A-Guan's chicken porridge is an icon of the Mangga Besar area. (JG Photo/Joy Muchtar)
Bubur: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Champions
BY :JOY MUCHTAR
AUGUST 16, 2018
Jakarta. Bubur, the Indonesian word for porridge or congee, is one of the most popular dish for breakfast in the country.
But you're a true Indonesian only if you don't mind having bubur for lunch, dinner, supper or after-midnight snack as well.
Sometimes it seems like there are as many types of bubur as there are islands on the archipelago, from simple bubur ayam (chicken congee) to elaborate tinutuan with all its trimmings and at least three types of sambal.
We've checked out five bubur places in Jakarta just to show you how diverse this seemingly simple breakfast dish can be.
Bubur Ayam Tangki A Guan
A woman crosses the road to A Guan's shop in Mangga Besar, still clad in her silk pajamas. The moment the owner spots her, he barks out her usual order to his staff.
A Guan, 65 years old, is the only man in his family to have continued his parents' bubur business since they started pushing a bubur cart around Jakarta's Chinatown back in 1932.
Because his parents couldn't afford to send him to high school, A Guan chose to work for them, learning the ropes until he was allowed to man the bubur cart. This happened sometime in 1968.
A Guan finally graduated to opening his own shop – still located at the same place – in 1986.
All of his long-time customers know who he is and in return he makes it his priority to memorize their likes and dislikes.
"What's important for me is that I'm always honest with my customers," A Guan said.
At 3 a.m. every day, a 16-liter pot of porridge is ready at the shop. It remains open until the batch is finished.
For A Guan, that's not a difficult feat. One day, he opened up the shop at 6 a.m. as usual and had to close only two hours later.
The porridge at A Guan has a thick consistency and is topped off with fresh, chewy chicken. It also comes with a complimentary side of fried onions, chopped green onions and cakwe (deep-fried dough).
A raw egg yolk is optional, but it will give your porridge a smoother consistency.
"Only I know the recipe, even my wife doesn’t know," A Guan said.
Their pork snacks – satay and siomay (pork and mushroom dumpling) – are equally as tasty. However, you can get only get ngohiong (fried pork and spice powder mix rolled inside a beancurd skin) on weekends.
A Guan is so legendary with Jakartans that director Wisnu Surya Pratama featured the shop in his short film "Rock 'N Roll," about two best friends who celebrate their reunion in Jakarta by visiting their favorite restaurants.
Address: Jalan Mangga Besar 1 No. 20B, Mangga Besar, Jakarta.
Opening hours: 6 a.m. - 12 a.m.
If you can't withstand the heat at A Guan's hole-in-the-wall bubur shop, you can walk a short distance down to same road to Kamseng, another legendary 24-hour bubur place popular with clubbers.
Styled like a restaurant in the small alleyways of Hongkong – complete with red hanging lanterns – Kamseng's signature dish is their pork congee with big chunks of telur pitan, or century egg.
A century egg, also known as the thousand-year-old egg, is a dark-colored, almost gelatinous egg that has been preserved in a mix of clay, ash and salt. Its chewy texture – the egg is served cold – is an acquired taste, but it fairly comes alive dunked into a bowl of hot steaming congee.
Kamseng's porridge is closer to a proper congee in texture: smooth and runny. It's best paired with their crunchy cakwe and soy sauce-flavored steamed chicken.
The chicken comes with a ginger scallion dipping sauce that, in our opinion, is so good you should use it to dip everything on your table.
Address: Jalan Mangga Besar 1 No. 26, Mangga Besar, Jakarta.
Opening hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Rarampa Culinary Experience
Everything on Rarampa's menu is authentically North Sulawesi. Although their crispy corn fritters – and if you're lucky nike fritters made with a type of anchovy from Lake Tondano – are always tempting, bring yourself to try their tinutuan, Manado-style breakfast porridge.
If you've never had tinutuan before, don't be surprised if it appears to you like a vegetarian dish made with a larger ratio of vegetables than rice grains – because it is.
The turmeric-yellow porridge is indeed ladened with an assortment of vegetables including pumpkin, corn and sayur gedi (edible hibiscus).
With the crunch of the gedi and corn, the soft and sweet pumpkin – along with the spicy chili paste, dabu-dabu (salsa) and dried salted fish served on the side – tinutuan is a truly textural experience.
Address: Jalan Mahakam I No. 2, Blok M, South Jakarta.
Opening hours: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Ignore all the presumptions you had about porridge before you get to this place, because their version is totally different.
It is as if they have taken white rice and simply mashed it, because the thick, clumpy bubur here looks more like mashed potatoes than porridge.
Even though Gudeg Kandjeng's specialty, as its name suggests, is gudeg – young jackfruit slow-cooked in a mix of spice, palm sugar and coconut milk – it also serves a dish that's not so easy to find in Jakarta, "Bubur Tumpang."
Tumpang is a light curry made from rotten tempe, chili, onions and stinky beans – a popular dish in Central Java. In Bubur Tumpang, the sticky bubur is almost drowned in the runny curry, and topped off with a triangle of soft tofu and a seasoned hard-boiled egg.
For such a simple-looking dish made of rotten and stinky ingredients, the complexities of the tumpang once it's in your mouth will simply delight.
If you insist, you can also get gudeg on your porridge. The special "Bubur Kandjeng" is sticky porridge topped with a seasoned hard-boiled egg, steamed salted chicken, krecek (cattle skin stewed in spices), gudeg and then drizzled with reduced coconut milk.
The main star of this dish is actually the cattle skin, which looks and feels like honeycomb jelly. Because the skin absorbs the sauce, the texture becomes moist, almost rubbery, and it melts in your mouth right away.
The porridge is entirely overshadowed by the rich toppings in this dish, the rice clump feels almost like a filler.
Address: Jalan Hang Tuah 10 No. 10, Blok M, South Jakarta
Opening hours: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Aneka Bubur 786
Previously called Tandoori, Aneka Bubur 786 has been around for 15 years and offers a wide variety of Pakistani, Indian and Indonesian dishes.
They're best known for their Pakistani porridge, which is essentially runny rice cooked with saffron, but at the time we visited they were out of their special spice.
We settled with the next best thing, their special chicken porridge. It came with fried dough, fried onions and ati ampela (fried chicken livers and gizzards) – all Indonesian to the bone.
The owner said the place is open 24 hours seven days a week because Indonesians love to eat bubur at any time of the day, even though the place is more famous for giving crack-of-dawn sustenance to ravenous clubbers.
"You can eat bubur anytime you want, whether it’s seven in the morning, or at midnight," owner Muhammad said.
Address: Jalan Radio Dalam Ujung No. 123, Pondok Indah, Jakarta.
Opening hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week