Rawon, The Black Soup from East Java, Indonesia

Everyone loves Rawon

Indonesia has various traditional dishes from each of its provices and Rawon is the famous traditional dish from East Java province which totally different (for its appearance) with other dish in Indonesia. Generally, this dish can be categorized as a soup and furthermore, it is an extreme soup. Have you ever seen a black soup before? This one is as black as your wildest travel fantasy and here is the story for you.

Not like other soup, rawon offers rich ingredients and extreme appearence. Well, maybe some people will doubt about its taste when they focus to its color (which is black). The goodnews is something nice swarming under the black surface of the soup. Yes, most of Rawon enriched with fresh beef meat which cutted into a small shape (similar to a dice). Served along with rice plus another side-dish such as salty egg, prawn crackers and chili sauce makes Rawon a perfect dish either for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The rich taste of a Rawon came from a perfect mixture of these ingredients ; garlic, shallot, ginger, candlenut, turmeric and keluak. All of those ingredients can transform someone who doubts about the taste of Rawon into Rawon lover. If the Rawon could speak, maybe it will say something like this, “Dude, don’t judge me from the black color, just get into the black and you will know why people loves me”

Since Rawon is very famous in East Java, there are various food stalls that offer Rawon with unique selling point. As an example, you can find Rawon Setan in Surabaya and Rawon Nguling in Malang, both cities are located in East Java. That name sounds very provocative, Rawon Setan (The Devil’s Rawon), pretty interesting isn’t it? This food stall opens daily from midnight to dawn, that is why it was named Rawon Setan. Most people believed that midnight to dawn is the time for the Devils to come out from their crib and make some noises. While Nguling is a sub-district in Pasuruan, East Java and the name of Rawon Nguling refers to the origin of the recipe.

(Left : Rawon Setan (Devils Rawon) Restaurant with classic javanese style outlet and Rawon Nguling restaurant which is located in Malang, East Java)

(Left : Rawon Setan (Devils Rawon) Restaurant with classic javanese style outlet and Rawon Nguling Restaurant which is located in Malang, East Java)

Most people in Indonesia said that traveling around East Java without a bowl of Rawon is not a complete experience and personally i do agree with that expression since Rawon is considered as a folk-dish of East Java that has a long heritage-line since many years ago. Although the origin of Rawon is still argued wheter the original recipe of Rawon came from the grass-root society or top of the tree society (common people or noble family of ancient Java Kingdom) but there is no doubt about its popularity.

Keluak, the magic bean of Rawon

Every dish in Indonesian has its signature and Rawon with its black signature has shown the world that something out of the box could be prime-thing to discuss. So, what is the secret of the Black color soup? The answer is the keluak nut which has latin name Pangeum Edule. This nut is taken from Kepayang Tree and some experts said that only mature keluak could gave specific taste of Rawon. Mature means, it is big enough in shape (about 3 cm in diameter). Kepayang tree is an original vegetation from Indonesia and lives on a solid soil about 1000 meters above the sea level. This tree could reach up to 30-40 meters in height with the diameter is about 2,5 meters.

(Left : Kepayang Tree, the home of Keluwak Nut and Right : Keluwak Shell which ready to be smashed)

(Left : Kepayang Tree, the domain of Keluak Nut and Right : Keluak Nut which already taken from its tree)

Back to keluak, this magic bean of Rawon contains vitamin C and some minerals such as beta-carotene and zinc which needed by our body. So, it is not suprisingly that some people gave testimonial for Rawon as a recharge dish after rush hour everyday. Keluak can be processed through several efforts and here are few steps to get the best Keluak for Rawon dish.

1. As explained above, the perfect keluak is the mature one and the shell is normal in shape and try to shake it. If you can hear something bumped from inside the shell then you need to smash the shell to check the nut core. Make sure the shell surface is clean from fungus.

2. You need to break the shell using a small-size hammer and make sure you only hit the shell not the nut core.

(Left : Keluak nut smashing session and Right : Keluak - core nut soaked into fresh water)

(Left : Keluak nut smashing session and Right : Keluak – core nut soaked into fresh water)

3. If the color of nut core closely to black than it is mature enough to be processed as an ingredient for Rawon but if the color closely to white then you can keep it to be used later.

4. Try not to use the oily nut core or a broken shape nut core, it simply ruin the taste of the original Rawon because the broken shape nut core usually a bitter one.

5. After the nut core taken from its shell we need to soak it into boiling water for about 30 minutes or more.

Homemade Rawon recipe

Never been to East Java before but you want to try the taste of Rawon? No problem, here is a Rawon recipe that you can try out at home. Some people took less Keluak for the ingredient just to make the soup a lighter (in color) but if you like the original one you can mix up to 10-15 pcs of keluak.

Main Ingredients :

> 500  – 700 gr of beef meat
> 1 liter pure water
> 2 galangal smashed
> 2 lemongrass smashed
> 3 cm ginger smashed
> 2 leeks, sliced into small pieces
> 7 lime leaves
> 1 tea-spoon raw sugar
> 2 tea-spoon raw salt

Spices :

> 5-15 pcs keluak (you can adjust the black color of Rawon soup by adding more keluak)
> 10 shallots
> 7 garlics
> 1 tea-spoon cumin
> 1 tea spoon coriander seeds
> 5 candlenuts
> 3 red chilies

Cooking steps :

> Take out keluak nut from its shell and boil it for about 30 minutes, finish with boiling point then we can drain it (take the keluak nut out from the pot)
> Heat up the oil in a frying pan and put all of spices (which has been smashed or mixed using mixer) until the aroma of the spices came out
> Add fresh meat (which has been sliced into dice form), lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger and galangal, stir the ingredients until the meat well cooked
> Add water, sugar and salt to ingredients
> Keep cooking until the meat is tender
> Add sliced leeks and cook about 10 minutes more
> Add keluak water to frying pan
> Keep cooking for 5 minutes and the soup is ready to be served
(You can adjust the taste by adding more sugar or salt)

Usually Rawon served with rice and some side dish such as prawn crackers, beansprouts, salty egg and fried onions but you can combine another side dish such as tempe goreng (another traditional dish from Indonesia) as a companion for Rawon. Although cooking with fresh seasoning is more challenging but it is not a sin to use instant Rawon seasoning that sold either at modern hyper-market or traditional grocery.

(Left : Various instant seasoning include Rawon and Right : A Complete dish of Rawon)

(Left : Various instant seasonings include Rawon and Right : A Complete dish of Rawon)

Yes, some of Rawon instant ingredients are easy to find and the price is also affordable. Sure you need to add extra sugar and salt to balance the overall taste but instant ingredient is enough for kitchen experiment at weekend. Last one, don’t forget to ask your friend to come at weekend and give a try for your homemade Rawon. Maybe if you are good enough to cook Rawon, you can run a big restaurant business and share the Black sensation from East Java to the others.

By Amar Pujo Wicaksono

(Contributor at visitingjava.com)

 

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