Everybody loves fried chicken

13 May

You’d think that the most famous dish from a place like Yogyakarta — a city steeped in Javanese tradition and surrounded by ancient temples — would be something exotic and complicated. But no, it’s ayam goreng, or fried chicken.

Southern-hemisphere fried chicken

Okay, so Yogya’s fried chicken is a little more complicated and exotic than KFC. The chicken is poached in a mixture of coconut water, palm sugar, and bumbu (Indonesian for “secret spice paste”), then deep-fried without batter. Our initial encounter with ayam goreng Yogyakarta was on our first in Yogya, after touring the ancient Hindu temple complex at Prambanan.

Obligatory photogenic temple shot

We had some time to kill before the Ramayana ballet performance later that night, and we didn’t want to eat at the rather touristy on-site restaurant, so we asked our driver to take us somewhere with good Indonesian food. “Ayam goreng OK?” Yes, please!

It turns out that the place he took us, Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek, is kind of famous, as it’s run by the family of the woman credited with coming up with the recipe. (See the link for a full history.) It’s definitely a unique and delicious dish: the poaching tenderizes the meat and infuses it with flavor. (We weren’t sure what the crunchy bits on top were, but according to the Wall Street Journal article I linked to, it’s fried marinade.) It tasted less like classic fried chicken, and more like an extremely crisp-skinned roast. We regretted ordering the half bird, because we could have finished a whole one easily.

Sadly, not all ayam goreng is created equal; we ordered it at a cafe we picked for its cheap beer (that was probably our first mistake), but it was nowhere near as satisfying. So remember, always order your ayam goreng from a place that has a venerable Indonesian lady on its menu.

The geneology of the Mbok Berek dynasty

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One Response to “Everybody loves fried chicken”

  1. Nate @ House of Annie May 23, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I’m convinced that Southeast Asians do fried chicken better than the US. Thanks for introducing this uniquely Indonesian-style dish!

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