warungs and Bakso carts!

Your “set of Drifters” are usually game for anything, particularly when food and drink are concerned.  (See “sips” for our experience with “kopi luak.”)  Before heading to Indonesia, one thing that we kept reading over and over again was that we must try local foods served from the street side cafes known as “warungs.”  (In Los Angeles, we might refer to this as “street meat.”)  The logic behind this, of course, is that whenever you travel to another country, your best option is often to eat exactly what the locals eat.  Why try “French fries” and a burger - or worse yet, a salad - in a place that is not used to properly preparing the dish with the correct ingredients?  Eating from the same places that the locals saddle up to almost ensures that you will NOT get sick.  These are the foods that are bound to be the freshest, tastiest, and luckily for you, the cheapest!

Yogyakarta and, well, anywhere else in Java sees an abundance of outdoor “warungs” lining its busiest streets.  We decided Jalan Malioboro was as good a place as any to have this experience we were advised not to miss!

Picking a place at random in the middle of street, we sat down on some modest mats under harsh florescent lighting.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Warungs vary widely when it comes to accommodations.  Some are full-fledged cafes with sinks, bathrooms and utensils while others are little more than a cart with an open flame and a bench.  In other words, you may just want to have your own stash of napkins at the ready.)  We had heard that ayam goreng (that’s “fried chicken” to you and me) was a local specialty and, if the proliferation of “Kentucky Fried Chicken” restaurants in town was any indication, this stuff is popular.  We also ordered a plate of gudeg, a type of fried rice combined with boiled eggs and cooked jack fruit, an Indonesian staple that oddly resembles meat when cooked.

Who knows?  Perhaps we picked the wrong warung, but the freshly fried ayam was not well cooked enough for us.  As a former vegetarian, Set of Drifter Doug did not appreciate seeing blood on the bone.  Yikes!  Still, the gudeg proved to be a new exciting surprise for us.  We loved its unusual taste and would certainly order again!

And yet, nothing compares to “bakso.”  What you ask?

No matter where you go in Java, screams of “bakso, bakso” can be heard through the streets.  Cart-wielding vendors seem to be everywhere, their window displays filled with large meat balls that almost stare at you as you walk by.  Of course, once you finally sit down to indulge in the soup snack, you’ll easily see why these mini-warungs are positioned every few feet from one another.

At its base, bakso is a meatball soup.  Though depending on how you order it, the snack can be accompanied by noodles, tofu and other yummy treats.  Like it spicy?  Add some pepper.  Need a crunch?  How about a shrimp cracker?  No matter what you fancy, you will soon fall in love with the delicious soup broth flavored with yummy meatballs, lemongrass and other spices.  It’s a Set of Drifters favorite that probably ended up eating at least five times during our visit to the country.  For more on “street eating,” see our report on the Tenggerese peoples of Tosari in “sights.")

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

rawon at Waroeng Bamboo (Pandaan)

When our tour guide Herman offered to let us pick our lunch stop on the first day of our four-day sojourn from Yogyakarta to Bali, we just assumed he would know better than we would.  And in a way, he did, though not for the same reasons.

You see, while we wouldn’t be sure of it until the following day at Taman Mangli Indah (see below), Herman and our driver Kiman had hidden incentives for delivering us to places with already well-established ties with tour operator Exotissimo.  The idea is that most foreigners will appreciate a place that caters to other foreigners, and one that features accommodations more in line with what they may be accustomed to back home.  Clearly, we are not Exotissimo’s core audience, for we would have rather eaten at a place that caters to locals any day of the week.  Nevertheless, around 2:00 PM on that first afternoon of the tour we stopped off at the rather nondescript Waroeng Bamboo in the rather nondescript town of Pandaan.  It would be only a few more minutes before a horde of French-Canadian tourists would arrive by bus.

Ironically, we were glad they did, for we would have otherwise felt much too guilty for shunning the large, yet ultimately weak, buffet in favor of ordering a la carte.

