Friday, July 23, 2010

Chinese donuts on a Yogya roadside - the best breakfast ever

Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Indonesia's cuisine bears the influences of China and India, to varying degrees. Chinese-derived ingredients are everywhere - noodles, soy sauce, bean curd - but Indonesians always find ways to put their own spin on them.

Arriving in Yogyakarta by train at 6 in the morning, with nowhere to stay and desperate for breakfast, one of the only places open near the station was this stall selling "Medan Cakue" - or cakue, Medan-style. (Medan is a city in North Sumatra). The Indonesian word cakue is an adaption of the Chinese yau char kway, often referred to as youtiao or Chinese donut. The standard version is a puffy stick of fried dough which is eaten as a snack or frequently as an accompaniment to rice porridge.

Indonesia has its own ways of serving cakue, including with chili sauce. The stall we stumbled across had the standard long sticks, but much more interesting were the other varieties, round ones with the wonderfully descriptive name bolang-baling.

The wijen (sesame) bolang-baling were sweet and triangular in shape and coated in sesame seeds; I never noticed what a delicious difference sesame seeds can make to a dish. The bolang-baling durian were not quite as funky as I had feared, and quite tolerable for a someone like me who has a somewhat edgy relationship with durian. Another particularly Indonesian version was the keju (cheese) flavoured bolang-baling. Indonesian cheese is bland and nondescript, yet these qualities mean that it combines well with sweet flavours. These doughballs were slightly sugary with a subtle cheese flavour, with a small knob of cheese in the centre. Fabulous, even if there was a hint of durian about it (durian has a way of pervading other foods prepared near it). 

There are other flavours as well that we didn't try - chocolate, as well as abon sapi (beef floss).

One thing with cakue though - if you really want to enjoy them at their most delectable, you need to try them freshly fried. After too long sitting around they become a little stiffer, and their intrinsic oiliness is more noticeable when cold. We got there early enough to watch the Chinese-Indonesian stall owners preparing the cakue; the very friendly woman rolling out and slicing the dough and tossing them into an oil-filled wok stirred by her husband. Which of course meant that we ate the dough balls at their freshest. I'd never been overly enamoured of Chinese fried dough snacks before, but now having tasted them still warm from the wok, it's like I've found a new friend.

When we asked if there was any places to get coffee anywhere nearby, Cakue Lady informed us that unfortunately it was still too early and everything would be closed. Disappointed, we took a seat on a nearby step to enjoy our breakfast and scan Lonely Planet for places to stay. At which Cakue Lady suddenly appeared with a plastic cup full of sweet black coffee which she had miraculously acquired from somewhere and gave us for free. Which all in all, made it a lovely welcome to Yogya and, given how ravenously hungry we were, possibly the best breakfast I've ever had.

Fang Fang Cakue Medan, on Jln Gandekan Lor, Yogyakarta (near Jln Malioboro, in between Jln Sostrowijayan and Jln Dagen).

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