A crash course in Betawi cuisine


Sayur Asem

Gabus Pucung

The history of Betawi cuisine is intertwined with other cultures as it has incorporated influences brought to Jakarta by the Portuguese, the Dutch, Arabs and the Chinese.

Some dishes such as nasi uduk (savory rice cooked in coconut milk and served with various side dishes) can still be found on the sidewalks in the morning. Nowadays, however, finding certain Betawi delicacies can be a challenge as many Betawi residents have been pushed out of the heart of the capital to the suburbs. When you can find a traditional Betawi restaurant or stall, try these five recommended dishes.

Semur Jengkol

Gastronomists said semur jengkol (a type of pungent-smelling vegetable stewed in a soy sauce) is of Dutch influence. The word semur derives from the Dutch word smoor, which means “cooked with low heat.” The dark brown dish is spiced with onions, garlic, candlenut, pepper, brown sugar, sweet soy sauce and bay leaves.

Betawi restaurants do not add coconut milk to their semur, though other Indonesian culinary traditions, such as Sunda, do.

Semur Jengkol

Semur Jengkol

Sayur Asem

Sayur asem (tangy-tamarind flavored soup) can serve as the perfect appetizer for your culinary adventure in the capital. The soup can also be found in other provinces, such as West Java and Central Java, but Betawi sayur asem is usually spicier in flavor and has a reddish color.

It contains various local vegetables and fruits, such as string beans, unripe papaya or chayote, young jackfruit, peanuts, melinjo leaves and seeds as well as sliced corn. Usually the peanuts in the soup are already shelled, but some restaurants leave the hulling to the patrons.

Gabus Pucung 

This stew made from the snakehead murrel fish was considered a rare treat in many Betawi restaurants because it was not easy to get the freshwater fish in traditional or modern markets. The fish is usually taken directly from rivers or swamps around Depok and Bekasi.

The local popular name for snakehead fish is gabus, while pucung or kluwek is the popular name for black nut – the main ingredient of the stew. This dish has a similar taste and color to rawon (beef stew cooked with black nut), which is a popular dish from East Java.

A bowl of gabus pucung is more expensive than a bowl of beef rib soup. In Vila Betawi in Grogol area, Depok, you have to pay Rp 35,000 (US$3) just for a piece of gabus pucung, higher than the rib soup, which is tagged at Rp 20,000.

Ikan Bumbu Pecak

Pecak is like a salad dressing, consisting of rich ingredients such as chili, onion, garlic, ginger and salt. The ingredients are ground together and later cooked with water and poured over fried gurame or common carp. It is usually served with steamed rice.

Rib soup 

Rib soup is a popular dish in almost every restaurant serving Indonesian food. The dish also seems to be a mandatory course in a Betawi resaturant. The soup is seasoned with garlic, pepper, nutmeg and salt with fried onions as garnish. It is also served with carrot, potato, leeks and celery. – The Jakarta Post

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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