As featured in Morning Calm (Korean Air inflight magazine) on July 2011 edition (page 98) – unedited
A feast for the eyes and a delectable treat for snack time, Martabak can simply be found anywhere within the vastness of Jakarta. Rian Farisa is there to explore the infinite possibilities.
The melting pot of cultures and culinary heritages, The Big Durian has become the home of endless creations for both local and international delicacies. You can find simply anything here, from the traditional native Betawis ketoprak – rice cakes with bean sprouts, vermicelli, tofu, and ground nut sauce –, to Padangnese nasi kapau – warm rice with Padangnese delights like beef rendang, ayam kalio, and dendeng balado –, or perhaps Sundanese, Javanese, Manadoan, then Balinese, Makassar, up Japanese, Chinese, Western and many more.
For the famous and ubiquitous Martabak, I have taken these lengthy meditations, consultations and everything, just to pick the best from hundreds or even thousands of martabak vendors from all over the city.
There are two types. The sweet one, said to be made by Hokkien immigrants in the island of Bangka since decades ago and the savoury one, though with uncertain background, that was invented by a Indian immigrant in Java circa 1930s.
Well, there’s no relationship whatsoever between them but why do they use the same term? Nobody knows how it began but from easy guess, the vendors of each martabak probably agreed to help each other. Thus nowadays, most of the vendors can be found side by side.
The sweet martabak has undergone many creations and combinations especially for the toppings. Cooked over a customized circular pan using thin batter made from flour, sugar, milk, and eggs, the sweet martabak will remind you about pancakes but with different cooking method and toppings of course. Once done, the martabak is spread with butter and showered white with thick sweetened condensed milk.
Not stopping there, the next phase is the topping time where you can choose between grated cheddar cheese, fried ground nuts with chocolate sprinkles, banana, dates, raisins, gelatinous rice, almonds, beef/chicken floss or even durian!
Such indulgence also applies for its counterpart, the savoury martabak. Made simply from flour and salted water, the dough then swirled over and over again until it goes thin and wide and ready to be tossed into a flat frying pan.
Next a mixture of duck eggs, onions, scallions, meat and seasonings are poured over the fried martabak. As for the meat you can pick between cooked and spiced beef, chickens, muttons, shrimps, or tuna. Most vendors though only serve either beef and/or chicken. Afterwards the martabak are folded into a rectangular shape and then bathed with minyak samin or coconut oil until it becomes golden and crisp.
Finally, it is best served with pickles made from cucumbers, carrots, shallots, and bird’s-eye chillies. There are other versions that use beef rendang for the fillingand using curry as the dipping sauce.
A NEVER-ENDING QUEST
The journey takes me to several corners of Jakarta. First of all thanks to Novie, an expert in Northern Jakarta culinary map, who referred me to Pecenongan street where food vendors spawns at night with extensive choice from local to Chinese-influenced dishes.
‘You’ll find the most expensive martabak you have never seen in your entire life’, she boasts. Out of curiosity, I spring off instantly there. The street itself actually brings back some childhood memories when my father used to take me there for the exquisite shark fin soup and delicious Chinese food.
I scour the area and discover myself a vendor that offers many varieties of toppings, the newly opened Puspa, and successfully serves my purpose to find the most expensive martabak made by the Martabak 65 Bandung.
In general, the price of martabak is ranging from around IDR 15,000 up to around IDR 120,000. That also depends on the size and toppings/fillings of the martabak itself.
One curiosity leads to another. This time the vendor is located at Balai Pustaka street, famous for the fanfare of night hawkers in Eastern Jakarta. The owners Yudi and his wife Devina are hand in hand together to serve the unstoppable horde of martabak lovers.
‘This is the legacy from Yudi’s father who started the business since the 80s’’, Devina proudly says in-between her short breaks. ‘The freshness and the quality of the ingredients are of course important but the label ‘halal’ is what that matters’. Since Indonesia comprise mostly of Muslims, the ‘halal’ label is indeed vital.
Afterwards, there’s no stopping where I should go next because I hear great things from Fatmawati, Kelapa Gading, Pondok Gede and many other places in Jakarta.
Mia, a food enthusiast reminds me that this is not the end of the journey. She says, ‘Search all over the city, trail them by their reputations, go look if you must to streets unknown and within hidden boulevards but ultimately it’s just a never-ending quest. Knowing that it won’t end then being in the process should always be fun if you’re up to it’. For that I cannot agree more.