A Gastronomic Adventure in Semarang

64 comments
Asia, Indonesia
01

Fiery Mangut Belut (Eels Cooked in Coconut Milk, Chili, and Other Condiments)

Despite calling Semarang in Central Java home, I only spent a brief 1.5 years in the city since I was born. Life had taken me to live in three cities in South Kalimantan (Borneo) and four cities in Java. Until a few years ago, the only memories of the delicacies of the city were from my mother’s cooking and my short visits to my uncle’s house when I was still little. However, since my parents moved back to Semarang less than five years ago, I get more chance to tuck in the dishes of the city where I was born.

Since I started this blog, I have written two posts on the food of Semarang, in 2011 and 2012. A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to go back to Semarang on a business trip. No visit to the city would be complete without tasting its wide array of local delicacies.

If you think a drop of Tabasco is hot enough, think twice before you try Mangut Belut – fried eels in chili and coconut milk soup. Its fiery soup will burn your tongue, and stomach. Nonetheless, that is what exactly most people are looking for when they try the dish. Kepala Manyung is another bizarre delicacy. The weird-looking head of the ariid catfish with its otherworldly head skull is truly a tough challenge for any chef who tries to serve it beautifully and elegantly. The skin is as chewy as a rubber tire, but the meat is tender and tasty.

For milder options to balance the rich and spicy flavours of Mangut Belut and Kepala Manyung, try the Dutch-influenced Javanese beef steak, Galantine, or the ubiquitous street dish, Tahu Gimbal. A cup of Teh Poci (tea served in a clay pot) with rock sugar is always a potent antidote to any food too weird for your palate to comprehend.

Amid the chaotic Simpang Lima surrounded by shopping malls and plethora of street food vendors, a big stage hosts a series of performing arts, songs and dances. Massive loud speakers and psychedelic lighting lead up to a quite impressive show of fireworks for the finale of the night’s hype. It’s the 466th anniversary of Semarang.

I am sitting on a plastic bench, devouring a simple serving of Tahu Gimbal with a generous amount of peanut sauce, all for less than 10,000 rupiah (roughly US$ 1). That is only a fraction of what people have to pay for the same dish in Jakarta, another factor which brings people to go to the capital of Central Java, and brings me home.

02

Cooked Head of An Ariid Catfish

03

Various Gorengan (Traditional Fries)

04

Preparing the Chili

05

Lontong Cap Go Meh (Lontong, Chicken, Boiled Egg and Other Side Dishes in Coconut Milk)

06

Galantine (Dutch-Influenced Javanese Steak)

07

Fried Misua (Rice Noodles Fries)

08

Red Bean & Mung Bean Soup

09

Kerupuk (Indonesian Traditional Crackers)

10

Fried Eels

11

Lalapan (Assorted Vegetables with Sambal/Ground Chili)

11

Sate Buntel (Minced Mutton Covered with Mutton’s Fat, Skewered and Grilled)

12

Tongseng (Mutton Soup)

13

Teh Poci (Tea in Clay Pot with Rock Sugar)

14

Tahu Gimbal (Lontong, Tofu, Cabbages, Beansprouts, Prawns in Peanut Sauce & Shrimp Paste)

15

Street Food Vendors

16

Boiled Peanuts for Semarang’s Anniversary

17

Long Live My Hometown!

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

64 thoughts on “A Gastronomic Adventure in Semarang”

  1. What a lucky coincidence – to be there in time to celebrate the anniversary of your hometown! Everything looks so delicious, I can’t wait to try more Javanese dishes when I come back to Indonesia in July. That tahu gimbal and sate buntel must be to die for! Ini membuatku lapar, haha…

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    • Tahu gimbal is a simple, yet delicious dish. In the meantime, sate buntel is all your personal trainer asks you not to eat. 🙂 Don’t worry, you’ll taste more Indonesian dishes next month. Just prepare yourself for chili and sambal! 🙂

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  2. Though I’m not a fan of eels, that photo with chilly has surely made my mouth water!
    I think it’s high time for me to be back in Semarang 🙂

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    • Be mindful of the chili. They bite, literally! 🙂 Nevertheless, I would definitely try that again when I go back to Semarang.

