Cirebon, West Java – An Experience for The Mind And The Taste Buds

Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 2 November 2009   •  Itinerary

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December, 2006

 A heaven for food lovers, history diggers, and beautiful batik shoppers, Cirebon is a small town located on the far east of West Java province. Two or three days wandering in the town, ending it with a massage at the spa, would leave you relaxed and recharged..

fish fiesta


batik shop

At almost noon we went out again to buy some pieces of batik cloth at Trusmi Street. Cheap stuff, compared to when the cloths have been brought in to Jakarta’s malls! A very good idea for gifts to your mom, sister, or girlfriends.

Cirebon’s most popular and special batik is the Mega Mendung (clouds) pattern. It’s a marriage between Cirebon and Chinese patterns.


Finally, it was time to go pamper ourselves in the Grage Hotel & Spa. It’s located halfway between Cirebon and Kuningan, about one hour of driving from Cirebon city. While waiting for our turn to be pampered, we went lunching at the nearby restaurant with grilled fish as their specialty. Yummy…!!

relax at the spa..

I was afraid that I might throw up or something if I was massaged with full tummy. But the masseuse convinced us that that wouldn’t happen. So on we went with the massage.. Wow.. Rp 160.000,00 worth of pampering.. after the massage, I bathed in a tub of warm sodium water for 10 minutes, then ended it with a nice and fresh shower.. My first spa experience and I had it in a lovely holiday weekend.. 🙂


The tour guide, in traditional Javanese clothing, tells the details on every single item in the Keraton. Keraton is a palace for the ruling king / sultan, but now it functions mostly as museum. The admission fee is only Rp 3.000,00 / person, plus Rp 20.000,00 fee for each guide who will explain you on any little details of everything you see in the museum and about Cirebon history.

Below is the room in Keraton where Sultan had his guests.

keraton in cirebon

Most of the furnitures and building here are original. For example the chairs here, only the cushions are renewed. It used to be made of rattan.

There are so many symbolic things in the Keraton. Such as:

a relief in the keraton

This relief contains groups of flowers; a group of 2 flowers, 3 flowers, and 4 flowers.
Symbolizes : the number of “raka’at” in the Islamic prayers.
The two white birds symbolizes how a leader has to give a sense of peace to his followers.
The mangistan fruits symbolize honesty of the leader. A mangistan skin always tells the number of the fruit’s cuts inside. The skin is dark-colored, but the inside is pure white.
The pomegranate (‘delima’ in Indonesian) fruits symbolize sincerity of the leader. Why? Because in the Qur’an, there is a passage of “Al Ikhlas” (ikhlas = sincere), and it has 5 ‘dal’s in it. (‘dal’ is an Arabic letter). Hence, dal + 5 (lima) = delima.

colors simbolize the Wali Songo

The 9 colors fabrics symbolize the “Wali Songo”, 9 important messengers of Islam in the 17th century.
This room is prohibited for public. Only janitors who sweep the room are allowed to get in there, appointed directly by the present Sultan. Behind the 9 colors fabrics there’s a bed where the Sultan in the old days used to take naps between his works. This used to be his study-room, by the way.

gending jawa

Gamelan, Javanese orchestra. Some are still functioned, but only in certain occassions, such as at the Maulud Nabi Muhammad, that is the birthday of Muhammad.


This wagon is hundreds years old. It’s called Singa Barong, the vehicle of the ruling King, and is said to have a very sophisticated technology – the same technology principal that are used in modern cars (something to do with the way the wheels turn, the shock breaker concept, etc). Other than that, the green jade paint is very beautiful with its shiny sprinkles. About 90% parts of the wagon is still original, including the green paint.

90% is still original

This wagon symbolizes the mix cultures of Cirebon. Trunk of an elephant is closely related to Hindu/Indian culture, dragon head and claws is related to Buddhism/Chinese culture, wings is related to Islamic teaching (the Bouraq, Muhammad’s vehicle).

There is also a replica of the wagon which, if I’m not mistaken, was made in the 90s. This copy is used whenever there’s a Keraton Festival or any celebration that requires the King/Sultan to be carried by the wagon. The quality doesn’t compete with the original one. The original one stays in the museum because Sultan doesn’t want it to be damaged.