Earlier in the day, Herman begged and pleaded with us that we try the local East Javanese black beef soup called “rawon.”  Though it sounded a bit strange, described by a murky color that easily resembles squid ink, Herman advised us we would not want to miss the tasty dish since it was not readily available outside of East Java.  We made sure the soup was the first of three shared options we would try that afternoon, and after tasting it we may now report back to you... it was incredible.  With water and beef brisket as its base, the dish is seasoned by a local spice called kluwek.  The seed is apparently black in color, and somewhat resembles a small piece of coal.  (Kluweks are soaked in water so that they may soften before being added to the soup.)  Wow!   Whatever else was in this dish, it did not really matter.  It was so good that it was even worth stopping off for an hour or so to hang around all of the other “bule.”  But the meal didn’t end there.

We also pigged out on nasi pandan, a rice dish that married many of the region’s other popular tastes onto one plate.  (Indonesian perkedel patties, beef satay and soybean fermented chips were just a few of the attractions.)  Lontong cap gomek rounded out the meal.  This well-plated dish consisted of chicken curry and egg smothered in coconut sauce and served on a giant banana leaf with a side of steamed rice.  The food that kept arriving at our table was so darn yummy that we could not possibly leave without trying dessert, narrowing in immediately on pisang goreng (fired banana) with warm drizzled chocolate on top!

Overall, Herman did not steer us wrong at all.  The meal was nothing short of heaven, though we did pay some of the steepest prices of the trip here.

A mention must be made of our kind server who, Herman would tell us later, was also the proprietor.  The flouncy gentleman was ever so kind to us visiting “bule” and clearly aims to run an open-minded establishment that supports a youthful and hip staff.  Who knows... maybe from time to time a few locals end up at Waroeng Bamboo after all?  With that unforgettably zesty “rawon” on the menu, we don’t doubt it.

Set of Drifters tip:  If in the immediate area to Waroeng Bamboo, make sure to look out for a rather grandiose outpost of Kentucky Fried Chicken just off the main road.  The crazy multi-spired edifice is like nothing you have ever seen, more closely resembling a Turkish mosque than an East Javanese franchise of the infamous American fast-food joint.

Waroeng Bamboo - Jalan Purwosari Gempol (Raya Tamanan 5), Kepulungan, Pandaan, East Java, 011 (62) 343-634917

soto ayam at Bladok Losmen and Restaurant (Yogyakarta)

Attempting to gather some semblance of Yogyakarta’s surprisingly gritty pulse, we wandered through the streets of the Sosrowijayan district on our first night.  Sure, we were looking for a stiff drink, but food was also somewhere on that list.  After wasting more than enough time, we finally happened upon the Bladok Losmen and Restaurant.  The spot captured our attention with two subtle tricks.  First, its sign’s quasi- Mid-century font was the only example of graphic design in the neighborhood we had seen yet - and second, the large tree out front, resplendent in numerous strings of party light, gave us faint nostalgic memories of Khao San Road’s Molly Bar in Bangkok.

We had read ahead of time that most restaurants that serve “western food” simply cannot be trusted so when we opened the menu and saw 90% of it promised the likes of hamburgers and pasta we were a bit taken aback . Eventually, through trial and error, we realized that what the guide books really mean is that you should not bother with Western foods in spots that, first and foremost, feature traditional cooking.  In other words, just because a restaurant cannot tell the difference between “a London broil” or a “chicken parm” does not mean that they are going to mess up a plate of chicken satay with a side of prawn crackers.

Since it was only our fifth night in Indonesia, we were still craving the indigenous stuff, and thus adhered strictly to the local classics on Bladok’s menu.  Set of Drifter Doug chose a curry dish while I opted for the soto ayam, Indonesia’s answer to chicken soup . It soon became a favorite.  Soto ayam can be prepared with a variety of ingredients, though on that first night in Jogya, I noted vermicelli, lemongrass, shallots, galangal and ginger among them.

We partnered our meals with a couple of large Bintang, but resisted the urge to pig out on dessert, saving ourselves for drinks at another watering hole later in the evening.