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  3. alexander sriewijono says:

    Maturnuwun sudah bersams-sama berwisata kuliner, walau di ‘rumah’nya sendiri, Semarang. Masih keinget pedesnya kepala manyung dan kagetnya ada kembang api dadakan. Sate buntelnya untungnya disempetin dicobain juga ya. 🙂

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    • MAtur nuwun juga Mase sudah menunjukkan tempat-tempat itu. Orang Semarang yang ndak tau Semarang ya aku ini mas. 🙂

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      • alexander sriewijono says:

        toh galantine-nya di sebelah hotel, cuma 5 langkah 🙂 dan isinya ‘istana wedhang’ enak-enak. Soal pak ‘supri’ yg nyari jalannya bikin sabar 1000 tahun, terbayar dengan meledaknya mangut belut di mulut. Uedhan pedesnya. I miss puding tahu+jahe yang enak itu.

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    • You’re welcome Ryan! I remember how much I missed Asian food when I was in Europe for a month back in 2007.

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  4. Your manage to add a special flavour to your gastronomic posts Bama! Everything looks and sounds so wonderfully spicy and delicious. Long live your hometown 🙂

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    • Thanks Madhu! The next time I go back to Semarang I will try some other dishes for sure. 🙂

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    • Haha, sorry bikin lapar malam-malam. Those cities are: Pandeglang, Tasikmalaya, Bandung, and Jakarta.

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  5. belutnya bikin laper, tak kirain itu dendeng balado, rupanya belut toh. Waaa lapeeerr malem-malem, sayang disini ga ada jual belut.

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    • Sekarang emang udah agak jarang sih yang jual belut. Tapi banyak orang ternyata geli ya sama belut, mungkin karena mirip sama ular. 🙂

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  6. The food looks delicious! Pretty sure I couldnt handle the heat, though. The photo of the woman preparing the chili is beautiful.

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    • Thanks Angeline! One second after I took the picture of that woman, she “complained” because she was not prepared and she didn’t look pretty. 🙂

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  7. Wow, Bama — this post made me hungry! It certainly looks like you ate your way around your old home, so thanks — as always — for the culinary tour. The Mangut Belut in the first photo looks particularly enticing, too!

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    • Thanks Andrew! After traveling to some more cities across Indonesia within the last few weeks, now I’ve got some more food posts in the pipeline. 🙂 If you like spicy food, that Mangut Belut is really to die for!

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    • Hahaha, please call 024-999999. Kidding! 🙂 You should try them the next time you come to Semarang. But bear the heat, because I remember how hot and humid the place was when I went.

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      • Where’s the place? Are those all in Simpang Lima?

        Let me know when you visit Semarang, I might be there too 😉

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      • For sate buntel and tongseng, go to the restaurant across Gereja Blenduk. While for tahu gimbal you can go to Simpang Lima at night. For red bean & mung bean soup, go to “Istana Wedhang” right next to Novotel at Jalan Pemuda.

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      • Aahhh went to istana wedhang a few weeks ago … It’s the place that opened until midnight in that area haha .. 😀

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      • And I wonder why it took me so long to finally go to that place. 🙂

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    • The eel was actually really good. The meat was so tender and flavorful. Maybe you should give it a try. 🙂

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    • You’re welcome Lydia! I have just returned from several trips to Medan, Malang, Bali, and Nusa Lembongan. So you can expect more posts which will bring back some memories to you. 🙂

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  8. Jaden says:

    Yumm! Rindu Indo…. sudah tinggal di Eropa 8 thn. Saya mengenal alamat untuk makan traditional di Semarang yang paling lezat…. mencari adress itu aja?

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    • Hi Jaden! Saya di bulan Agustus pulang ke Semarang lagi dan kemungkinan besar akan mencoba makanan khas Semarang lainnya. 🙂

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      • Jaden says:

        Hi there again, hereby a post with some info about the place where delicious food is being served: http://dalurhesta.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/my-dear-ibu-her-dishes/
        And it is nice to know that really she’s my aunt; from the fourth generation ago. Because i’m the great grandchild of her grandfathers younger brother. Back in those days the whole family (a family of Djati planters) still lived together in Java. My greatgrandfather moved to Europe and her grandfather became Javanese 100% After my ancestor moved away from Java he died young .. because of feeling homesick. And as his cucu i still feel that wish to return home …to Java.
        Well, hopefully you will have a good journey! Because it’s good to have a home (wisma), but it’s good to travel (turangga) too. Might you meet my family….my greetings to her … (my name is Yelke Dari Blanda)

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      • Oh wow! I didn’t know you have such an interesting family background. It must be amazing if you happen to visit Indonesia one day, tracing the roots of your family. Some Javanese moved to Suriname during the Dutch colonial time and now they make up about 15% of the population. I really wish you can go to Java one day Yelke!

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  9. wow never thought would come across a post on semarang. my dad lived and worked there for 5 years and we all visited him often… its a really nice place. almost like a person in their own world, with no cares about anything else. or maybe as expats we felt like that!

