5 Quintessential Javanese Snacks for the Soul
Indonesians and their snacking habits are two things that go hand-in-hand. Studies show that Indonesians' snacking habits are higher than the global average, with around three times per day of snacking compared to two and a half times per day of eating a full meal. Indonesia's rich and diverse snacking culture is a testament to the nation's vibrant culinary heritage. The people's fondness for delicious treats has given rise to various types of snacks in different regions. Each island, province, or even city in Indonesia always has something special that represents different people with different tastes.
The island of Java is one of the places you should not skip when it comes to exploring the diversity of Indonesia's cuisines, including snacks. If you happen to wander around Indonesia's most populated Island, Java, and get the chance to explore the variety of Javanese snacks, here are some ideas on what to try!
Tempe (soybean cake) is undoubtedly popular among Indonesians. There are lots of ways to enjoy this product of fermented soybean, but mendoan is perhaps one of the most popular of all. Originated from Banyumas, Central Java, mendoan is a half-cooked tempe with a soft texture that comes from its flour-based batter coat. It is said that mendoan is made to fit the characteristics of Banyumas' people who are flexible and quick to adapt. It is also believed that mendoan was invented to shorten the cooking time during ancient times, hence the half-cooked snack that we know today.
While regular tempe usually makes a good side dish for a full meal, mendoan is more popular as a snack because of its thin cut and soft texture. Once you get your hands on mendoan and the special soy or peanut sauce (some people even eat it with cabai, or chili), you will understand why this snack is worth the hype.
From the same region of Central Java, let us go a little bit to the northeast, which is where we will find Semarang and the people's signature snack, lumpia. This traditional snack from Semarang is reported to be a product with Chinese influence in the island of Java. The name lumpia originated from Hokkien dialect, where "lun" or "lum" means soft, and "pia" means cake. It is known that lumpia first appeared in the 19th century and is an example of a cultural blend between Chinese and Javanese people.
This sweet and savory snack is made from rebung (bamboo shoots), chicken, and shrimp rolled in a thin flour-based skin, which is then fried until the skin turns golden and crunchy. These days, looking for a good lumpia is never a hard task because of how popular the snack has come to be. You can find lumpia in restaurants, snack shops, or even street vendors all across Semarang!
Although known to be the signature "oleh-oleh" or souvenir from Semarang, not many people are aware of the true history behind wingko babat, a snack that first came from Lamongan, East Java.
Despite being well-known in Semarang since the early 1940s, wingko babat was actually invented way before that. It is reported that wingko babat was originally made by Loe Soe Siang and his wife Djoa Kiet Nio in 1898. It became a family business that was sold door-to-door and was eventually stored at snack shops in Stasiun Tawang (Tawang Station), Semarang.
Soft, chewy, and coconut-y would be the perfect few words to describe this popular snack. Nowadays, wingko babat has a lot of flavor for people to choose from, like original, chocolate, jackfruit, or durian. Wingko babat perfectly captures Javanese people's love for soft and sweet food.
Klepon is another quintessential snack that should go on your must-try list. This Indonesian traditional snack is reported to be popular not only in Indonesia, but also in the Netherlands. According to the book "Indisch Ieven in Nederland" by J. M. Meulenhoff, klepon has been around since the 1950s and was introduced in the Netherlands by an Indonesian immigrant from Pasuruan, East Java.
Texture-wise, klepon doesn't hold that much of a difference than the other snacks mentioned earlier. With a soft exterior and melted brown sugar on the inside, klepon is the best match for everyone with a sweet tooth. Klepon is also generally served with grated coconut topping that adds to its saltiness, giving it a perfect balance of sweet and salty.
When talking about Javanese snacks, we obviously should not skip over Yogyakarta, for they have a lot of traditional food that also shares the same characteristics as other regions around Java. Bakpia is one of the best examples for this. First introduced by a Chinese immigrant from Wonogiri, Kwik Sun Kwok, bakpia quickly became a snack that suits the Javanese people's liking for sweet treats.
There are a few types of bakpia that are popular among tourists, such as bakpia kukus (steamed bakpia), bakpia basah (wet bakpia), bakpia kering (dry bakpia), or bakpia renyah (crispy bakpia). Due to its huge popularity that never seems to die down, you can find bakpia everywhere, in stores all around Yogyakarta and Central Java.
Those are a few out of many options you can go for when it comes to exploring Javanese snacks. If there is one thing that can be said about Javanese people, they love their snacks sweet and easy to digest, just like the snacks mentioned above. There are lots of options, but these five remain as the most popular and sought-after Javanese snacks you should definitely put on your culinary check-list.