If you have not tried Martabak, you haven’t been to Indonesia. Martabak is one of Indonesia’s most iconic dessert. With the rise of insta-worthy food photos, Martabak has evolved into Indonesia’s most hipster food as well. They do not just have the traditional Indonesia’s flavors like chocolate and condensed milk, but they also have cheese, sprinklers and many other unqiue flavors for you to try.
I’ve got to admit something: I wasn’t a huge fan of the food in Java, the most populous of Indonesia’s 13,466 islands. I really hate when things like this happen. I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I’d love it if all the food in the world tasted good to me, but, well, it just doesn’t. This is probably a fault in me and not in the cuisine itself.
My wife Adri and I came to Indonesia with an open mind and open mouths, but dish after dish left us thinking I wish this just had a little more acid, or I wish the meat weren’t quite so dry or why the heck is there so much palm sugar and low quality sweet soy sauce in this?
Though the one we kept coming back to was man, I wish this had been prepared fresh instead of sitting around all day and served lukewarm.
There’s a time and a place for lukewarm food. Day-old pizza for breakfast and cold fried chicken with a hangover come to mind, but after a few days in Yogyakarta eating everything from from cold pre-fried lumpia (spring rolls) to mie ayam—bowls of chicken soup served with lifeless pre-cooked noodles that’d make a Chinese street vendor weep—to the jackfruit and egg stew known as gudeg (which comes out warm only because the rice it’s served on is kept hot in a steamer), I yearned for something served hot, fresh, and cooked to order.
We found salvation in martabak.
Martabak, Sweet or Savory
Most Javanese food can attribute its relative simplicity to the fact that it’s an indigenous cuisine that has remained largely unaffected by outside forces, save for a bit of Chinese influence in certain dishes. Martabak, a roti-like stuffed fried flatbread, is a notable exception. Even on Java, folks I talked to said “this isn’t Javanese food, it’s Indian.”
According to Bruce Kraig’s encyclopedic Street Food Around the World, Martabak may actually trace its origins to the Middle East. In Arabic, mutabbaq means “folded,” a reference to the way in which the soft, stretchy dough is folded around a stuffing as it cooks.
Dishes like this are found all over Middle East and Southeast Asia. Have you seen those guys making banana roti in the touristy parts of Bangkok or Chiang Mai? Then you know what martabak is.
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