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    • Hi Bhavani! It’s a nice surprise to know that your dad once lived in Semarang. I don’t see that many expats in the city, unlike in Jakarta or even Bandung and Surabaya. Semarang is really a laid-back city compared to other provincial capitals in Java, and everything is super cheap! A very nice city, indeed. 🙂

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    • Hi Rosa! The next time you come to Semarang, go to this warung mangut in Sampangan. It arguably has the best mangut belut in town.

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      • You don’t review mangut iwak pe? It’s also a very popular hot spicy dish of Semarang which could bring you home just to tase it 🙂 * a testimony from my friends

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      • Well, actually Mangut Pe is one of my favorite dishes too. My mom often cooks it and at the office I sometimes have it for lunch.

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  10. Hi Bama! It’s my first time here. Haven’t been to Indonesia – yet – but your series of photos on food alone is quite a tempting proposition to make that trip pronto 🙂

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    • Hi Dennis! Indonesia and the Philippines are now more connected than ever. There are direct flights from Manila to Jakarta and Bali. So maybe you should start planning your trip to the country. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by!

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  11. Hi Bama, another fantastic epicurean post. The cuisine of your hometown is interestingly so diverse. Love you food shots – they seem to virtually bring out the flavor and aroma of the dishes:)

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    • Thanks Marisol! Semarang used to be the major trading port in Java during the Dutch colonial time. Even Indonesia’s first stock exchange was established in Semarang, not Jakarta. I guess that explains the diverse flavors in the dishes of Semarang – because it was such a melting pot during its heyday.

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  12. The eel and Tahu Gimbal would be interesting to try—and the fish head would require a sense of humor!
    Once in an ESL class with students from several different countries, we had a discussion about which was hotter – 5* Mexican or 5* Thai. We went to restaurants owned by the student’s families and the Thai won, hands down!
    Thanks for all your great photos.

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    • When the fish head came I couldn’t help to think “Eww, what’s this?” 🙂 But it tastes a lot better than it looks. If you happen to find an Indonesian restaurant, try some of the spicy dishes – and ask the chef not to tone it down. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words Marilyn!

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  13. alexander sriewijono says:

    Mangut Pe? Sounds familiar. :p
    By the way, I can see now how we ‘tortured’ our stomach within that 2 days with all those spicy food. Well, at least mine. 🙂 But it was nice though, exploring and experiencing.

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    • And see what it did to you, your tolerance to spicy food has definitely improved. And that’s a good thing! 🙂

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  14. You’ve got me sold – I can’t wait to burn my mouth on some Mangut Belut! I was just in Bali in March, but unfortunately our time-crunched trip didn’t allow us to visit Java. I will definitely have to return in the near future and visit your hometown. Beautiful photos, too – I especially like the one of the woman preparing chilis.

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    • Hi Cedar!
      What a nice surprise that you like spicy food! Because it’s really rare to find Europeans/North Americans who can stand the fiery sensation of the chili. The next time you go to Indonesia you should not miss Java as it is the world’s most populous island, with an obvious reason. The world’s biggest Buddhist shrine, the elegant ancient Hindu temples, the magnificent landscape of Indonesian volcanoes, and many more. Thanks for dropping by and good luck with your future travels! Africa awaits you. 🙂

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  15. This post already takes me there to try & enjoy all the great delicacies & see the people there along with great sites there too which I would think are all historic in their own way. I used to eat spicy food & learned how to enjoy tabasco sauce & also have eaten a few jalapenos hotter than most at a friend’s mother’s house who served hot chili which came from the freezer. After having it on Mexican food that was good, I had put like 4-5 spoonfuls 1 at a time on what I ate & never felt a thing. I had gone to sleep there & after about 6 hours of sleep, I had gotten up & had told my friend we needed to go to the bar or somewhere for a couple pitchers of beer. We went & she ordered the pitchers & she about flipped when I had drank most of the beer cuz I had such a hot stomach from her mom’s chili I had consumed & not thought about it until after I got up & we left for the beer hall. This just relates to going to other places & letting me not think of any problems. I always try to enjoy where I am at unless there is trouble usually. I have to deal with it at the time it starts though. Nice to have you inspire me of your whereabouts & what they are like. Thanks a lot!
    Rodney

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    • Wow, sounds like a rough day for your stomach! Hopefully the next time you have chili it would be a much more pleasant experience.
      You’re welcome, Rodney!

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  16. Pingback: Destination Report: Semarang, Indonesia – The Window Seat 1A

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