Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Goodies Ala Semarang !

August 20th, 2014.

In the last months or so, the family and I has been going to Semarang twice back and forth for some relative's wedding and a get together to mourn for one of my late grandmas. The first time was last month was for my cousin's wedding, and a couple of weeks later was my uncle's wedding. Of course, I've been to Semarang in the past but I was still just a kid, hated traveling, and I was still oblivious to the things around me. These days I take note of the places I've been, especially food and other jajanans. So to sum up my past visits to Semarang, I present to you; My (current) Ultimate Food places Guide to Semarang.

1. Tahu Pong Gajah Mada.

No, this is not the same Gajah Mada noodle's you find in Jakarta. Located in Gajah Mada street in Semarang, just beside the Gumaya Hotel, on the right if you are from the airport (I guess, I'm not good with directions). During my first visit for my cousin's wedding, it was a Saturday and they were open, but they ran out of tofu and does not have anything to sell to us. I asked them if they were gonna make some more, they answered yes, on Monday. I only had that Saturday and the Sunday after it in Semarang because I have school on Monday, so I couldn't have some tofu that time. But I came earlier (on a Saturday) the next time I visited Semarang and managed to get welcomed inside the restaurant.
My mum devouring a helpless tahu kopyak
Tahu Pong literally means "empty tofu", because there is nothing in it, just a thin tofu outside crust fried to perfection. Of course, everything here is fried, and served with a plate of vinegar like pempek. The first thing on the menu is of course the tahu pong, but there are other variants of tofu-based goodies on the menu. There is the tahu kopyak which is really just an omelete mixed with tofu, there's the tahu gimbal which is a tofu and shrimp fry, and the tahu emplek or the smoothest tofu known to man but plain as hell (that is what the vinegar is for). If you want the complete package there is also the "complete" plate option for the pong, emplek,gimbal, and a fried boiled egg (I know, confusing right). 

Everything here taste awesome to me nevertheless, although the vinegar expert (my Mum) says that the vinegar is watered down and looses some of its twang. 

2. Chicken Garang Asem near the stadium.

The stadium I'm referring to here is the Diponegoro stadium, the one with a lot of unfinished stock car build projects parked outside. Across the stadium is an eatery complex filled with a lot of good places to eat (or so the story goes according to the cheeky driver showing us around town in Semarang the first time I was there). Our first driver told Me and My family to go eat at a garang asem restaurant there, He also told me that the waitresses there are cute.

Overall, it was an okay experience eating there. The food, marvelous, best garang asem I've ever tasted. Garang asem is a sort of Indonesian stew, traditionally it is wrapped in banana leafs or any other leaf that is able to hold water. Some regions in Java use meat in them but the chicken is a Kudus region specialty. I am confused myself because I am eating a Kudus specialty in Semarang, but I'm not complaining. The driver was right, the waitresses are cute, but you'll die from hunger waiting from the food because they work real slow and you WILL go mad from the creaking noises made by the beaten up food carts they use to deliver food to your table.

3. Gang Lombok Loenpia.

Semarang is not complete without its loenpia, a local spring roll-like delicacy is well known throughout the town and even the whole country. Because of this profound popularity, many has set up shop in Semarang and claimed to be the "best" loenpia makers in town. I've asked my classmate who happens to be a local about this problem and he said he knew a place where he thinks has the best loenpia. Problem is, he didn't know if the place was "halal" friendly and frankly, he did not care. I do...

I went to Gang Lombok anyway to buy some loenpia because after a quick research by My mum, she found that even though there are no halal signs, the loenpias does not contain any pig-based product. After arriving in the food place, my family quickly gathered stares from the locals because my sister and mum were wearing hijab headscarves, they stare back at the locals and showed them who is boss. My dad on the other hand was busy shouting at the shop keeper because that is how you get stuff done in Semarang when a horde of people is also ordering dubious amounts of loenpia and trying to cut in front of you.

Taste-wise these things are pretty damn good, in fact it may be the best thing I've eaten in Semarang. There is the main ingredient bamboo shoots, some eggs, and juicy shrimp mixed inside the spring rolls. Eat this stuff with some chilli and the gooey sauce, and you are good to go on a mouthwatering journey.

