Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Grandmother's Legacy

I grew up getting used to eating animal organs, such as intestines, lungs, and liver. But that's about it. Tongue, brain, hooves, and others, that's where I draw the line, or is it because I was never served those growing up?

It's pretty common to see animal organs cooked in many ways in both Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, but I would say that I see more of animal's internal organs in Indonesian cuisine, most probably because of Indonesia's rich cultural diversity. My father says,

"You can find more good food in Indonesia than Malaysia."

By that he meant more variety. And of course! Because Indonesia is comprised of so many islands, thus many tribes, ethnic variations, cultures and food compared to Malaysia. My father was also born and raised Indonesian, which would explain the indignant loyalty. In some ways, I feel a sense of loyalty to Indonesia too, because I was raised mostly eating Indonesian food, as my grandmother was the main cook for quite a number of years during my childhood.

I have to say I love the texture and chewiness of cow's intestines. Cubed, they are actually the main ingredient of this dish my grandmother would make for occasions like Eid when we held our open house events. I don't think people balked at the prospect of eating cow intestines, for Indonesian food is also now pretty common in Malaysia. For the record, I personally don't like to draw a definite distinct line between Indonesians and Malaysians, because I believe that we're not that different, but when discussing food, cultural differences, (in my humble opinion) have to be discerned, for it adds to the appreciation and knowledge of the discussion.

Soto is a dish mainly comprised of clear thin soup with meat and vegetables, eaten with vermicelli and compressed rice cakes. In Malaysia, Soto Ayam is well known, and is what I remember purchasing for some of my iftars at the evening bazaar in Malaysia while I was in college. There are many kinds of Soto, but Soto Ayam is the only Malaysian Soto I ate in Malaysia. Years back, an Indonesian sister made Soto Betawi, which I still crave now (not knowing how to make it myself). That was my second Indonesian Soto, but I have come to realize that Indonesia is really rich and abundant with many varieties of Soto, most of which sound and look delicious!

I have to admit, I don't know how to prepare animal organs for cooking, and I can just imagine my children's disgusted expressions if I do, seeing that they already feel weak in their knees watching me handle raw chicken. So, in my years of living far away from family, here in the United States, I have substituted cubed beef for the cubed intestines, and the Somali Global Mall's Halal Store, which sells beef cut sukhaar-style makes it even more convenient for me, as I don't have to spend time cubing chunky slabs of meat.

Fill your bowl with some vermicelli and a few rice cakes, and ladle the steaming soup, making sure to get a generous amount of cubed potatoes, carrots and meat. Garnish with fried shallots, and a small but potent dash of hot and spicy kicap sambal (mainly comprising of sliced bird's eye chilli swimming in sweet thick soy sauce and made tangy with lemon juice), and you're good to go.

This remains one of my favorite comfort food.

The measurements below are merely estimates, but the ratio of the meat, potatoes, and carrots to each other should be about the same.

Soto Madura

Beef cut sukhaar (as much as the potatoes and carrots) - boiled in 8 cups of water till fairly tender to your taste (keep the stock)
4 potatoes, peeled and finely cubed and soaked in water
4 carrots, peeled and finely cubed and soaked in water
2 onions cut into chunks
7 cloves of garlic
1 -2 lemongrass stalk, bruised
2 -3 dried asam gelugor
2 bay leaves
3 tsp ground turmeric
2-3 Tbs ground coriander
squirts of lemon juice
5-6 bird's eye chillies
sweet thick soy sauce (llook for Indonesian brands)
Nasi Himpit (compressed rice cakes) - a good explanation and recipe on Pahang Delights.

1. Blend 1 onion and 3-4 garlic cloves with turmeric, coriander, and lemongrass
2. Pound or blend the remaining onion and garlic separately
3. Heat oil in tall stock pot, and saute the blended onion and garlic in Step 2 till fragrant
4. Add the blended mixture in Step 1, and continue sauteing to draw out the flavor of the spices and bulbs
5. Dump in the potatoes and carrots and and saute them along for about 5 - 7 minutes
6. Add in the beef, and water and bring to boil
7. Add in the bay leaves, a few squirts of lemon juice, and salt to taste
8. Prepare the vermicelli by submerging them in hot water until they're soft, then drain them and set aside

To prepare the spicy Kicap Sambal:
9. Put in a blender the bird's eye chillies and enough sweet soy sauce so they would blend smoothly. Blend till chillies are thoroughly broken up, and add a few squirts of lemon juice

How do you eat it? (Like you would chicken noodle soup!)

  1. Using a spaghetti server/tong, scoop one serving of vermicelli in an empty individual soup bowl. Add in a few cubed rice cakes.
  2. Ladle the Soto, replete with potatoes, beef, and carrots over it, such that the white thin rice noodles are swimming in the pool of yellowish soup.
  3. If you wish, top it with a teaspoon (or less, depending on your hot and spicy tolerance level) of spicy Kicap Sambal. (It is like the Somali Bizz Baazz).
  4. Eat it with fork and soup spoon, or if you're feeling dexterous, chopsticks.


  1. Assalamualaikum,

    Your soto looks absolutely delectable! ^^ Sure reminded me of the ones I had in religious school. Similarly, I don't think there is much difference between Malaysian Malay (or the Malays from other countries like Singapore) cooking with Indonesian cooking.

  2. waalaikumsalam hajar,

    did you go to boarding school? where? yeah there is not much difference except of course in a few ingredients...but it's basically the same :)

  3. looks fantastic!!

    What does soto mean in English?

  4. Eh? Well, I went to a semi-boarding school, in Malaysia. Yeap! Glad we agree on that. ^^ I seriously doubt there is an English equivalent for Soto. Haha~

  5. yuck!! intestines? you like em? good thing you didn't make them for us because I like soto madura already.