There are trees that have been standing in one of the corners of the keraton area for about 600 years now. Some say it’s haunted.. so..would you be brave enough to sit under it alone at night? I know I wouldn’t… *goosebumps*

mystical tour..

A chair, a ladder, and a birdcage is for a ceremony when a child just starts to walk. The parent(s) sit on the chair, holding the child, and then lead the child down the ladder. Then the cage is placed, in it there are 7 items from which the child is gonna pick one or more items. A book and money are 2 among those items. The item that the child picks supposedly shows what he/she’s meant to be good at when he/she grows up. Some children just stand there and cry and not picking anything. Some would pick almost everything. Some would throw a temper tantrum and mess everything up in there. Whatever the child does in there is believed to show the interest, character, and future of her/him.

My tour guide said that once there was a family of tourists from Kalimantan who got in the Keraton area without permission and they took a picture in one of the spots in the yard. Later when they printed the picture, there’s a white crocodile showing right beside them. They sent the picture to the Keraton as a proof. Spooky, eh?

“Urban legend” has it that virgin girls aren’t allowed to come in one of the closed areas outside the keraton building. Or else they’ll be virgins forever. But actually, according to my tour guide, women aren’t allowed in this area because it is where men do their “itikaf” (staying put for praying purpose for a couple of days in a row), so the presence of women would distract their concentration.


Across the street from Keraton Kesepuhan, there’s the Mesjid Agung (Grand Mosque) which is hundreds years old. It’s said that on Fridays there are 7 muadzins who take part at the midday adzan (adzan = calling to start prayer, muadzin = person who hollers out adzan) before the “Jumatan” (Friday prayer), where at other times and normally everywhere adzan is only done by 1 person.

ain't it grand?


Sunan Gunung Jati is one of the 9 mufties called Wali Songo. He is the descent of an Indian sheikh and a Cirebon royal. People, up until nowadays, visit the graveyard to pray, and ask for signs and blessings. Although the complex is named after the legend, not just anybody can see his sacred grave. It’s blocked with 4 tall walls, so all we can see from outside is the rooftop. Only male descendants of Sunan Gunung Jati can go in there.

According to the guide in the graveyard, Sunan Gunung Jati was married to a Chinese princess, named Ong Tie. That’s why there’s a part of the gravery that belongs to the Chinese descendants.

NASI JAMBLANG (Jamblang Rice)

Popular for breakfast menu, you can find nasi jamblang in many spots, including the one I had, at the Pelabuhan Cirebon (Cirebon Port).

nasi jamblang of cirebon

Nasi Jamblang is a combination of rice on the hardwood leaf with various traditional Indonesian side-dishes, you’re free to choose from so many options. There’s fried chicken liver (yes, Indonesians love the guts..!!), fried chicken, oysters, veggies, satay, you name it, they have it. So cheap (a portion of rice with two or three kinds of side dishes would only cost about Rp 10.00,00) and deeelicious..!! The traditional eatery (it’s called ‘warung’) opens from very early morning, as early as 6 AM, until not later than noon.

The most well-known is Nasi Jamblang Mang Dul at the Gunung Sahari Street, in front of the famous Grage Mall. You better get there before 8 AM if you don’t want to wait in line for a seat or eating while standing (it’s not a cocktail party), especially when it’s in the weekend.

SATE KALONG (Kalong Satay)

buffalo satay, anyone?

One afternoon, my friend, who’s spent most of her life in Cirebon, took me to buy chicken satay and kalong satay at one of the hawkers in the streets of Lemahwungkuk. You can find chicken satay almost anywhere in Indonesia, but kalong satay is very rare. Kalong means bat, but hey, hey.., don’t get freaked out just yet, ‘cos Sate Kalong is actually made of beef, although it used to be made of buffalo’s meat. The flavor is what differentiates sate kalong from the usual beef satay. Sate Kalong comes in 2 flavors: salty and sweet, up to your request. It’s called sate kalong because they used to sell it after dark, just like bats only come out at night.


