I am always on the look out for local food to try wherever I travel. I find sampling local food provides valuable insight into the culture of a place. I also find that it helps me connect more with the place I am visiting, and in this case it’s Yogyakarta.
Having lived in Yogyakarta as a child, I spent some time sampling the different food options. After 20 years away, I finally returned to Yogyakarta, and I must admit one of the things I was most excited about was to eat!
To my surprise, quite a number of places I had been to 20 years ago were still around. What a great sign and I couldn’t wait to go back. So if you find yourself in Yogyakarta, here are some of my food recommendations.
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Pick & Choose at Nasi Padang
Nasi Padang consists of dishes that have originated in the city of Padang, which is located in West Sumatra. Why, you might ask, would you eat Nasi Padang in Yogyakarta? Well because there are so many fantastic restaurants in Yogyakarta that serve delicious Nasi Padang.
There are 3 ways to eat Nasi Padang… the first, and usually the most popular way when you are in a group is by having the restaurant bring out all the different pre-cooked dishes and you can pick and choose on your table what you eat. The second way is to actually pick the dishes you want served to your table, which then is shared amongst a few people. And the third is to simply pick a small serving of 2-3 dishes on a plate of rice just for you to have on your own. For all options, you only pay for what you eat.
If you are completely new to Nasi Padang, I would go with option 1, because it really is a great show to see the server bring out a HUGE stack of small plates food to your table. In some restaurants, the server will literally be able to hold like 20-30 small dishes on their arm.
Duta Minang is a brand of Nasi Padang restaurants that you’ll find around Yogyakarta. They are clean, the food is delicious and they offer a wide selection of dishes to choose from.
Some of my favorite dishes to try in Nasi Padang restaurants include:
- Fried eggplant topped with red chilli sauce (Sambal)
- Fried chicken
- Chicken coconut curry
- Gulai singkong (cassava leaves stewed in coconut milk)
- Fried catfish topped with red chilli sauce
- Boiled egg coconut curry
Planning a visit to Indonesia? Here are some recommended places to visit in Indonesia, outside of Bali.
Sample Traditional Javanese Dishes in Yogyakarta
There are several dishes that are unique to the Javanese cuisine that is worth trying while in Yogyakarta. And these include…
Gudeg is a dish made using an unripe jack fruit that is cooking for several hours with palm sugar, spices and coconut milk. The best place to try Gudeg in Yogyakarta is at Kampung Wijilan, which is located about a 10 minutes walk from Keraton Yogyakarta.
Rawon is a beef soup dish, which I usually refer to it as ‘black soup’ because of its colour. The color of the soup comes from the nut ingredient ‘keluak,’ which also gives this soup its slighty nutty flavour. Other ingredients in the soup include kafir lime leaf, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger and candlenut (amongst other ingredients). The soup is usually served with rice, baby bean sprouts and a salted egg – delicious!
Soto is an aromatic soup that is served with either chicken or beef and topped bean sprouts, chopped coriander and fried shallots. Best eaten with a side of rice and some sambal (chili sauce). Do try the soto ayam (chicken) from Soto Kadipiro (Jalan Yanti), or the soto daging (beef) from Soto Pak Sabar (Jalan Gedong Kuning Selatan).
Urap is a Javanese salad that is made up of steamed vegetables (such as spinach, papaya leaf, bean sprouts and cabbage) seasoned with spices and grated coconut. It is nice to eat with a mixed rice plate or even on its own. Another version of urap is called Trancam, and the difference is that the vegetables is left uncooked (such as bean sprouts, lemon basil leaves, cucumber) and served with spices and grated coconut. This is also a great side dish to eat with a mixed rice plate.
Bakpia is a sweet pastry that is made using a nut or bean paste, the most popular being mung bean. It is a perfect pairing with a cup of hot sweet tea in the afternoon. You’ll find Bakpia shops everywhere in Yogyakarta serving flavors from mung bean to peanut to red bean to chocolate…and even durian, you name it. My favorite version of bakpia is with the mung bean filling.
Indulge on a Martabak Manis
Ahhhhh martabak manis (sweet murtabak). Packed full of calories, but you’re on holiday so who’s counting? Martabak manis is a type of Indonesian pancake, which has more of a crumpet consistency. First the martabak is slowly cooked in a deep pan, and then a good serving of butter is spread on top when still hot (be sure to ask them not to put too much). Then the hardest decision to make is what toppings to add.
My personal favourite is banana and chocolate topping, but a local favourite is cheese and chocolate/banana, which is also worth trying. The serving is quite large and can easily be shared amongst 3-4 people.
It’s easiest to find martabak manis in the evenings and there are a various street vendors not far from Jalan Malioboro. The later it gets, the less amount of toppings to choose from, so I recommend going early to get your dessert fix.
Eat Ikan Bakar while enjoying Rice Paddy Views
One of my favorite memories of Yogyakarta was visiting Pondok Makan Moro Lejar, a restaurant located not far from Mount Merapi. The restaurant specialises in cooking ‘Ikan Bakar,’ which literally means grilled fish, and it’s delicious. The fish is marinated with ingredients such as kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and chili, then cooked over charcoal. Each table is set in its own bamboo stilt hut which sits over a pond filled with large gold fish. Some huts even have rice paddy views.
I visited the restaurant about 20 years ago when I lived in Yogyakarta. When I first arrived to Yogyakarta a few months ago, I asked the hotel reception whether this restaurant still existed… And well, I wouldn’t be writing about it if it didn’t! I was so excited to hear that it was still there, and apparently there were a few others that followed suit and opened a similar concept. But I still wanted to go back to the original.
The restaurant had ‘modernised’ slightly (like offering free wifi in the main building), but you could still sit in your own bamboo hut and enjoy lunch. There aren’t as many rice paddy views as I had remembered, but I find that the best seat in the house is number 23, because of the views.
To order, definitely go with the ikan bakar. This is also a good spot to try some Javanese side dishes like urap and trancam, because it pairs well with the ikan bakar.
So dear readers, who’s been to Yogyakarta or Indonesia? If so, did you try some of the local eateries? What were some of your favourite dishes?
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