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Handle the heat or get out of the kitchen

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Gudeg Yu Djum

Who amongst us really like to think about where our food comes from? As long as it appears clean and tasty on our table, that’s all that matters. And sometimes – like in the restaurants of South East Asia – it’s often not worth the mental anguish of wondering what’s going on in the kitchen. It will be delicious – tick. It won’t make you sick – tick. So who cares about anything else, right?

Well… in this case, wrong. But only because this is one of the most fascinating and visually-interesting kitchens I have ever seen.

Gudeg Yu Djum is one of the most famous restaurants in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. It’s not fancy – there are no stars or hats or pretensions associated with it. But it’s known across the city for doing one of the region’s most popular dishes well. The dish is called ‘Nasi Gudeg’ and it’s essentially boiled jackfruit covered in a coconut milk sauce, served with rice, chicken and a hard-boiled egg. This is what it looks like (after a few bites):

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (7)

But the bright and clean meal comes from smoke and darkness, from a burning cavern behind the scenes. In this photo essay, allow me to take you inside the kitchen of Gudeg Yu Djum and show you how the meal is prepared… the same way it has been traditionally prepared for generations.

Making Nasi Gudeg

Here the ‘gudeg’, the main ingredient is being cooked. It’s made from sliced young jackfruit which is being boiled in these large pots. They have water mixed with brown sugar and salt in them, and will be left on the fire overnight for more than 12 hours.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (9)

This man is painstakingly extracting coconut milk from fresh fruit by hand. Coconut will be a key ingredient for two very important elements of the meal.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (2)

In this large pan near the fireplaces, coconut milk is being simmered to reduce the liquid until it turns thick. The result will be sauce called ‘arek’ which will be combined with the boiled jackfruit to make the gudeg.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (6)

A separate room at the back of the restaurant is the only space of the kitchen that has electric lighting. Half a dozen people are cleaning and dividing whole raw chickens. One of the women gestures at everyone in the room and tells me they “are all family”.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (3)

These large pots above open fires are being used to make ‘santan’, which is a sauce of coconut milk mixed with salt, shallots and a bit of sugar. The heat in this room is extremely high so this man is working with his shirt off.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (8)

Away from the heat and near a breeze, this elderly woman is preparing chillis to be served with the nasi gudeg.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (5)

And here, in the section of the kitchen with the most natural light, a woman is sitting solitary and silent while she rips apart banana leaves. They’ll be used for the presentation of the meal.

gudeg yu djum, yogyakarta, nasi gudeg, cooking, kitchen, indonesia, rice dish, restaurant (1)

And that’s it. A lot of effort clearly goes on behind the scenes in the spacious and sprawling kitchen area of the restaurant. Hours and hours of work for a dish that is consumed within minutes. But it is tasty… very tasty, in fact. Which you hope makes it all worthwhile.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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49 Comments
  • D.J. - The World of Deej | Oct 25, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I think it would have to be impossible for something takes so much effort to make to taste bad… Now I’m hungry…
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Hotel Duval Tallahassee – Check-In FloridaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Ha ha – good point! It would be very unfortunate if they did all of this and then it sucked! :)

  • Vera | Oct 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Your first sentence is so true! …But awareness about where your food comes from can help you make better choices, I believe, and also help you appreciate and enjoy a meal more. Apart from that, I’m glad you included a sexy man, as usual. I noticed that there wasn’t one in your orang-utans in Borneo article, and I admit, I was slightly disappointed, even though the apes made up for it. That sounds wrong. The apes made up for it because they are awesome, not because they are sexy. Geez. You have a dirty mind, really. Anyway, it was very interesting to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of Gudeg Yu Djum -thank you:)!
    Vera recently posted..#TravelPinspiration: SunsetsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Ha ha ha… oh… I always laugh when I read a comment from you, Vera :)
      I promise to try to put some more sexy man photos in my posts just for you. And, failing that, I’ll just slip in some shots of orangutans… because you seem to have a bit of a things going for them, ahem…

  • Anton | Oct 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Well done with this writeup. You transported me there, now I’m hungry to try out Gudeg. Still looking for a decent Indonesian resto here in Manila.

