We will return to Penang, but for now we've got something to share from Yogyakarta, where we spent much of last week.
Jogja, as Indonesians call the city, is known for a few dishes, but its most famous is probably gudeg, young jackfruit stewed with palm sugar. Gudeg is eaten with (clockwise from 9 o'clock, above) rice, opor ayam (a sort of chicken curry), a hard-boiled egg, spicy buffalo skin, and tofu (in the photo the gudeg is nestled between the eggs and the orange-ish buffalo skin). Gudeg may not be the prettiest dish around, but it's awfully tasty. It's also quite sweet - we found that a nip of fresh chili taken with each spoonful lends a nice savory-spicy balance.
One afternoon in Jogja we went on a food crawl with Adzan Tri Budiman, a chef and Sumatra native who's been living and cooking in the city for the last decade. After guiding us through three eye-opening versions of soto (there's soto, and then there's good soto - more on that later) he led us to gudeg institution Gudeg Yogya Yu Djum where, after a few bites of the specialty, we cried 'uncle'. The original plan was to visit a couple more gudeg outlets for comparison purposes, but our bellies said 'no way'. So instead we did something even better - we headed across town to Ibu Yu Djum's main kitchen to find out what makes her gudeg so delicious.
Seventy-four-year-old Ibu Yu Djum (Ibu is an Indonesian honorific, similar to 'Mrs.') started her gudeg business when she was just 15, in the same tiny Jalan Wijilan shop where we tasted her specialty. While she no longer oversees the day-to-day, she still pops into the kitchen now and again. Her business has been handed over to family members like daughter Hariady Tri Widodo (above, with her own daughter) who, we're glad to report, intend to keep the Yud Djum gudeg tradition alive.
Yu Djum's gudeg and its accompaniments are prepared behind the eatery's second shop in kitchens that wouldn't have changed much since Ibu started her business decades ago. Everything is cooked over wood.
The staggering volume of ingredients that passes through these kitchens on a daily basis give a sense of Yu Djum's popularity: 200 kilos each of young jackfruit and female ayam kampung ('village' chicken, allowed to range freely) a day, minimum, and 2,000 duck eggs (10,000 on weekends and public holidays).
It's a time-intensive process, preparing gudeg. In the 'chicken kitchen' candlenut, garlic, shallots, salt, and coconut palm sugar are ground together to make a bumbu, or spice paste, which is added to coconut milk and cooked long and slow until it reduces to a thick brown sludge.
Meanwhile, whole chickens are boiled for an hour
and then the coconut-y bumbu is spooned on top. The chicken and bumbu are left to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and all that's left are tender bone-in birds thickly coated in a rich, sweet coconut sauce.
Next door, in the 'gudeg kitchen' (above), shredded young jackfruit is placed in a huge pot with more coconut palm sugar and salt - nothing else -
and left to cook over low heat for a full day. It's drained in a rattan basket for a few hours (on the shelf, to the right in the kitchen photo), and then stir-fried for about thirty minutes. The end result is caramelized young jackfruit that's infused with a double smokiness, from the palm sugar and the wood fire.
The duck eggs are cooked in a similar fashion - boiled, then peeled and placed in a pot with palm sugar and salt and simmered for a day. To make the buffalo skin salt, black pepper, palm sugar (are you detecting a pattern here?), and fresh chilies are ground together to make a paste, which is stir-fried. After the paste is cooked dried buffalo skin is added and left to soften and soak up the flavor of the spices.
'There's no secret to gudeg. The ingredients are simple and everyone knows them,' Ibu's daughter told us as she showed us Yudjum's kitchens. 'The flavor comes from the hands of the cook.' The hands in Yu Djum's kitchens are very talented indeed.
Gudeg Yu Djum, No. 31 Jalan Wijilan (walking distance to the Keraton), Yogyakarta. Lesehan seating (at low tables, seated on the floor) - choose your gudeg accompaniments from the display at the front of the restaurant.