)

Gudeg, jackfruit stewed in coconut milk, is said to have originally been intended to provide a quick source of carbohydrates to palace soldiers in Yogyakarta.

It probably explains why it has to be sweet and dry, to make it last longer. It may also explain why gudeg '€” being rank-and-file food '€” is not on offer at Bale Raos, a restaurant featuring Yogyakarta Palace royal food within the Palace'€™s compound.

A source says that dry, longer-lasting gudeg was introduced for travelers who had to journey for hours to get home. Still, another source says the original gudeg was made from young, tender coconut flowers known as manggar in Javanese.

However, it is said that no new bunch of flowers will ever emerge from the spot where its predecessor was cut. So, supplies are quite limited, which is why people switched to young jackfruit, and occassionally to bamboo shots to make gudeg.

Due to the limited supply, gudeg manggar is usually reserved for special occasions and royal celebrations.

But this is not strictly true. Although young jackfruit is more readily available than young coconut flowers, the latter are quite abundant in Yogyakarta'€™s Bantul area, according to Dullah, a resident from Jebukan in Bantul. Once a bunch of flowers is removed, he said other ones will appear elsewhere.

So, despite being more pricey, gudeg manggar is not an inaccessible rarity.

Dullah'€™s gudeg manggar is so far the best I have ever had. The taste is savory, the texture soft. In sweetening his gudeg, Dullah uses coconut sugar instead of sugar cane to prevent a burnt sensation (sangit) from creeping into the dish.

Unlike ordinary jackfruit gudeg, which has to be kept for one day before being fit for consumption, manggar gudeg becomes edible after two days.

Ready to go: A clay pot and banana leaves filled with gudeg and side dishes. (JP/Indah Setiawati)Ready to go: A clay pot and banana leaves filled with gudeg and side dishes. (JP/Indah Setiawati)
Yogyakarta gudeg comes in two types: dry (kering) or juicy (basah), and both are normally sugary sweet. Because not everybody likes its sweet taste, there is also savory gudeg with a much lower degree of sweetness.

Savory gudeg usually comes from Yogyakarta'€™s close neighbors such as Muntilan and Magelang, and also from Semarang.

An establishment in Yogyakarta selling perhaps the best savory gudeg is Gudeg Song Djie, also known as Gudeg Bu Atmo, on Jl. Brigjen Katamso and also in Godean.

The name Song Djie suggests some Chinese influence. All the gudeg made by Chinese-Indonesians that I have ever tasted have been savory. Song Djie'€™s gudeg resembles, to a certain extent, the taste of Yu Yem'€™s gudeg, the best savory gudeg at Kanjengan Market in Semarang. Yu Yem was born in Yogyakarta but she learned how to make gudeg in Magelang, where the Chinese Peranakan influence was stronger.

Everyone has his or her own favorite gudeg. Gudeg made by a seller called Djuminten, said to be the favorite of late first lady Tien Soeharto, that I bought during a school excursion in late 1970s was so unpleasantly sweet that my father refused to eat it.

On the other hand, Gudeg Pasar Cikini in Central Jakarta, reportedly the late Soeharto'€™s favorite, was not as sweet but more enjoyable, although probably not the best.

In the West Javanese capital of Bandung, a good Yogyakarta gudeg is probably Gudeg Yu Nap, on Jl. Cipta Graha Raya. It is moderately sweet, and tends to be more savory. The chicken is superb and the moderately hot, salty chili condiment complements the gudeg perfectly.

Second to it is Gudeg Nyonya Rumah on Jl. Naripan. It is decently sweet but the chili condiment is too hot.

Another gudeg seller in Surabaya is very particular about the type of jackfruit she uses for her gudeg '€” she prefers nangka merah, which is naturally reddish in color and stronger in flavor.

Still, Yu Yem'€™s gudeg, the one cooked on firewood by Yu Yem herself, is probably the best of them all. She managed to develop her own techniques and style of cooking that enabled her gudeg to withstand the test of time.

Some regular customers cherish it and always want to reexperience it. Some customers were even willing to settle for the watered-down version currently available and hand-carried to relatives in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Now that Yu Yem'€™s gudeg is gone, another option for savory Semarang gudeg is Gudeg Abimanyu on Jl. Abimanyu VII No. 6. Though quite different to Yu Yem'€™s, it is uniquely, tastefully, and proudly Semarang in its own way because it uses pieces of meat, ebi (dried shrimp), srundeng (deep-fried grated coconut) and cabbage '€” ingredients not commonly associated with the flavor of original and traditional gudeg.

Gudeg is, after all, an exercise of creativity in which an ordinary, everday, cheap breakfast food of the commoner is transformed into something exquisite, beyond the ordinary, through the hands of those who know how.

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