Where to eat and drink: Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta: Where to eat and drink

Hungry? You’ve come to the right town. Yogya is food heaven. Restaurants open on every street corner and every little alley—if you can roll out a mat, it’s fair game to set up shop. From angkringan street carts with the paupers’ fare of nasi kucing to stylish eateries serving lavish royal extravaganzas, there are tastes to tease and delight any hour of the day or night.

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Yogya may be in the shadow of bubbling volcanos, but it’s the bubbling cooking pots that attract Indonesia’s wisata kuliner (culinary tourism). Local food is available everywhere, but the largest concentration is along Jalan Malioboro, and for excellent international cuisine head to the Prawirotaman area. One thing we love about the food scene in Yogya is that you won’t just be rubbing shoulders with other Western tourists as in many other tourist destinations: The locals are big foodies too, and you’ll have to book at the popular places on the weekends and holidays.

Street food is often where it's at in Yogya -- but plenty of fantastic restaurants too. : Sally Arnold.
Street food is often where it's at in Yogya -- but plenty of fantastic restaurants too. Photo: Sally Arnold

If the food of the region could be described in one word, it’s “sweet”. Palm sugar is shovelled into sweet drinks and “savoury” dishes alike, and Yogya’s most famous dish is gudeg, a sweet/savoury stew made from jackfruit, palm sugar and coconut milk. The first time we tried this dish we were convinced we’d been served the wrong meal—it looks like meat— but it is indeed fruit, acquiring its red meaty colour from the addition of teak leaves. Although gudeg is a vegetarian dish, it’s often served as gugeg komplit with opor ayam (chicken cooked in coconut milk), egg, tofu, tempeh and gelatinous beef skin. Gudeg is available all over Yogya, but famously along Jalan Malioboro and within the Kraton, along Jalan Wijilan where you’ll find the most famous of them all: Gudeg Yu Djum, who gets the gong apparently due to its slow cooking process over a wood fire stove. If you enjoy the taste, buy a canned version here to take home, or try the less sweet gudeg basah.

A close second to gudeg in fame and popularity is ayam goreng, or fried chicken. Yogya’s version boils the chicken in coconut and spices before it hits the boiling oil, and is often served with a fiery sambal and lalapan (raw veggies, usually cabbage, cucumber and kemangi, lemon basil). We went to try this dish at the hugely popular Ayam Bu Tini, and although we arrived more than an hour before closing time, all that was left was an unappealing greasy chicken head: go early! Other poultry to be found around town include fried and barbecued duck (bebek), pigeon (burung dara) and occasionally other small birds or even goose.

Get in early for your ayam goreng or it'll be feet only... or a mere head. : Sally Arnold.
Get in early for your ayam goreng or it'll be feet only... or a mere head. Photo: Sally Arnold

Bronkos, another sweet-savoury, rather pungent Yogya favourite is made from keluak, a black seed that is highly poisonous unless first boiled and then fermented in ash and banana leaves for 40 days (how do these dishes get invented?). The black soupy dish has several varieties with egg, tofu, tempeh or beef. We tried a vegetarian version at Warung Jawi in Kota Gede (12,000 rupiah) washed down with wedang uwuh (4,000 rupiah), literally “hot water with garbage”, a hot sweet spicy gingery drink.

Other local specialities to look out for include pecel (veggies with a peanut sauce, similar to gado gado), bakmi Jawa (Javanese boiled or fried noodles), empal (a spicy beef shank dish), oseng mercon, a dish of beef and beef fat that will explode in your mouth like the firecracker in its name, and ubiquitous satay, including here, horse satay.