Beside the Gang Lombok loenpia stall is a shrine where some people come and worship on a pilgrimage. My family and I just went in front of the shrine to take pictures and learn some cultural history about the place from the shrine's ground keeper. On a side note, there is also some other food stalls that sells pork noodles, fried pork rice, and other pork based monstrosities sold as food, if you are into that kind of stuff...

4. Loenpia Mbak Lien.

Bare with me because this is another loenpia place. I got a tip from my driver Mr. Sapto that there is another good loenpia place in Semarang. I doubt that because I've tasted the Gang Lombok loenpia and that thing was crazy, but "Mbak Lien" surprised me and delivered a critical blow on my tongue's life point (in a good way).

First of all, Mbak Lien comes with an approved halal certification which means no more doubts of guilt while eating tasty loenpias. Secondly, their loenpias (although lacking that much eggs than the Gang Lombok variant) are surprisingly juicy and do not stink of bamboo, a sign of a perfectly cooked bamboo shoots filling. These guys know what they are doing, and has perfected the craft of cooking this profound feel good meal. Unlike Gang Lombok, Mbak Lien sells normal loenpia (great if you are allergic to shrimp), and the specials that comes with shrimp in it. Price wise, they are neck and neck with Gang Lombok.

The shop consists of a front end stall that only sells loenpia, and a back shop that sells other Semarang snacks and a restaurant area for you to eat your loenpia there. The collection of snacks is quite variative, ranging from simple crisps to bakpia and mochi cakes. The shop has a cool aura to it because it is retro styled and located in an alleyway, almost like Gang Lombok in a way, but more subtle and less crowded. No shrines as far as I can see near them... 

And the best part is... 

... yes they deliver...

 5. Train Brand Wingko Babad.

Besides the overly hyped loenpia, another feel good food that resides in Semarang is the Wingko Babad. I dont know what it is called in English, but all I can say is that it resembles a small pancake made of coconut. Of course there are many that are fused with flavors such as chocolate, durian, and banana, but the best one is still the original wingko. Be sure to grab the train brand wingkos because from what I heard from many of my elders and the driver who is showing me places to stuff my face with food, the train brand is the first and original wingko makers. 

I cannot stress how much I savor the flavors of my country, and I definitely love wingkos. I can eat as much as 10-15 wingko babads in one sitting, YES I do love eating that much (but dont forget to workout and burn em calories). The original shop is located in the old part of town, dont ask me where because I dont know my headings in Semarang. Rely on the knowledge of taxi drivers and/or whoever is in Semarang because they are bound to know where this place is. The small shop caters to a lot of customers, I know they mean business because they keep taking out trays filled with batches of wingko from their industrial sized ovens every half hour or so. If you are in Semarang, I recommend you buy your wingko here and stop buying those airport sold ones, you will not regret going here.

6. Mr Karmin's tripe fried rice.

Maybe some of you is screaming at your screen "but Keanu, there are many fried rice places in Jakarta, and fried rice is not very 'Semarang'...", unfortunately I have to agree because it is not very "Semarang" in any way. But, I was hungry for some fried rice with some cow stomach in it and I heard that this place sells them and they are one of the places to eat in Semarang... if you are visiting. The rice stall is located near a place called "Mberok" bridge, right on the "Mberok" river.

the river was awful, but the old buildings in the background is quite a sight to see...
Back when I was still in elementary school, I remembered my family going here at night after a wedding reception because everyone was still hungry. My uncle who was a local showed us the place. But I don't remember it being next to a bridge and on the side of a riverbed. I do believe this is not the same place I went to as a kid, but this will have to do because I need to catch a flight later that afternoon when I went to Karmin's.

The fried is cooked with a copious amount of sweet soy sauce, because that is how you cook things in most Javanese places, make the food sweet. There is also some hidden chilis in the sweet soy sauce so its not really a sweet meal, but a more spicy sweet one. Besides the fried rice, they also sell saute'd tripes served with rice. I'd rather eat the tripe if I visit here again, because lets face it, the best fried rice places are in Jakarta.

7. Gemini Mochi Cake.

I'll come clean, I bought this for a friend because he said he wanted some of these bad boys to remind him of home. Frankly speaking, i did not even know the mochis in Semarang is any good. I bought some when I visited Mbak Lien's place. At first they are surprisingly tasty. But after eating 3 boxes, they just lose their flavor.

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