Keeping tradition alive with ‘gudeg manggar’

A traditional dish made of coconut flower buds used to be served in Yogyakarta on special occasions, such as weddings, newborn baby celebrations or circumcision parties — a big family event commonly celebrated among the Muslims.

“But then it was only a memory,” says Jumilan. “I rarely found gudeg manggar, the dish, served at any party.”

Such was her desire to resurrect gudeg manggar that, in 1992, the grandmother, now 60, and her husband, Jumilan, 63, decided to make it and sell it in Mangiran market at Trimurti, Bantul, as a side business.

“I was sure it would sell well. This is a tradition handed down from our ancestors, unlike modern dishes, and will not make people ill. Gudeg manggar is also believed to be good for treating diarrhea.”

Her gudeg manggar business has since flourished, finding customers not only in her hometown, but also many places across the country and even abroad. It is no longer a side business for the couple; it is now their main source of income.

Gudeg is indeed one of the most popular traditional dishes of Yogyakarta. You can find this sweet delicacy in any corner of the city. However, unlike Jumilan’s gudeg, the common dishes are made from young jackfruit or nangka.

When Jumilan began to sell gudeg manggar, she could buy the manggar – the coconut flower buds – cheaply because no one wanted them; once in high demand, back then they were just thrown away.
“But now it costs between Rp 25,000 and Rp 50,000 per kilogram,” she says.

Every day she needs between 25 kilograms and 50 kilograms and prepares the dish with the help of four cooks. Sometimes it is not easy to get manggar and she has to go to nearby towns such as Purworejo and Kebumen in Central Java to buy it.

She also needs 20 kilograms of eggs and chicken to cook with the manggar, and she insists on using whole free-range chickens (ayam kampung).

“We’ve always cooked [the chicken] along with the manggar. If you replace it with broiled chicken, after cooking for three hours, the chicken will be in bad shape,” she explains. “It is different with ayam kampung, which remain intact and the meat tastes good.”

Her dishes are attracting increasing numbers of customers. She even sends meals to places across Indonesia – from Jakarta and Bandung to Kalimantan and Sulawesi – as well as overseas, including to Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Netherlands.

And she can drop names of several VIPs who love her food, among them Agum Gumelar, Wiranto and Mutia Hatta.

“I know them from their people who come here to place an order and left their name cards with the addresses where the gudeg manggar should be sent,” she says.

Even though she sells the dishes in a modest place, many tourists including those from England, the Netherlands and Canada have visited her food stall.

“Last year, a group of Japanese tourists came here. I guess they were amazed because they asked for permission to take pictures of the whole [cooking] process,” Jumilan laughs.

What makes her even prouder is that in the past five years, the Yogyakarta Sultan has become her loyal customer.

“If he has important guests, his people will come here to place an order. When he married off his son recently, long before the D-day he had made an order worth Rp 5 million,” she says.

Several big restaurants that serve traditional food also order gudeg manggar from Jumilan and her husband, neither of whom has a high school education.

In fact, many Javanese can make gudeg manggar because the ingredients for making any kind of gudeg are the same.

“Even though the ingredients are the same, the taste is different,” Jumilan says. “I don’t have any secrets.”

She believes that her skill in cooking gudeg manggar is a blessing from God, so she always makes the most of her skill by preparing the ingredients herself.

“It is the same ingredients [that everyone else uses],” she says. “My advice is: Don’t grumble, don’t complain or don’t be angry, even at heart, when you cook. Because only with a clean heart will our sense of taste work well. If we cook while we are angry, our sense of taste will not work and our gudeg will have a bad taste.”

One other tip: She always cooks the gudeg with a wood fire instead of gas.

“The taste will not be the same,” she explains. “If you cook with firewood, the gudeg will be well-cooked, last long and the taste will also last long. It is different with gas. Only the surface which will be well-cooked, it will not be good for a long time and the taste will not last long.”

Even though she has many customers, she has no intention to expand her business by opening branches.

“I am old. I am happy this business runs well and can provide livelihoods [for some others]. Let it just be like this,” she says with a laugh. “When the time comes that I run out of energy, one of my children is ready to continue this business.”



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