Ronde, a sweet “drink” served in a bowl featuring balls of peanut-stuffed, glutinous rice and palm fruit in a warm gingery soup. : Sally Arnold.
Ronde, a sweet “drink” served in a bowl featuring balls of peanut-stuffed, glutinous rice and palm fruit in a warm gingery soup. Photo: Sally Arnold

Add in sweet treats and speciality drinks, and you probably won’t have time to try everything delicious Yogya has to offer. You’ll see ronde sellers along Jalan Malioboro and at Alun-Alun Kidul. The sweet “drink” looks more like a soup, served in a bowl—balls of peanut-stuffed, glutinous rice and palm fruit (often with soggy bread) in a warm gingery soup. Bakpia are a kind of pastry, traditionally stuffed with mung beans and palm sugar, but these days many kinds include chocolate, durian, cheese and others. Try rujak es krim: fruit salad with chilli and tamarind sauce, cooled down with a scoop of ice cream. Plenty of shops sell colourful balls of geplak, Yogya’s version of coconut ice, and yangko chewy, jewel-like, rice flour sweets. We love cooling es cincau, a refreshing drink with a soft dark green grass jelly (not the harder black jelly version), coconut milk and palm sugar. Look out for it in local markets or at Milas organic market Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Linger at PS Cafe.  : Sally Arnold.
Linger at PS Cafe. Photo: Sally Arnold

Down to your last few thousand rupiah? Head to an angkringan, the ubiquitous food carts with long bench seats set up around town, famous for nasi kucing literally “cat rice”. It’s a tiny (and cheap) parcel of rice with some tempeh or anchovies to give it a bit of flavour, supposedly enough for the cat (but we think the cute little packets resembles a cat’s head, too). Gingery hot drinks (wedangan) are a speciality of angkringan too. But it’s not just about the cheap food, as the convivial atmosphere make these stalls a popular stop for late-night snacks.

Aside from Yogya’s street food, the next most popular foodie stop is the ever-growing, hipster cafe scene of “legal substance dealers”, as a sign put it in one cafe. A cup of java is a big deal in the land of Java. In the Prawirotaman area, Ruang Seduh (Brew Space) is a very cool, all-white, coffee specialist cafe where you can grind and brew your own coffee from an international selection. PS Cafe favours Indonesian coffee with fancy machines. Large double-storey Move On, with fun Instagrammable murals, offers an extensive menu of pastas, pizza and burgers, and is a popular spot with locals. Mount Merapi Bistro claims their coffee is so strong “it wakes the neighbours” — and they’re open earlier than many on the street, which is a bonus. Lawas, next door to Adhistana Hotel, makes a good coffee too. In the centre of town, Wanderlust Coffee Division in the Sosrowijayan labyrinth makes the best coffee in the area; try the vegetarian rendang while you’re there. Yombex Cafe opposite Neo Hotel is open 24 hours, so you can grab a coffee fix whenever you need it.

Dining within the Sultan's palace grounds at Bale Raos. : Sally Arnold.
Dining within the Sultan's palace grounds at Bale Raos. Photo: Sally Arnold

For restaurant-style local food Bale Raos, within the walls of the Kraton, serves the “favourite food of the Sultans”, but you don’t have to have royal blood to afford to eat there—mains are 25,000-100,000 rupiah, making this a good option when visiting the area. Bu Ageng on Jalan Tirtodipuran has a lovely setting in an old joglo, with a menu in English with good explanations. Try their eyem penggeng dada (not ayam—Javanese spelling) (grilled chicken breast) for 28,000 rupiah—be warned it’s very sweet! Warung Heru on Jalan Prawirotaman serves tourist-friendly local food (they can make less spicy on request). We enjoyed mangut lele (fried catfish in a coconut curry) for 35,000 rupiah. Rumah Makan MBah Buyut serves local food, buffet style—take what looks good, and you pay for each portion. It’s popular with both locals and tourists. Sate Bar on Jalan Parangtritis opens late afternoon, and goes late, so if you’re drinking in one of the nearby bars, be sure to pop into this hole-in-the-wall place for excellent satay—with vegetarion options too (from 3,000 rupiah). Local-style beef or pork ribs (90,000/140,000 rupiah) that are “finger-licking good” according to some locals when we popped in can be found at Poka-Ribs.

