Wednesday, October 24, 2012

soto ayam lamongan

I'm not surprised that soto is one of the top contenders for the title of Indonesia's national dish. I'd probably be more surprised if it doesn't win this imaginary contest.

Soto is one of those dishes that ticked all the boxes. It's packed with enough tropical spices to make it somewhat exotic, but the flavour is mild enough to be loved by indonesians and foreigners alike. If you're a new visitor to the country and you've had your lifetime share of nasi goreng in your brief visit, soto would be my suggestion for you to have a go at.

The only way to have soto is to find your nearest soto specialty shop, there will always be at least one shop in the city you happen to be in. These shops would be generally be named with the type of soto they're specialising in. In Malang, the soto shop I've been going to since childhood is called Soto Ayam Lamongan, est. 1971.

The soto here looks like almost any other soto sold elsewhere, but it does have one significant difference. Like most other soto varieties, the broth of this soto is the colour of an overripe lemon, it borrows this colour from fresh tumeric that has been pulverised to a smooth paste. Tumeric is an essential ingredient in soto, along with galangal, candlenuts and coriander seeds. But the chief flavour of this broth is unmistakably one that is derived from simmering lots and lots of chickens, and in this case, a chicken breed called ayam kampung (a short explanation of the breed can be found in my previous post).

After the chickens have been simmered in the yellow, spiced broth to the point of doneness, they are strained and neatly stacked inside the cook's station. The skin of the chickens will be stained the same yellow colour from the tumeric in the broth.

When an order comes in, the cook would, in blistering speed, line up some empty bowls and fill them with steamed rice and par-cooked rice vermicelli. A chicken piece is selected and the chicken meat would be deftly sliced off of its bones into thin leaf-shaped pieces. He does this matter-of-factly, of a man who's honed his craft for decades, not at all boasting in his showmanship. Now, if you're too mesmerised by his knife skills, you might just miss the secret why the soto in Soto Ayam Lamongan is so special.

After picking the bone clean of its meat, by knife, he would slid in all the leftover chicken bones into the large cauldron of boiling soto broth standing beside him. The glowing charcoal fire underneath the cauldron is maintained at just the right temperature for the broth to be scalding and at a constant simmer. This fire is kept alive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The bones, simmered at a constant temperature, in a slow-cooker type condition, would eventually disintegrate, becoming the broth itself. The result is a superior master broth that is murky with bone matter, meaty and full of calcium goodness.

To finish off the order, the bowl is topped with a garnish of spring onions and fried shallots before scalding broth is added, drowning all the ingredients and instantly heating them up at the same time.

Here the soto is served with rice already added in the bowl of soto, but you can, if you're so inclined, ask to have them pisah (separated).

The way to have soto depends on the mood. When you feel like something homey, a comfort food, something to sooth your travel-weary bones, you'd have the soto as is, perhaps with a glass of refreshing iced tea to chase away the heat. But if you're an extreme sportsman, up for a challenge, you'd have it with a dollop of the chilli sauce provided in a small colourful container on your table. Though, I'm more of a golfer type with the amount, treading carefully. Their chillies are somewhat nuclear, the kind that can make your stomach turn in an instant.

This soto shop is pretty basic, nothing fancy, the amenities are all there. But their customers, like their employees, are super loyal. It's not a rare occurrence for us to see a familiar face having a warm bowl of the soto here. You can find this shop, streetfront, on the busy Oro-oro dowo street. This stretch of road is lined with a dozen of great restaurants, warungs and depots. If you're still hungry after your bowl of soto, walk southwards down the street, you might find something else to get your tastebuds going. Some of which are a warung that only sells the most succulent pork satays (depot mentari), another is a shop serving the best crab meat fried rice in Malang (depot 74), and a reasonable chinese restaurant (depot santai).

Now as a tiny little treat, I give you a photo of the south entrance to the Oro-oro Dowo street. It was taken in 1935 during the Dutch colonisation. Few things to notice, the train tracks shown on the left is no longer there, replaced with a pedestrian walkway. The large corner shop, Toko Semarang, is still currently there, in building only, the name is now different. But, opposite the shop is now (cue long sad sighh....) a Macdonald's. Amazing though isn't it? How about the guy dressed in white from head to toe - love the white hat or is it a pith helmet - while leisurely riding his bike down jalan jenderal basuki rahmad (locally known as kayutangan)? Posh.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute
There's quite a lot of pictures of Malang in wikipedia taken during that era. I went through the lot of them before my last visit to Malang. For a person who's lived there before, it's fascinating to see how much the town has progressed, but also preserved.

Soto Ayam Lamongan
Jalan Brigadir Jenderal Slamet Riyadi 147C
(locally known as Jalan Oro-oro Dowo)
Open 7 days 7am-9pm


  1. wow look at that broth, yumm ngiler... :)

  2. Awesome! Try the sate kambing from the depot next door. That and the soto are quite an unusual combo, but I swear by it.

    1. I didn't know there's a sate kambing next door. Thanks for that Ina. I'll be sure to check it out next time I'm there.


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