Fri, 18 May 2001

Favorite 'Soto Gebraak' boasts a broth with a big bang

JAKARTA (JP): Soto is most often translated in English as chicken soup, which really does not do justice to this popular, delicious, satisfying dish. For it's much more than a simple broth for when you are feeling under the weather.

It seems like there are regional variations found throughout the country, such as soto Madura (a clear broth with vermicelli and shredded chicken), soto Betawi (beef tripe and vegetables in a coconut milk soup) and soto Bandung (cubed beef with slices of turnip and soybeans), all of them cooking up soto success.

There is also a soto food stall in South Jakarta whose name is familiar to the ears of many diners, although it is not what is on the menu that gets their attention. Its selling point? Read on, or, rather, listen up.

Soto Gebraak: Jl. Tebet Timur Raya No. 54 C, South Jakarta (toward Jl. Casablanca). Branches located on Jl. Taman Setiabudi I Raya, South Jakarta and Jl. Raya Pondok Gede No. 29, East Jakarta.

Open: Daily 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.

What's It Got: The popular East Javanese traditional recipe, made with shredded chicken or diced beef, beansprouts, cabbage and vermicelli, with the broth flavored with spices such as ginger, turmeric, shallots, garlic, coriander, candlenuts, a sprinkle of poya (a mix of fried shrimp chips and garlic) and fried shallots.

There are other varieties including offal and tripe and soto combi, featuring a mix of beef and shredded chicken, served with rice.

Diners usually make a full meal of it with chili sauce, a squeeze of lime, emping (a type of chip made from the dried melinjo bean) and shrimp crackers.

Another traditional soup on the menu is rawon, a blackish broth containing diced meat, beansprouts flavored with kluwek (a hard-shelled fruit which gives the soup its distinctive color and almost gamey taste), shallots, garlic, candlenuts, coriander, ginger and lime leaves.

There are soft drinks and traditional beverages: es cendol Bandung (a green-colored beanflour and shredded jackfruit in a melted palm sugar and coconut milk syrup, crowned with shaved ice), es lidah buaya (aloe vera extract in syrup with ice), tea, soybean milk ice and lemon ice.

Price Points: A bowl of soto or rawon is Rp 5,000, a stick of fried intestine, lung or meat is Rp, 2,500 and rice is Rp 1,000 per serving, pretty standard for sidewalk eateries. Drinks average Rp 2,500.

Looks: Truth be told, it has a dirty floor, lots of flies and it is not very comfortable inside the soto stall (a bit of fresh air is provided by a few electric fans).

It is also noisy, a combination of the television, the sounds of the street and, most tellingly, a thick bottle being slammed on a table now and then by the cook. It's the latter noise that has made Soto Gebraak a Jakarta institution over the last 25 years.

Gebraak means "to slam" in Javanese, which is what the chef does unmercifully to the soy sauce bottle every time he prepares a bowl of soup, eliciting varied reactions from the diners (it may take you by surprise even if you know it's coming).

It's an attention-getter in more ways than one; Surabaya-born owner Anton started his soto business in 1975 and his unique approach to keeping diners awake has led to profiles in newspapers, magazines and on TV.

Popular with...: From the celebrity crowd, comedians Eko Patrio and Derry, the Srimulat theater group, rocker Ahmad Albar and his ex, the actress Cut Keke. Among all of us regular folks, it is a place to dine for young people, employees and residents from along Casablanca.

Taste Factor: Nothing very special. The rawon had too much fat instead of diced lean beef and beansprouts and, frankly, the banging on the table is more of an attraction than the soto ayam spices.

For there is no need to think twice in choosing from its one- page menu, as all the soto have the same spices and flavor (and the messy appearance of the table, with crackers left here and there, may dull your appetite anyway).

Still, it's not a complete write-off, for a recommended thirst-quencher is the es lidah buaya.

Minus Points: No parking space, it lacks a comfortable rest room and those flies (granted, these three are common problems in every sidewalk food stall).

Verdict: It's the dining experience, not the food, that brings diners here and then back again for another earful. It may bring a frown or a smile to your face, but there is no doubt it's a one-of-a-kind meal. It might be the spot for a little light -- but loud -- amusement as you bring along an unsuspecting friend. (Deni Putri)