Spicy local classics at Rumah Makan MBah Buyut. : Sally Arnold.
Spicy local classics at Rumah Makan MBah Buyut. Photo: Sally Arnold

If you’d like a little art with your food, Kedai Kebun is a contemporary gallery with changing exhibitions with an attached restaurant serving an extensive menu, including salads to local fare. Popular traveller cafe ViaVia Jogja hold changing exhibitions and have a daily changing specials menu. This is also a great stop for local walking, bike and motorbike tours, or to pick up a gift at their fair trade shop or a snack from the bakery. Pop in and you’ll see what draws the crowds.

For the best International fare in town, you won’t go wrong at Mediterranea Restaurant. This excellent upmarket yet relaxed restaurant is great for a special night out. Bookings are essential. The French chef presents a menu covering simple sandwiches to pizza and elaborate gourmet fare. We tried the house-smoked duck carpaccio (62,000 rupiah) and pan-seared barramundi (85,000 rupiah). Wines by the glass are a generous pour. Leave room for dessert—the crème caramel was so good we returned to try crème brûlée too (both 35,000 rupiah). If you are after gourmet treats or breads, Mediterranea has an attached deli.

A delicious splurge at Mediterranea. : Sally Arnold.
A delicious splurge at Mediterranea. Photo: Sally Arnold

Other excellent international options include Yam Yam Thai; Six Senses, which has a plunge pool and Spanish chef; La Pergola, serving Italian fare in a lovely romantic garden setting; and Aglioo Restaurant, which has good pizza. We didn’t try it, but Taj Indian Kitchen was recommended to us several times for good Indian food.

For vegetarian delights, the relaxed long-running Milas is a Yogya institution. Don’t miss their twice-weekly market day, with many unusual food treats such as blue sticky rice available. Simple Plant on Jalan Prawirotaman was the new vegetarian kid on the block at the time of our research in late 2016, with a poster outside proclaiming “dogs are not food”!

Veggie food at popular Milas. : Sally Arnold.
Veggie food at popular Milas. Photo: Sally Arnold

Don’t forget dessert. Or you may just need to cool down on a hot day. Either way, fight the locals for a seat at Tempo Gelato for excellent Italian-style creamy ice cream with local flavours such as kemangi, dragonfruit, lemon ginger, cinnamon and rosella among the selection. Or pick up one of Yogya’s locally produced chocolate bars at Chocolate Monggo.

For a bit of a tipple, a couple of bars can be found around Jalan Sosrowijayan in the town area or a larger concentration at Jalan Prawirotaman and Jalan Parangtritis in the south. Cold beer is readily available, but be wary of arak-based cocktails. For a chilled upmarket atmosphere head to Agenda Resto & Vibes on the top level of Greenhost Hotel, which has a range of signature cocktails.

Food research is hard yakka. : Sally Arnold.
Food research is hard yakka. Photo: Sally Arnold

