The heat from the flames was almost unbearable, the lack of air circulation stifling.
A surprisingly tall, young, shirtless man in flip-flops entered the room. Male or female, it was hard not to notice his abs, covered in sweat, and seemingly carved from stone.
He deposited a shovel full of red-hot coals underneath one of the many large cooking pots, without a word, and left the room again.
Walking into the kitchen of Gudeg Yu Djum, a famous restaurant in Yogyakarta, was a walk back in time.
Known for producing gudeg, a local delicacy of young jack fruit mixed with coconut milk, palm sugar, and spices, Gudeg Yu Djum had established itself as one of the top restaurants in Yogyakarta for the dish.
Gudeg, which is produced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the location we were visiting, is then shipped to additional restaurants throughout Yogyakarta.
When I signed up for a food tour, I expected we’d visit a local market, photograph some vegetables, and maybe stop by a few shops.
Standing in the midst of a working Indonesian kitchen, wearing flip-flops myself, as hot coals were being shoveled, and large cuts of wood were used to keep the fires going, wasn’t even within my realm of previous experience.
The whole scene, unfolding before me, was raw and fascinating.
In the largest room, various pots and cauldrons were used to boil and prepare the coconut milk and spices.
Meanwhile, in a smaller side room, no less than 6 people were sitting in front of plastic buckets, dismembering chickens with casual efficiency.
The air was thick and heavy, and there was little spare room to stand and observe.
On the other side of the chicken room was a rectangular room with beams of sunlight streaming through. This room captivated me, even more so than the others.
As I repositioned myself to take photos, I could feel the heat from the open flames against my back.
I tried to picture myself in the position of those working in the kitchen every day, day after day, producing the best gudeg in Yogyakarta, if not all of Indonesia.
Surely they felt a sense of pride working there, but you wouldn’t know it just from watching.
The rectangular room was especially smokey, and seemed to be the main kitchen, where most of the cooking was done.
When I noticed the others in my group were no longer around me, and I was the only one still taking photos, I retreated to the front dining room.
There, on the table, was a green banana leaf with a fresh serving of gudeg, along with the regular accompaniments of white rice (nasi) and a hard-boiled egg (telur). In addition, there were golden bits of beef skin (krecek).
After watching the hard work that goes into the production of this local favorite, I was anxious to try it for myself. It was sweeter than I expected, with lots of flavor.
Instantly, I understood its popularity.
What You Need to Know
How Much: 8,000 Rupiah ($0.83) buys you a serving of Nasi Gudeg Telur
Address: Jl. Wijilan 31 | Kraton and Jalan Kaliurang km 4.5, Karangasem CT III/22, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Hours: 6 AM to 10 PM daily
Note: My visit to Indonesia was in conjunction with a blog trip hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.