late night supper

In the evening, it was time for me to prove one of Cirebon’s well-known reputation: the seafood! I’ve heard quite a lot of names where we can have delicious seafood in this town. Not knowing which one is really the best one, I just went along with my host to Seafood H. Moel (H. stands for Haji) at Kalibaru Selatan Street. We had : Kailan cah (stir-fried kailan veggie), fried squid, seafood kwetiau (kwetiau is very much like noodle), otak-otak (snack made of seafood steamed in banana leaves), padang sauce crabs (hot hot hot!), and rice.
Total = Rp 90.000,00 for two, plus a satisfaction belch 😛

Seafood H. Moel, or sometimes people call it Mang Moel, also open at other locations, at the Sukalila Street, and Cipto Street. If you’re having a hard time finding a seat because there are too many visitors, you can just go to the seafood restaurants nearby at Sukalila Street, they’re also delicious. And if you’re into a classier environment, go to Jumbo Restaurant at Karanggetas Street #191, not far from the famous Yogya Department Store.

MI KOCLOK (Shake Noodle)

Mi koclok of cirebon

Mi Koclok is noodles + shredded chicken + eggs + bean sprouts + coconut milk. We had it in a stall on Jalan Raya Sunan Gunung Jati (only 5-10 minutes drive from the legendary graveyard of Sunan Gunung Jati), about Rp 6.000,00 / portion. It tastes salty, and is called koclok, which means ‘shake’ or ‘stir’, because the process of making the dish is ended with shaking all the ingredients in a sieve to get excess water out.


me in my PJs

One morning, I went along with Fani as she shopped for her Mom’s cooking materials in the traditional market. Then we had breakfast right in the middle of the market. The dish is called Docang, it’s “ketupat” (rice cake boiled in a rhombus-shaped packet of plaited young coconut leaves) with “kerupuk kulit” (crackers made of cow’s skin), cassava leaves, and sprinkles of coconut shreds.


tahu gejrot

At night, my little adventure is followed by foodvaganza in the Yogya foodcourt, that’s at the Yogya department store. I had Empal Gentong (“the insides of a cow” in coconut milk soup-like juice) and Tahu Gejrot (tofu with sauce of cabe rawit and garlic). Both were yummy in the tummy! You could have the Tahu Gejrot as spicy as you want, just tell the cook how many chilli you want in the sauce, or maybe even none at all.

Tahu gejrot is also easy to find at the parking lot of the train station.

There’s no competition to having a free accommodation and tour guide when you’re having a vacation, especially in a place that you’ve never been before. And that’s what I had in Cirebon, thanks for my high school friend Fani who’s a native Cirebonese. But if there’s no place for you to crash for free, don’t worry, because Cirebon has lots of hotels, and since the city is only as big as 37,54 km², it won’t be hard to look for one. Even before entering the city (if you’re riding a car or bus), you’ll see quite a lot of hotel ads in the streets, complete with the phone numbers and addresses. And those ads will still be hovering over you once you’re already strolling around town.

By train:

If you’re from Jakarta, take the Cirebon Express train from Gambir Station (Central Jakarta) or Jatinegara Station (East Jakarta). A 3 hours ride will take you right to Cirebon Station. (Executive Class Rp 70.000,00 on weekends, Rp 65.000,00 on weekdays. Business Class Rp 55.000,00 on weekends, and gotta be cheaper on weekdays).

inside the train

? business class

By car or bus:

Only 5 hours straight from Jakarta, and about 3 hours from Bandung (the capital city of West Java).

inside a bus

All prices here are valid at the time of this entry is uploaded, 2008.

Pick your choice of transportation.

They have becak, a pedicab, which is good for sight seeing in short distances (long distances by becak means expensive and a torture for the becak driver ‘cos he pedals manually to get the vehicle, which contains you and maybe a friend of yours, moving to whenever you’re heading).

After I bought some crackers for my friends in Jakarta, we went back to Fani’s by becak in Indonesia. I loved it! I can’t have the lovely experience of sitting in a becak with wind blowing your hair in Jakarta anymore since they ban all becaks there for traffic orderliness. Yeah, the Jakartans prefer the high-speed, high-poluting vehicles to the slow but way more environment-friendly ones. Oh well..on to the next fun..!


They have angkot (mini-vans with two rows of passenger seats facing each other in the tail section), which has a system like buses in any town, so you’d have to know which route goes where and passes what areas. Each route usually has different colors of car, have the route written on the car, and they might have numeric system as well.

And there’s always taxi.

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