Agenda Resto & Vibes: Rooftop Greenhost Hotel, 629 Jalan Prawirotaman II, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 287 1432, (0878) 3890 6088; info@agenda-id.com; agenda-id.com/home; open Sun-Thurs 11:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 11:00-02:00.
Aglioo Restaurant: 29 Jalan Prawirotaman, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 388934; www.facebook.com/Aglioopizzajogja/; open daily 09:00–23:00.
Ayam Goreng Bu Tini: 17 Jalan Sultan Agung, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 543 670; open daily 10:00–21:00.
Bale Raos: 1 Jalan Magangan Kulon, Kraton, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 415 550, (0274) 262 3035; baleraos_yogya@ymail.com ; www.baleraos.co.id; open daily 10:00–22:00.
Bu Ageng: 13 Jalan Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 387191, (0853) 2986 2888; bu.ageng@yahoo.com; www.warungbuageng.com; open Tues-Sun 11:00–23:00.
Chocolate Monggo; 10 Jalan Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 710 2202; chocolatemonggo.com/en/home; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Gudeg Yu Djum: 167 Jalan Wijilan, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 450 989, (0821) 3869 7888; yudjum167@gmail.com; gudegyudjum167.com/index.php; open daily 06:00–22:00.
Kedai Kebun: 3 Jalan Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 376 114; forumkedaikebun@gmail.com; kedaikebun.com; open Wed-Mon 11:00–23:00.
La Pergola: 10 Jalan Suryodiningratan, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 437 9595; www.facebook.com/lapergolayogyakarta/; open daily 10:00–23:00.
Lawas: 613 Jalan Prawirotaman II, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 370 777; adhisthanahotel.com/lawas-613-cafe/; open daily 11:00-23:30.
Rumah Makan MBah Buyut: 3 Jalan Suryodiningratan, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 287 1062, (0878) 4827 6000; rumahmakan.mbahbuyut@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/rumahmakan.mbahbuyut/; open daily 05:30–21:00.
Mediterranea: 24A Jalan Tirtodipuran Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 371 052, (0817) 464 305; mediterraneabykamil@gmail.com; www.restobykamil.com; open Tues-Sun 11:00-23:00.
Milas: 127B Jalan Prawirotaman IV, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 742 3399; open Tues-Fri 15:00-21:00, Sat-Sun 12:00–21:00; organic Market Wed and Sat 10:00-13:00.
Mount Merapi Bistro: 49 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 417 726; mountmerapibistro@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/mountmerapibistro/; open daily 08:00-23:00.
Move On: 6-8 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 287 2815; moveon.yogya@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/moveon.yogya/; open Sun-Thursday 09:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 10:00-02:00.
Poka-Ribs: 29 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 287 1801, (0878) 3933 3727; www.facebook.com/pokaribs/; open Sun-Thurs 11:00-23:00, Fri-Sat 11:00-24:00.
PS Cafe: 97 Jalan Parangtritis, Yogyakarta; T: (0821) 3832 1871; ps.trusttheuniverse@gmail.com; open daily 09:00-24:00.
Ruang Seduh: 46 Jalan Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta; T: (0813) 1576 7186; ruangseduh@gmail.com; open daily 10:00–22:00.
Sate Bar: 81B Jalan Parangtritis, Yogyakarta; T: (0896) 78469755, (0822) 2689 8428; www.facebook.com/SATEBAR81B/; open Mon-Sat 16:00-24:00.
Simple Plant: 32 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0821) 7726 2507; www.facebook.com/simpleplantvegetarianrestoandartspace/; open Wed-Mon 15:00–23:00.
Six Senses: 39 Jalan Mayjen Di Panjaitan, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 374 180; info@sixsenseskitchen.com; www.sixsenseskitchen.com/index.html; open Tues-Sun 11:00-23:00.
Taj Indian Kitchen: 103 Jalan Urip Sumoharjo, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 562 469; www.facebook.com/Taj-Indian-Kitchen-1507896689504831/; open daily 11:30-24:00.
Tempo Gelato: 43 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 373 272; www.facebook.com/tempogelato/; open daily 10:00—21:00.
ViaVia Jogja: 30 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 386 557; resto@viaviajogja.com; www.viaviajogja.com; open daily 07:30-23:00.
Wanderlust Coffee Division: Jalan Sosrowijayan Wetan GT 1/95 Gang 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0274) 292 1902; wanderlustcoffeedivision@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/Wanderlust-Coffee-Division-429334667262462/; open Tues-Sun 10:00-22:00.
Warung Heru: 30 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0818) 0410 1588; warungheru@yahoo.com; www.facebook.com/WarungHeru/; open daily 09:00-23:00.
Warung Jawi: Jalan Mondorakan, 859 Gang 2, Kota Gede; T: (0813) 2864 5900; dalemsopingen_kotagede@yahoo.com; www.facebook.com/Warung-Jawi-Dalem-Sopingen-Kotagede-471661282862089/; open Sat-Thurs 10:00-23:00.
Yam Yam Thai: 39 Jalan Prawirotaman 1, Yogyakarta; T: (0812) 2645 6451; yamyamjogja@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/Yam-Yam-Restaurant-Yogyakarta-808428352625203/; open daily 10:00–23:00.
Yombex Cafe: 76 Jalan Raya Pasar Kembang, Yogyakarta; T: (0878) 3986 9672; open 24 hours.

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Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.