Surabaya has a cuisine as rich as its architectural traditions, with Arab, Chinese and Javanese traditions combining in surprising–and delicious–ways.
What makes food in Surabaya unique or different from other cuisines in Indonesia or in Java?
Petty: Surabayan cuisine features more bold flavours using spices and hotter chillies when compared to other Javanese regions. Not surprisingly, it draws upon influences from China with some Middle Eastern touches added to perennial favourites such as soto, noodles, duck, seafood and rice dishes.
William: Street food is definitely the strongest point of Surabaya with a lot of cultural mixing since Surabaya is the capital city of East Java, which influences the variety and taste of dishes.
What is the city’s signature dish?
Petty: Rawon–a black-nut/beef soup, traditionally served with rice. The beef is slow cooked with mixed spices including fresh turmeric, ginger roots, chilies, coriander seeds, lemon grass, lime leaves, shallots, garlic, candle nuts and the most important ingredient of keluwak, or black nuts. It is served with fresh short bean sprouts, spring onion, lime juice and extra chillies. This dish has delicious layers of flavours and the unique black colouring from the black nut.
William: For the well-known dishes from restaurants or warung, you should try Nasi Udang Bu Rudi, Sate Klopo Ondomohen,Nasi Rawon Setan, Zhangrandi Ice Cream, Gado Gado Arjuno, Mie Kembang Jepun, Nasi Babi Peneleh and Ayam Goreng Sriwijaya.
Are there any interesting innovations on Indonesian standards In Surabaya?
William: Nasi Udang Bu Rudi is one innovation that’s become a signature food from Surabaya, due to the uniqueness of its sambal and use of small fried shrimp.
Do you have a favourite Surabayan dish?
Petty: I really like beef rawon, which I cook using a different cooking technique and serving ideas. My beef rawon involves grilled tenderloin steak served with a rawon reduction, mashed or roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables. It looks very European dish but the flavour is authentically Indonesian.
What different ingredients, tastes or flavours are distinct in Surabaya?
Petty: The flavours and tastes of Surabaya are spicy and rich.
William: Most Surabayans or East Javanese like their food hot and a bit salty, compared to other regions.
Is there any Surabayan dish with a story? And what is that story?
Petty: We find rujak or fruit salad everywhere around Indonesia, but I am curious about rujak cingur. it is a mixed fruits and vegetable salad, mixed fruit and vegetables combination using unripe mango, pineapple and vegetables plus protein from soys along with jicama, water spinach and long bean. Served with peanut sauce with strong flavour of petis [fermented shrimp]. The most important ingredient is the “cingur” or “congor” being the nose of the cow. Apparently in Javanese cingur or congor means mouth, but the boiled and sliced cow nose is an interesting addition to the dish as there is no significant fat with gelatinous texture. This is a classic dish with lots of old wisdom and it is good example of really ensuring a “nose-to-tail” approach, wasting nothing and creating some interesting culinary offerings.
William: Lontong balap. As we know, lontong is Indonesian for rice cakes and balap means race. In the past, people used big bamboo sticks to carry two big heavy clay frying pans on the right and left sides on the shoulders. Since the clay pans were heavy, people had to walk faster which looked like they are doing a race.