People are surprised when they hear that gudeg ' one of Yogyakarta's most famous dishes ' is available in cans.
Elies Dyah Dharmawati has been selling the dish, made from young jackfruit stewed in coconut milk from her warung (stall), Gudeg Bu Lies, since 1992.
The 61-year-old cooks gudeg the old-fashioned way, packaging it in kendil (earthen pots) or plaited besek (bamboo containers), in a restaurant less than a kilometer from the Yogyakarta Palace.
However, eager for a new market, Bu Lies' son Chandra Setiawan Kusuma has been making gudeg in a can in 2010. 'I produce the canned gudeg because I want to make it easier and simpler for people, especially foreign tourists, to take gudeg with them,' he said.
Chandra said that while foreign customers were eager to buy, they also had concerns that the fresh gudeg they purchased from Bu Lies might spoil before they could fly home with the treat.
Gudeg, he said, is a wet food cooked with coconut milk that can remain fresh for a maximum of three days ' making it a less-than-ideal piece of culinary oleh-oleh (souvenirs) from the archipelago.
Plus, airlines tend frown on bamboo baskets and earthen pots full of food in the main cabin of transoceanic flights.
The problem appeared unpalatable until 2010, when Chandra heard of a breakthrough: scientists at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) had developed a technique to can gudeg ' just like corned beef or sardines.
He paid a visit to LIPI's headquarters in South Jakarta to check out the development ' and was less than impressed. 'I tasted the canned gudeg made by LIPI's researchers. Its taste was not authentic.'
Chandra thought that he might be able to do a better job and the researchers at LIPI were happy to teach him the basics of food preservation.
The folks at PT IMCP in Surabaya, East Java, also shared their know-how in canning tuna, using simple machines that could be purchased by a small company, he adds.
Chandra was ready to start business. With initial capital of Rp 50 million (US$ 4,111), he started to make 100 cans a day ' with tins provided by PT IMCP. 'In Yogyakarta, I was the first to sell canned gudeg.'
'My canned gudeg does not contain preservatives. Customers can keep it for a year. The taste of the canned gudeg is still fresh,' Chandra says.
The secret, he says, is bringing the gudeg ' which might contain duck eggs, slices of chicken, spicy krecek (fried and crispy buffalo skin) and tempeh and tofu, depending on the version ' to a boil before sealing it into cans that have themselves been boiled in water at temperature of 120 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.
By 2012, the operation moved into a full-fledged factory, with capital of Rp 250 million and four employees producing at least 500 cans a day.
Chandra says that he's registered Bu Lies' canned gudeg with the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and the Industry Ministry's Center for Agro-based Industry to overcome people's doubts about the safety of canned food ' especially canned Indonesian food.
'The BPOM and the ministry have said that my canned gudeg is safe to be consumed because it has reached their standards,' he said, showing their reports.
Chandra is upbeat when talking about expanding overseas.
'Gudeg has a lot of fans across the world,' he says. 'There's rising demand from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Netherlands.'
He's not content with canning one traditional Javanese food, however. There are plans on the books to preserve another quintessential Yogyakarta treat ' bakpia pathuk (dry cakes made from flour).
'Canned products will benefit us because they can be exported easily. My revenue can top Rp 120 million per month,' he said.
Chandra said that he wanted other food sellers, who typically operate on a small scale, to follow in his footsteps and can their wares. 'Many food producers have yet to know that canning food is not expensive, complex and difficult. I have proven that.'
However, in the end, the final test is on the dining room table ' and Yogyakarta resident Diansari Solihah Amini said that Chandra's product passed with flying colors.
'The taste of canned gudeg is still delicious,' the 27-year-old said.
Diansari was also thrilled for another reason. The cans have a healthy portion of gudeg ' so much that she could have two servings.