Handle the heat or get out of the kitchen

In this photo essay, we go behind the scenes of the famous Gudeg Yu Djum restaurant in Yogyakarta to see how they make the iconic nasi gudeg dish.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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

Gudeg Yu Djum restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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 restaurant, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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.


There are some really cool places in Yogyakarta, which is just would you would expect from one of Indonesia’s most creative cities.


If you’re looking for a backpacker option, I would recommend the cool Cubic Jogja.


A good cheap and comfortable hotel is Aloha Hotel.


For some ecofriendly accommodation, there’s the affordable Greenhost Boutique Hotel in a good location.


And when it comes to luxury, I would recommend the Sofia Boutique Residence.

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

48 thoughts on “Handle the heat or get out of the kitchen”

  1. 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:)!

    • 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…

  2. 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 🙂


  3. 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.

    • 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…)

    • 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!

  4. 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.

    • 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!

    • 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!)

  5. 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.

  6. 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 🙂

    • 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…)

  7. 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.

    • 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?

  8. 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 😀

    • It’s certainly delicious – and the fact there’s a whole shop that takes such much effort to just make one dish shows you how popular it is. I really enjoyed gudeg when I tried it!


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