    Love the photos :)

    Anton

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Anton. Let me know if you find a good Indo restaurant in Manila. I’d be curious to hear your comparisons with the food from the trip!

  • Laurence | Oct 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Ahh.. manual coconut milk extracation. Reminds me of my youth in the Seychelles.. hours spent watching people carefully grate the coconut with the special coconut grating stool.. followed by a lot of squeezing. Mmmm. Squeezing.
    Laurence recently posted..#TravelPinspiration: SunsetsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Is there not an easier way to do it? It seemed to be a rather tiring task!

  • Flora | Oct 25, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Gorgeous shots, Michael. The coconut flesh extraction reminded me of doing the same thing in Thailand – it’s a seriously time consuming process!
    Flora recently posted..Stranded and Starving in a Four Star HotelMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:58 am

      I understand maybe doing the extraction that way if you just needed a small amount – but these guys use so much every day. It doesn’t seem like the best use of time (but at least it kept the kitchen nice and traditional…)

  • DebbZie | Oct 26, 2012 at 12:41 am

    I love your pictures, beautiful shots !!! This scenes are familiar to me and in my opinion they cook better food than the ones from fancy restaurant :)
    DebbZie recently posted..Italy: Rome At A GlanceMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:59 am

      The biggest difference between this and a fancy restaurant is that they do one thing really well. So there’s so much time and effort put into making it just perfect. That’s why there seemed to be a lot of locals coming here to grab some food!

  • Lane | Oct 26, 2012 at 2:19 am

    As always, wonderful storytelling. We could *almost* taste this one. But, your photographs are so stunning! The light is spot on. Congrats.
    Lane recently posted..24 Hour Travel Video Marathon: Part 3My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:03 am

      The light was amazing! When I walked in and saw the sun coming in through those windows and catching the smoke – it took my breath away for a second.

  • Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey | Oct 26, 2012 at 5:33 am

    Expeditions inside kitchens are always fascinating….with this one had come with Taste-o-Rama though….
    Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey recently posted..In the Water with Whale Sharks – Cancun, MexicoMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:04 am

      Yes, I’m sorry. It’s not really fair to put up photos of such delicious food and not find a way for you to smell or taste it. My bad.

  • Cathy Sweeney | Oct 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I knew this would be interesting when you first mentioned the kitchen being fascinating, but it was even more interesting than I expected. Great that you got to see this and that you actually liked the meal. It looks OK to me, but I’d love to see the kitchen.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Scary in SpainMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

      I’m not sure how many people would normally get to see the kitchen. It’s not normally open for the public but, as an intrepid travel blogger, I was allowed to go in and check it out. Maybe we should all just ask more often to see what is cooking out back!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad | Oct 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

    These photos are absolutely AMAZING, what a beautiful kitchen, and the food looks amazing. Just out of curiosity, what kind of camera and lens were you using? Did you use flash too?
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..Taking on The Pink Palace, Corfu’s Infamous Party HostelMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

      Thanks Ashley. I’m not much a photographer, to be honest. I use a Canon 600D with just the kit lens it came with. No flash with these photos (and I don’t think I even took it off automatic… but don’t tell anyone that!)

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel | Oct 27, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Wow, this gives me an entirely new perspective on making dinner. I’ll never complain again about 45 min prep time.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..CHURCHILL, MANITOBA: Into The Wilds of the Canadian ArcticMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

      Ha ha ha – you’re also not cooking for hundreds of people a day (I assume…)

  • BlogDaz | Oct 27, 2012 at 9:47 am

    That’s one industrious kitchen, I wonder if they could fill those pots any more. Love those photos Michael, you always take right to heart of your subject.
    BlogDaz recently posted..Pattaya Street RobberyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:12 am

      I get the feeling that everything that could be used was being used. There wasn’t much waste going on there!!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Oct 29, 2012 at 2:09 am

    It is amazing how much work goes into some great dishes.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Knead: Local is DeliciousMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Yeah – I get annoyed if I have to put something in the microwave for more than 2 minutes!

