LOCATED ON Jalan Mangkuyudan in Yogyakarta, Warung Bawon’s popularity is based on its variety of vegetable dishes, which are fresh and uncomplicated. But be warned – those who come for a late lunch may miss out on their favorite dish.
The staples of vegetables like trancam, urap and kangkung make a refreshing counterpoint to the sweetness and over-reliance on frying found in much of the cheap meals in Yogyakarta.
Set back from the main road, the warung is shaded, maintaining an informal atmosphere. A wooden wall helps to block the outside pollution and noise of passing motorbikes and buses, while woven grass adds a suitably rustic charm to the surroundings.
A breeze moves through the warung, which helps circulate the persistent cigarette smoke, while providing some respite from the oppressive heat outside.
Cooking begins at six in the morning out the back and preparation is done generally on the floor. Mbak Mini, Bu Jumenih and others are busy slicing, dicing, grounding and stirring. The atmosphere is relaxed with plenty of banter between the employees.
“We cook from early in the morning until around midday. We stay open until all the food is gone or until 9 pm,’’ explains Bu Hani, who runs the warung. ‘‘We spend about Rp 1 million ($85) per day on ingredients but, of course, I’ve got the main staples of rice, oil and spices already in supply,” she added.
As for the most popular dish, well, “they’re all popular, otherwise we wouldn’t cook them,” one of the kitchen staff said.
The recent addition of a stereo has made Bawon a louder, cooler lunch venue: Javanese pop rocks, apparently, at least as far as the waiters and staff’s choice of music. There is a television, isn’t there always, but it is usually turned off except for coverage of important news events, such as the death of an iconic Islamic preacher.
The warung has about 10 tables, each comfortably sitting four customers, and turnover is swift, most visitors probably only staying for 20 to 30 minutes.
Bu Hani explains the menu: “We generally cook about 20 different dishes. We don’t have
many meat dishes; mainly, vegetables, fish and grilled chicken. We’ve got a few dishes that we always prepare, and a few, like the papaya dish, which we don’t serve every day.”
Bu Hani says the style of cooking hails from East Java. The food is salty and spicy rather than being sweet, and most of the people who eat here aren’t from Yogya.
“There are seven people who work here and they are all related to either myself or my husband, it’s easier that way,” she smiled.
Bu Hani said her husband runs a furniture shop nearby and her love of cooking started when she used to cook for him and his furniture shop staff.
“I taught myself to cook these meals with my friends and family. We learned from each other,” she said. “If someone is new to working here, or cooking a particular dish, I have to supervise them to maintain the quality. This has to be consistent from day to day.”
Food is served from trays; visitors line up and take their servings, cafeteria style. Payment, however, is made at the end of one’s visit, when one recites in a list what one has eaten. Quantity is not given – just the particular dishes.
A modest array of juices are available, depending on the season. As usual, uncomplicated tea, coffee and hot orange is available.
Most visitors drink cold sweet tea. Glass containers house the ubiquitous curly, dry and salty crackers.
Mas Mul takes orders for drinks and shares this task with Mas Aris. Bu Hani, the warung’s owner and head cook, sits at the desk next to the food stand and uses a calculator to tally bills, with most customers paying no more than Rp 20,000.
Peak time is around the noon prayer time when office workers, bureaucrats, artists and students arrive, greeting familiar faces. Many, no doubt, have memorized the staples of Bawon and have their favorites. – The Jakarta Globe