Bladok’s restaurant is open daily for breakfast at 7:30 AM and remains open all the way until 10:30 at night.  The spot fronts one of the most popular “losmen” lodging sites for backpacking tourists.  From one glance in the lobby it was easy to see why.  The place looks clean and safe, and again, appears to be one of the only places in the area that really cares about design.  We can also bet that their nightly rate was considerably less than the already cheap prices were paid at the Hotel Phoenix Jogyakarta (see “digs”).

Bladok Losmen and Restaurant - Jalan Sosrowijayan 76, Yogyakarta  55271, 011 (62) 274-523832


New Superman’s Restaurant (Jogyakarta)

“AH AH AH AH AH AH AH AH AH AH AH!  O Superman,” sang performance artist Laurie Anderson back in the early ‘80s.  “YA YA YA YA YA” is what your "Set of Drifters" chanted when we noticed this cool little cafe located along Gang I in Yogyakarta’s Sosrowijayan kempung (see “sights”).  Naturally, it was late in the evening and New Superman’s was closing for the night.  Nonetheless, the restaurant’s inviting vaulted roof and relaxed boho vibe ensured a return the following day for lunch.

After an excruciatingly hot ride on the front of a becak (from a driver who was much too old to be cycling a couple of lugs like us around), we found New Superman’s once again, only to be disappointed that it was virtually empty.  This is usually not a good sign, and yet, a groovy elderly lady selling batik shirts inside the restaurant caught our attention.  If you have been following your “Set of Drifters” and our penchant for photographing what we like to call “Old Grooves,” then you will be excited to learn that this chick may have been the ultimate “OG” ever!  We just had to meet her, so we snuck inside for lunch regardless of the fact we were the only ones ordering food!

Looking back on it now, the atmosphere at New Superman’s is not unlike some quirky cafe in San Francisco or Seattle.  It’s the kind of place where tourists and expats must hang out for hours - sipping coffee, reading books, or updating their Facebook profile!  Wooden tables and warm earthy interiors make it a comfortable place to simply just let it all hang out.  Of course, we eschewed the coffee for a couple of large bottles of Bali Hai beer, then ordered Indonesian favorites from a menu which also issues Chinese and Western staples for those less adventurous.  (Jaffles anyone?)  The home-style cooking at New Superman’s was soooo tasty we had to photograph our empty plates just to show how much we enjoyed their flavors!

Now, while our food was extraordinary, the highlight of New Superman’s still had to be our inevitable encounter with the old Indonesian woman who we ended up calling “Grandma.”  When we made certain we were not interested in her wares, she started down a list of Javanese translations for members of the family, not that we asked.  She was just so darn adorable - at times chic and savvy, and at others, as backward and messed up as an Appalachian cousin!  With barely one tooth to her name, Grandma regaled us with tales of her city, most of which we could not understand.  At one point, we think she mentioned that she had lost her job when her employer found out she had been living in a mental institution.  Of course, the only reason she had ended up there was because she had fallen and bumped her head so hard that she lost all of her teeth!

Grandma laughed and smiled the entire time and walked us to the door to wish us well as we left for the afternoon.  If there is one thing in this life that you can be sure of, it’s this.  The next time we are in Yogya, we will definitely return to New Superman’s - for the food yes, but also to check in our beloved Indonesian “Ibu.”

Set of Drifters tip:  Looking for another place to stay?  New Superman’s is also another of Sosrowijayan’s cheap losmen accommodation options.

New Superman’s Restaurant - Jalan Sosrowijayan Gang I, Yogyakarta, 011 (62) 274-515007

Taman Mangli Indah (Jember)

After hours upon hours of driving through the small village towns of East Java on the third day of our tour with Exotissimo, we finally found ourselves back in civilization and the town of Jember.  We had told Herman and Kiman that we wanted to dine in a simple restaurant, one not as touristy or frequented by “bule” as Waroeng Bamboo had been the day prior (see above).  While we had hoped to find some small bakso cart or street side warung to satisfy our afternoon hunger, we ended up at the site of a giant structure that immediately recalled images of Polynesia!

