Ignore the looks, just focus on the taste. These five dishes might not good to see, but trust me, once you taste it, you will want more!
I was born in the capital city of Indonesia, but I spent my childhood and was raised in East Java province. Well, I’m still living there, actually.
As you might already know, East Java is renowned for its tourist attractions, most of them are natural sights. Some of the most breathtaking views in East Java you don’t want to miss are Mount Bromo, Papuma Beach, Coban Rondo Waterfall, White Sandy Beach Situbondo, Sarangan Lake, Baluran National Park, and many more.
You can also enjoy the beautiful scenery when you spend your holiday with family at Finna Golf & Country Club Resort in Prigen. Feel free to google them yourself for the details of those natural attractions.
Not only famous for its stunning places, East Java is also well known for its food specialties. I bet you have ever heard about the dishes like soto ayam, rawon, nasi krawu, pecel, and ayam lodho. But I am not going to discuss those traditional foods on this post, maybe some other time.
It is more interesting to discuss East Javanese cuisines that are not served too beautifully (not too good in presentation), but the taste are beyond your expectations! I mean, the looks of the food will make us think, “Err, what is this? Should it be eaten? Really?” Well, the question is quite normal, actually, for they look “a bit messy.”
OK, let’s make it short. I’ll show you the so-called unique cuisines you should try when you are visiting East Java (I call them unique since they are too delicious but look unappetizing).
Here are my top five favorites. Take a look.
1. Rujak Cingur
What’s on your mind when you see the picture above? A bit “oh well”? Or perhaps you’ll think you are supposed to see another food picture? You think it is unappetizing? Well, well, well… seems like you need to try this right away!
Rujak cingur is one of the most iconic East Javanese dishes. It contains a variety of sliced fresh fruits –like pineapple, pencit (unripe mango), bengkuang (jicama), kedondong (great hog plum), and papaya– mixed with vegetables like kerahi or timun krai (a variant of cucumber), kangkung (water spinach), kecambah (sprout), and kacang panjang (long beans), as well as lontong (rice cake), tahu (tofu), tempe (soy bean cake), and –of course– cingur (cow’s nose). Please note that rujak cingur won’t be a rujak cingur without those slices of cow’s nose!
The mixture of the ingredients, which sometimes are steamed, are served with bumbu petis dressing. The dressing is made from the mixture of petis udang (shrimp paste), palm sugar, chili, fried peanuts, fried shallots, pisang klutuk (Musa balbisiana), salt, and water. The technique of the mixture is called “ulek” because it uses cobek and ulekan (Indonesian traditional mortar and pestle). That’s why sometimes rujak cingur is called rujak ulek.
A suggestion: The dish will not be perfect without kerupuk putih or also known as kerupuk uyel (white crackers, deep fried crackers made from starch and other ingredients that serve as flavouring). So make sure you have these crackers before enjoying the dish!
2. Semanggi Surabaya
This one is beyond your expectations! A truly unique dish from Surabaya. It is sweet, spicy, and –of course– delicious!
If you wonder what’s under the “brown sauce cover,” let me tell you: it’s daun semanggi (clover leaf). Of course, it should be cleaned well and already be steamed. Sometimes, the dish is not only about the clover leaf. Some local also add kecambah (sprout) and kangkung (water spinach).
The “brown sauce” is the mixtures of sweet potatoes, beans, and palm sugar. Those ingredients are blended altogether until the texture becomes smooth and soft. If you like hot spicy food, then add some chili. If you can’t stand the spicy taste, just leave it as it is.
What makes semanggi Surabaya special is it is served in a pincuk daun pisang (banana leaf wrap). The banana leaf makes the taste of the dish more yummy.
A Suggestion: Never forget the kerupuk (crackers). But remember, the most suitable kerupuk for this cuisine is kerupuk puli (rice crackers), not kerupuk uyel. See the picture above for the details of the rice cracker look.
3. Lontong Balap and Sate Kerang
You are not visiting Surabaya if you haven’t tried lontong balap and sate kerang. Lontong means rice cake, balap means racing, sate is satay, and kerang is Bahasa Indonesia term of clam. From those words you probably have already understood what the food is all about.
Haven’t understood yet? No worries, I’ll let you know. So the lontong balap is a unique dish of Surabaya with ingredients like sprouts, rice cake, fried tofu, fried shallots, and lentho.
Lentho is made from kacang tolo (black eyed peas) or sometimes mung beans. The peas/beans are marinated for several hours before they are roughly mashed. The mashed peas/beans are mixed with flour dough, grated cassava, turmeric, leek, lime leaves, chili, and salt.Then make the dough in oval shape, like the shape of perkedel (frikadeller), and fry the dough until it gets brownish color.
Back to the lontong balap, the steamed sprouts, rice cake, fried tofu, and lentho, are served with the sambal petis (chili shrimp paste) dressing and sweet soy sauce. The sambal petis dressing makes strong but delicious taste, hot and sweet at the same time.
Most people enjoy lontong balap with clam satay, but not including myself. I’m not a fan of clam, so I enjoy lontong balap without the satay.
Oh, I almost forget. Wondering why is it called lontong balap? Is it a kind of racing? Yes, it is! How come?
Well, here is the short explanation behind the name of lontong balap. So, once upon a time, the lontong balap were offered directly to the people, in the big gentong (potteries). Because the gentong was quite big, it was hard enough to carry them throughout the city. These big gentongs made the carrier walking very fast, as they were in a racing track.
Nowadays, lontong balap is no longer offered directly to the customers. The Mr. Vendors have their own small/large building like stall or cafe. So you have to come to the near stall or cafe to enjoy the cuisine.
A Suggestion: You will feel more refreshed if you choose es degan/es kelapa muda (fresh coconut water) as the desert after your lontong balap/sate kerang main course.
4. Tahu Tek
This food is also from Surabaya. You may guess from its name, the main ingredient of the dish is tahu (tofu). Yes, you are absolutely right! Tahu tek is another East Javanese favorite salad which contains sliced fried tofu, sprouts, rice cake, and cucumber pickles, mixed with sauce made from petis (shrimp paste), boiled water, peanuts, chili, and garlic. Some people say, Sidoarjo-made petis is the best for tahu tek.
Why is it called tahu tek? Well, as you may already notice, the Mr. Vendor of tahu tek always provide scissors to cut the ingredients. The scissors-cut will make the “tek-tek-tek”-like sound. That’s why it is then called “tahu tek.” Mmm… quite interesting, isn’t it?
A Suggestion: Another kerupuk (crackers) are needed! Not kerupuk uyel or kerupuk puli, this time we need kerupuk udang (prawn crackers).
5. Tahu Campur
I like this cuisine a lot! Originated from Lamongan, tahu campur has ingredients like fried tofu, rice cake, sprouts, mie kuning (yellow noodles), cassava frikadeller, fresh lettuce, and of course the one and only… tetelan (flank beef cut, CMIIW)!
The ingredients are poured with the mixture of tetelan broth, fried shallots, and shrimp paste. And trust me, the combination of the broth and the paste taste so good!! Super yummy!!
Don’t forget the crackers. This time we use prawn crackers.
A Suggestion: Best to eat directly after the food is served.
Those are my top five foods from my region. Do you think they are your favorites too? Or perhaps you have your own favorites of East Javanese cuisine? Just drop the lines on the comments section below.
And if you’re not from East Java, feel free to share your local food favorites too so that I can try it some time when visiting your city. I’ll be waiting! 🙂