  • Elmer Cruz | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Great photo essay – I loved the shots! What camera are you using?
    Elmer Cruz recently posted..The Rise of the DeadMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      I’ve got a Canon 600D. But just the simple kit lens. Maybe it’s time for an upgrade – it would’ve been nice to have caught the light a bit better at this place.

  • Best travel blog posts in October « 101 Holidays blog | Oct 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    [...] foodie post I’d like to share comes from Michael Turtle on his blog, Time Travel Turtle. Handle the heat or get out of the kitchen is a fascinating peep behind the scenes of the making of nasi gudeg in an Indonesian restaurant. [...]

  • Faces of Indonesia Travel Photo Essay | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    [...] One of my favorite stories about people to come out of our time in Indonesia isn’t even mine. Michael’s post about the people in the kitchen of Gudeg Yu Djum is terrific and it’s made all the more special because even though I wasn’t able to [...]

  • Cole @ FourJandals.com | Oct 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I might just prefer to see the meal on my plate to be honest. Not sure I want to know all about the sweat dripping off his torso into my new freshly cooked coconut sauce.
    Cole @ FourJandals.com recently posted..Visiting Las Islas Cies in GaliciaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      It saves you adding salt, at least :)

  • Bryce | Oct 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Beautiful photo-essay – thank you. I love nasi gudeg and have good memories from years ago of sitting on woven palm mats on the footpaths of Yogya late at night feasting on gudeg. You made me long to return there.
    Bryce recently posted..Crossing to SafetyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Wow, I can just imagine how good it is as a late-night treat. Hopefully I’ll get to go back to Yogya at some point and try that out for myself.

  • Dinna | Nov 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Great writing and shots, Michael!

    To explain a little though, there are simpler ways to extract coconut milk, with machine help, but I believe the extraction by hand has to do with the goal of producing more milk. A lot of time with a machine, even though it saves grinding time, some of the ground coconuts get stuck in between parts of the machine and ultimately wasted.

    Also, it is a customary belief that preparation by hands will produce tastier food. Other examples are chopping vegetables by hands rather than by knife and grinding spices using mortar & pestle rather than a blender. I think that’s where they came from :)

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Oh, fantastic, thanks Dinna. I had assumed it was all done by hand because that made it tastier, but I didn’t realise exactly why they did the coconuts that way. I’m sure the experts can taste the difference (I am not yet an expert, sadly…)

  • Cam | Nov 5, 2012 at 3:56 am

    That is a pretty interesting kitchen! You captured some great images…
    Cam recently posted..The disOrient Express – London to Everywhere and BackMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 7, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Yeah, it was a fascinating place. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

  • Andrew | Nov 5, 2012 at 5:29 am

    Nice story, but what does it taste like? I have never heard of jackfruit, though I can imagine coconut and chicken well enough. Interesting look at food prep though. They must do huge volume to be able to support that many people.
    Andrew recently posted..Your Move Or Mine, BrusselsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 7, 2012 at 10:30 am

      It’s delicious! I can’t really describe the taste perfectly except to say that it actually seems a bit meaty. The first time I tried it I thought it might have been pulled pork with a sweet sauce. If that helps? Anyone else?

  • Stephen | Nov 28, 2012 at 9:11 am

    …yet again good stuff from the time traveling Turtle. Thanks for taking us behind-the-scenes. Fascinating look into an Indonesian kitchen.

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks, mate. I’m not sure if every Indonesian kitchen would look exactly like this. But this is a pretty cool one!

  • Arry Wastuti | May 17, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Nice story and great photos! Thank you for presenting Jogja to the world, Michael :) I’ve been living in Jogja for 2 years but never had a chance to see the Yu Djum’s kitchen. Thank’s to your photos here, so now I know how they make that delicious gudeg. By the way, if you want to try to eat gudeg late at night, there’s a place in Jogja called Gudeg Pawon that open at 10.00 PM. It’s quite unusual business hour for a gudeg restaurant actually :D

    • Michael Turtle | May 25, 2013 at 5:22 am

      Mmmmm… yum. Hopefully I’ll get back to Jogja at some point and I’ll definitely take your recommendation and check it out. If I’m still awake that late! :)

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