Hark, what was this bizarre curved roof structure accompanied by tall pagodas and koi ponds?  It was the tongkonan structure of Taman Mangli Indah, a decades old themed restaurant that pays kitschy homage to the Tana Toraja culture of Central Sulawesi!  (Who knew?  The Tana Toraja experience was just one of the things we had to cross off our itinerary for Indonesia due to lack of time!)

Since Herman had ultimately not followed our request of dining more modestly that afternoon, we did not want to show him how excited we actually were by the tiki-esque vibe afoot.  (It’s not as though we ever told Herman we were aficiondos!)  While Herman went off to pray - and then eat lunch at one of the same warungs we had initially suggested - we popped into the lobby of the huge restaurant that clearly doubles as a special events place for the locals of Jember and beyond.  With indoor and outdoor eating pagodas, a dancefloor and a small bar set into a cave across from the aforementioned koi pond, this is the kind of place we would love to have DJ’d at.  Too bad we were 10,000 miles away from home and any of our friends or we just may have suggested an impromptu party!

Unfortunately, what Taman Mangli Indah serves up in atmosphere, it lacks in terms of its food.  While the menu was jam-packed with offerings (who doesn’t love “fried fries”), the quality of our dishes were sub-par.  How do we know?  The best part about Set of Drifter Doug’s fried squid dish was the accompanying iceberg lettuce salad!  Meanwhile, another round of both rawon and soto ayam for Brady were just not as tasty, or as hot, as they had been at other spots earlier in the trip (see above).  Worse yet, the restaurant’s prices were some of the highest of the trip!  I guess they have to feed those hearty koi fish somehow!

Nevertheless, one thing Herman got right was that the fact that we were the only “bule” dining at Taman Mangli Indah that afternoon.  For that, we thank him.

After our meal, the rain started to come down pretty hard.  Since we had had a few beers, we were feeling pretty good and therefore did not mind walking around without proper coverage to take photos of the rather unique Taman Mangli Indah property.

Taman Mangli Indah - Jalan Hayam Wuruk 183, Mangli, Jember, Jatim, East Java, 011 (62) 331-484628


Warung Makan “Bu Widy” (Randuagung)

Before reaching the lovely Ijen Resort west of Banyuwangi (see “digs”), you will have to pass through a few small villages that overlap the rocky road which bisects the countryside.  After having such a poignantly wonderful experience in Tosari a few nights prior (see “sights”), we made a point to check out the first of these villages after unloading our bags at the hotel and freshening up.  The visit lasted only about an hour or so, but was full of so many of the same “pulsations” we are always seeking.  (A full report can be found at top.)

On the return back to our hotel, we noticed a sign for the Warung Makan “Bu Widy” that was so well-lit it could almost have been considered the small village’s sole billboard.  We decided to sacrifice our sore feet for a few more minutes to see what all the fuss was about.  A short path emptied us out to a beautiful small pond that faced a(nother) rice paddy.

“Hello,” shouted a familiar voice.  Yep, it was none other than our guide Herman and driver Kiman.  The two were gearing up for what they referred to as the “best meal in town.”  While we had already set our sights on dining at the Ijen Resort, we did partake in a round of coffees when proposed by Herman.  The resulting comedic chat, about religion and cats, has already ended up on a “Set of Drifters pulsation video.”

While we were unable to sample any of the food here, the woman preparing the evening’s dishes did make sure to show us the finished results.  The plates looked absolutely stunning, mouthwatering even.

If you are staying at the Ijen Resort for more than one day, make sure you stop here for at least one of your meals.  The staff is super-friendly, yet casual, and according to Herman, Warung Makan Bu Widy’s food is so good, it is now his favorite part of coming to Ijen Resort.  Our only critique would be for the owner’s to produce an identical sign for the opposite side of the road so that other trekkers coming from the direction of Ijen Resort would see the sign before heading back for the night.  The restaurant’s setting is so pretty that they would probably attract a few one-nighters away from the resort’s well-appointed dining room. 

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Warung Makan “Bu Widy” - on the right hand side only about .5 km. from the Ijen Resort on the way to the first village, East Java