A Culinary Legend
Soto Kesambi in Central Java, Indonesia
Soto Kesambi Gladagan in Central Java, Indonesia (#sotokesambisalatiga) is not the kind of place you would stumble across accidentally…unless you make a habit of wandering down narrow ally ways on the edges of little-known mountain communities in S.E. Asia. The first time my friend invited me to meet him there I had trouble finding the place. Even more challenging was guiding my vehicle through the narrow street lined with motorcycles and cars and trying to park within a few centimeters of the concrete wall opposite the restaurant, allowing other cards juuuuuuust enough space to pass.
Soto Kesambi (#sotokesambi), located in a converted home with limited seating, offers little curb appeal. That is part of its beauty. Seating is limited, and if you try to visit after church on Sunday (or any other lunchtime hour), you might not find any seats available.
There is no menu as they only serve one entree — soto ayam (#sotoayam).
Soto ayam, an Indonesian version of chicken soup, is a clear herbal broth brightened by fresh turmeric and herbs, with skinny rice noodles buried in the bowl. It is served with a boiled egg, fried shallots, celery leaves and herbs, and is hearty enough for a meal. —Julia Moskin1
Soto ayam is not spicy, but I always add a bit of sambal, one of the hundreds of varieties of chili sauce or paste, typically made from a mixture of a variety of chili peppers with secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, palm sugar, and lime juice. Sambal originates from the culinary traditions of the islands of Java and Sunda.
I always ask for 2-3 pieces of fried tempeh to go with my soto while my kids enjoy the hard-boiled quail eggs. Various other traditional snacks, side dishes, and krupuk are available as daily supplies last.
Last year while we were in the States, we heard Pak Wianto, who started this restaurant at its current location in 1977, had died of covid after being in the hospital for several days. A few days ago, after enjoying our breakfast of soto and tempeh, we chatted with his daughter. Following her father's passing, she moved across the island to carry on “Papi’s” passion — making people happy by making really good soto. The joy and sadness danced in her eyes as she talked about her Papi.
For good reasons, Soto Kesambi Gladagan has been named one of Salatiga city’s culinary legends — mainly, a long history of good food and good people.
Were you especially encouraged or challenged by this story? Please encourage this ministry by subscribing to this newsletter.
A few of our recent articles you might have missed: