Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 5 February 2011 • Itinerary
A contribution from our friend Asri Radhitanti, who spent a long weekend holiday with her ‘masterchef’ husband and their lovely daughter Nataya 🙂
Cirebon, a small city on the north coast of West Java, was where we had our short getaway around the Idul Adha holidays. The city offers an interesting historical city tour and also a yummy traditional culinary experience. And for those who love batik (as I do!), Cirebon is one of the primary places in Indonesia where fine traditional batik is made. Not to mention, many vintage signages – anybody with a special interest in graphic design say I – are easily spotted in the city.
Mr. Cobra says, “Traditional skin diseases medicine, for eczema and scabs, are available here.
The population of the city is only about 290.000 people, no wonder traffic jams seem never happened there. Such a nice quiet break from the hectic (and glamorous) metropolitan life.
The weather was really hot, the temperature was around 34-38 C degrees. And it didn’t rain at all during our stay there. Can you imagine? But there were many things we could do, hence my husband Sami and i really enjoyed the trip, so did our 4-year old-daughter Nataya!
Cirebon has a number of heritage places, like the Keraton, etc. Old buildings and houses can still be found dowtown. What really caught my eyes during the city tour were the vintage shop signages, which were scattered around the city and hadn’t been replaced with the digital printed/modern ones. Those old signages were perhaps from the 1950-1980, before the digital era. I notice these things since I’m a graphic designer myself. And that’s quite a bonus for me in this city tour.
– Pasar Kanoman
Our first stop was the Pasar Kanoman (the traditional market) area, where we found many vendors selling fresh seafood, frogs meat and pork, also fruits and vegetables. It was also the place for Cirebon’s traditional food, such as Docang, Gado-gado Siram, Kue Tapel, Tahu Gejrot, Empal Gentong, and various crackers. Unfortunately we didn’t have a try on any of these food because we were still full after breakfast at the hotel. But many said that they are delicious and add variety on the culinary experience.
I like exploring old grocery stores, which are usually found at the traditional market area, looking for unique stuff, usually with unique vintage/old school/traditional style packaging. Like this Arba menthol cone (picture).
– Pemancar Keselamatan Temple
Spotted around the Pasar area, there’s an old vihara called Pemancar Keselamatan (translated to Security Transmitter, heehee..weird but you got the message, right?). We didn’t go inside and only managed to get pictures of the exterior. The vihara, which was built around 19th century, is still used normally nowadays by the locals.
– Keraton Kanoman
Keraton Kanoman was located behind the Pasar. Pitty we couldn’t have a tour inside the Keraton, because it was not the allowed time/month to visit. We were only allowed to enter the front area: the terrace, the main hall, and the museum. Pardon me, I’m not really sure when’s the right time to visit.
The terrace, pendopo and main hall are still functioned usually for the Keraton’s family meetings or events. Inside the main hall there’s a Sultan’s throne, which is still used on special events. Various antique porcelain plates from the Ming Dinasty are installed on the walls in front of the Keraton. While the Dutch antique porcelains were found inside the main hall.
We should’ve had a visit to the museum, but my daughter refused to enter any buildings and chose to wait outside instead. Perhaps she could feel the mystical aura from old buildings 😛
– Cirebon Harbour
The next stop was the Cirebon Harbour. We were actually planning to have brunch at the famous nasi jamblang eatery at the Harbour area, too bad it was still closed due to the Idul Adha holiday. But we promised our daughter for ships sight-seeing. Luckily there were several big ships anchored with workers unloading the containers, so she could happily watch them (from a distance).
There were also some big old buildings in the area, which were built maybe around the early 1900s. They now still function as maritime offices and warehouses. The weather at the harbour was really muggy, while trees and shaddy areas were rarely spotted (and becaks were forbidden to go inside so we had to walk), thus made us really thirsty and had to stop at a local warung for some cold drinks.
– Alun-Alun Kejaksaan (city hall)
Then we had an afternoon walk at the Alun-alun Kejaksaan (city hall), where the locals usually get together after work, having a chit chat at a coffee stall under a tree. While a group of teenagers practicing baseball, and another group playing soccer.
At-Taqwa Mosque, located at the Alun-alun area, is also one of Cirebon’s heritage. It has a glorious architecture, and was built at the early 1900s. I didn’t remember frankly whether there were any prohibition signage about the clothing, but I remember there was a girl in white clothing and a veil who stood near the entrance (and a signage?) looking at me from a distance ready to forbid me entering the area (as I was wearing a mini-skirt). So I decided to just take pictures from a distance.
– Cirebon Train Station
It was past midnight when we first arrived at the city and obviously we went straight to the hotel. Old buildings always interest me, and so did Cirebon’s train station. It was built around 1920 by a Dutch architect in art deco-art nouveau style. So on the last day of our stay, we decided to have a walk to the station, taking pictures of the building, and having empal gentong for breakfast afterwards at the parking lot.
– Cirebon Mall
Nataya was being really nice during the day and we thought why not let her have her own fun too, like playing at the playground (so simple). That’s why we went to this shopping mall that provided a public playground. Besides Cirebon mall, there’s also Grage mall on jalan RA Kartini, where you can find modern and western restaurants and shops.
Cirebon Mall is located on jalan Bahagia, near jalan Lemahwungkung and the Pasar area.
Trusmi village, about 5 km or about 30-minutes of becak-ride from downtown, is well-known for the Cirebon’s batik (work)shops.
Cirebon’s batik is one of the batik pesisir (coastal batik), which is produced at the northern coast of Java and Madura. Coastal batik usually comes in bright and vivid colors and are greatly influenced by the Chinese design and motifs, for example the Mega Mendung (rain cloud). Another motif is the Colonial, similar to the French’s toile de jouy, which narrates the human life.
We were lucky to have a chance to see the making of a traditional batik. An old woman was drawing a batik cloth using a canting. A canting is a small copper bowl with a spout attached to a wood ar bamboo handle, which is then dipped into hot wax, and then used to draw the motifs on the cloth. Those hand-drawn batik cloths are the most valuable/expensive ones compared to the printed and stamped ones.
The printed ones can cost as low as IDR 25,000-35,000 per piece of cloth. The hand-stamped ones, IDR 55,000-85,000. The hand-drawn ones, above IDR 100,000 per piece, and can be much much more expensive if they were drawn on silk. And we’re talking about millions and millions of IDR!
A piece of cloth is approximately 2 meters x 1,5 meters. Indonesian women usually wear batiks for special occasions paired with kebaya tops, some have them tailored with edgy designs, and some own them for collection only.
I myself bought some nice dresses and shirts for Sami, Nataya, niece and nephew, around IDR 25,000-60,000 per piece. And I also got myself some printed and hand-stamped fabrics in various patterns and colors. Women’s clothing are usually more costly, around IDR 100,000 per piece.
Besides the cloth, I also puchase some copper batik-stamp with nice patterns, IDR 175,000 for a small and a medium stamp. Can’t wait to show you my own batik creation!
You can find seafood almost anywhere in Indonesia. But we thought having a seafood fiesta in Cirebon was a must, since it is a harbour city and quite famous for its seafood. So we expected something above average. Unfortunately, of the two seafood fiestas we had, neither tasted special. We expected more finger-licking ones like the one we usually have in Jakarta or Bandung.
The first one was at Restoran Nelayan on Jalan Pekarungan. We ordered grilled ikan ayam-ayam/kambing-kambing or chicken fish, Indonesian kind of fish which face kinda resembles a goat while the meat’s texture is similar to the chicken’s, with soy sauce for the seasoning.
In our opinion, this fish was grilled too dryly. We also had fried battered squids, which batter was mixed with spring onions, different from the usual style. Err, not so tasty. Then we had sauteed bean sprouts with salted fish, which was ok to our tongue. The boiled cockles with peanut sauce was the only satisfying dish. The cockles were boiled perfectly and the peanut sauce was yummy, perfect match with the cockles.
All these dishes came into seperated chilli paste, because our daughter doesn’t like hot dishes at all. Everything (included 3 plates of white rice and 3 kinds of drink) costIDR 122,000.
And the second one was at H. Moel, on Jalan Kalibaru Selatan, where we had boiled cockles (the one at the first place was much better), grilled bawal fish with soy sauce (average yumminess), kangkung ca (sauteed waterspinach – not so special) and also shrimps in oyster sauce. We thought (ehm, sorry to say) that our home-made oyster sauce shrimp tastes much better. We paid IDR 127,000, included 3 plates of white rice and 3 kinds of drink.
I’m still wondering where to get the best seafood in town since Cirebon has been known as “Kota Udang” or The Shrimp Town.
One of Cirebon’s signature dishes, sold on Jalan Lemahwungkung. Kalong means bats, but it was actually buffalo’s meat (Vira once wrote about it in her version of Cirebon trip a few years ago). The tiny satays came in two choices of taste: sweet or savoury. We had them both with a plate of lontong (a side dish made of compressed half-cooked white rice, packed tightly into a rolled-up banana leaf and then cooked in boiled water, usually cut into small cakes for serving). A portion of satay and lontong was IDR 14,000.
Es Bubur Kacang Ijo
In Bandung where I live, bubur kacang ijo or green beans porridge is usually served warm with a slice of soft white bread. But in Cirebon, it is served cold and poured with Tjampolay Syrup (Cirebon’s signature sweet syrup in pisang susu (red bananas) flavor).
Both my husband and I think this was the most satisfying meal during our stay in Cirebon. Our first visit to Nasi Jamblang Haji Sumarni, the one at the Harbour, didn’t succeed, as it was still closed for the Idul Adha holiday. Luckily second time was a charm, and we had our breakfast there the next day.
Nasi jamblang is white rice served on a teakwood leaf combined with various choices of side dishes. You can choose from around 20 kinds of dishes. I picked perkedel kentang (crunchy potato dumpling), balakutak (sauteed small squid), sauteed cockles, some crumbles from the ati-ampela dish (chicken liver and gizzard) with Cirebon’s style sambal (a kind of chili paste, but not in the form of paste) on the side. The whole dish cost only IDR 9,000. Cirebon’s sambal is very typical, made of cut (not smashed) deep-fried red chilies, seasoned with salt. Yummmm!!
Nasi lengko is also one of Cirebon’s signature dishes, so it can be found almost anywhere in the city, at the street hawkers, food court, restaurants or eateries. I myself had the one at the restaurant beside a batik shop in Trusmi, but..d’oh, I forgot to take a picture of it! Anyway, it’s white rice served with fried white tofu and tempeh cuts, boiled bean sprouts, fresh cut cucumber, chopped chives, fried shallots, poured with peanut sauce and soy sauce. It may be good, depends on the peanut sauce, I think. It was IDR 13,000 per portion.
You can find maaany stalls in Cirebon that sells Empal Gentong, the most popular is the Empal Gentong Mang Darma inside the train-station building. But again, we weren’t so lucky because it was still closed when we got there. So we visited the one at the train-station’s parking lot instead called Empal Gentong Putra Mang Darma, which is actually perhaps the son (putra = son) of Mang Darma.
Empal gentong is a dish of boiled beef’s innards (usually intestines, spleens and tripes) and meat poured with seasoned coconut-milk soup. If you are not into beef’s innard, you can always ask for only meat in the dish. It was served with with rice poured with fried shallots. It was good, especially if it’s served hot, though I think the chilli powder (not chili paste or sambal) should be more spicy to make it even yummier. The price was IDR 10,000-18,000 per portion.
Toko manisan (confectionery) Shinta
Located on Jalan Lemahwungkung, near the Pasar Kanoman, this shop is a one-stop shopping for Cirebon’s traditional snack. Various crackers, syrup, salted fish and egg, traditional sweets and candies (confectionery), peuyeum ketan (sweet fermented sticky rice wrapped in guava leaf – usually sold in buckets, around IDR 47,000-50,000 per bucket) and also Upet tea (a very popular Cirebon’s green jasmine tea), which tastes stronger than other brands.
Some of the goodies, may be durable if they are tightly packed from the factory. Some of them may have to be repacked if you want them to last longer. Salted fish and shrimp paste have some strong odor, perhaps it should be repacked thicker to reduce the odor.
We bought some goodies to be brought back home: shrimp paste, a bucket of peuyeum ketan, asin rebon (salted Cirebon’s type of small shrimps), Alba pastilles (old school pastilles actually made in Sukabumi, and I just found out that it’s sold at some supermarket in Bandung – again I was attracted by the vintage-style packaging), and hopjes (caramel candies – Dutch influence). It was about IDR 140,000 for all.
My husband’s friend who lives in Cirebon really recommended this dish, and Vira talked about it in her Cirebon entry as well, so we were really curious about it. We went to the eatery on Jalan Panjunan twice but the place was still closed due to the Idul Adha holiday. Mie koclok is a noodle dish with shredded chicken in coconut-milk soup. And we’re definitely going back to the place to taste it once we’re back in Cirebon.
We stayed at Hotel Sare Sae, about 200 metres from the train-station. Sare sae, a sundanese phrase, means good sleep.
We found out about the hotel at the Internet and many recommended this place to stay. It was said to be the nicest hotel in town with traditional ethnic touch with a cheap rate and standard facilities: twin or double bed, TV, closet, a traditional-style bathroom with hot running water. But no fridge, room-service, swimming pool, spa, laundry, tv cable nor internet. The bathroom is reviewed to be unique, because it doesn’t provide any shower nor bathtub. Water are placed in an earthenware bowl and scooped with a zinc gayung (a bowl with a handle for taking usually liquid/water).
The other hotels may be more expensive with modern style (not the minimalist 2000s modern-style, but more like the 90s modern-style) and provide more complete facilites.
We booked an air conditioned double bed (not a spring bed!) deluxe room by phone. The published rate was IDR 250,000 / night, but they only charged us IDR 200,000 / night when we checked out. I’m not really sure why, perhaps they were having a discount feast, I didn’t ask.
Breakfast buffet for two was included, provided at the cafe from 6.30 am until 9 am. They served nasi uduk with 2-3 kinds of side dishes, toast bread with choices of toppings: margarine, strawberry jam and chocolate sprinkles, and omelette. Also tea and coffee. Only the fresh fruits were missing, but it was enough to start our days exploring the city.
Overall, our stay at the hotel was ok. Nataya liked the room. We all had a good sleep like they expected us (the name of the hotel), but Sami’s allergy (to dust and damp weather) reappeared when we were inside the room. Room cleaning was actually done everyday, so we presumed that it was the AC that needed more cleaning, perhaps.
Hotel Sare Sae
Jalan Siliwangi 70
Phone 62 231 209489
We went to Cirebon by Harina Train, a long-distance night train from Bandung to Semarang , which stopped by at Cirebon. The train was scheduled to depart at 8.30 PM, but it was 15 minutes late. Good enough for Indonesian standard.
We then arrived 5 hours later, around 1.30 AM. The ticket was IDR 80,000 per seat. The train was comfortable and clean, and boy, was the AC really chilly. Thank God extra blankets and pillows were provided for free.
We went back to Bandung by Cipaganti travel, a door-to-door shuttle minibus, which cost us IDR 75,000 per seat. The bus was comfortable enough with personal seating and cool air conditioner. It was a 5-hour-ride, included the traffic jam around Sumedang and dropping other passengers at their homes.
We took angkot once, but then decided to take becak afterwards because becak could get us from door to door. As far as I remember I didn’t see any taxi around. Angkot rate was IDR 1,000 / pax, no matter how near or far the distance. Becak’s rate was around IDR 3,000-6,000 per ride for close distance, about 1 km. On the second day, we took a becak ride for half the day, started from the hotel to the Harbour, then to the market, continued to Trusmi, and went back to the hotel. Total cost was IDR 80,000.