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FEEDING THE NATION

Sugeng Enjing Malang

Join us as we eat our way through the heart of East Java. Malang is flanked on either side by towering volcanoes that seem to rise straight out of the myths of Javan legends.

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The leafy streets of Jalan Besar Ijen are lined with stately colonial mansions.The ageing monoliths and temples of Singosari echo with history going back thousands of years. There is nothing subtle about Malang; Malang is an awe-inspiring collision of story and geography.

With the spectacular landscape of Malang in mind, a simple meal of cwie mie Malang might feel slightly incongruous.

Cwie mie Malang is a bowl of dry noodles garnished with shredded chicken, lettuce and diced chilli peppers. Served alongside is a steaming bowl of salty, savoury broth. Pangsit goreng (fried wanton) will, inevitably, join the party. And that’s it.

But like Singapore’s legendary chicken rice, there’s an unseen alchemy at work here. The noodles are fresh and slightly chewy and with hints of a subtle richness from just the right amount of oil. When the broth is poured over the noodles, flavours that didn’t previously exist start to form. The fiery chillies – and no one should ever underestimate a Javan’s tolerance for chillies – can turn the meal into an adventure on the Scoville scale that you’re unlikely to forget. It’s a delicious and filling experience, leaving you feeling warm, content and utterly at peace with the world. And then, before you’ve realised it, you’re considering another bowl. Resist the temptation, as there’s still much more to enjoy.

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Stop number two on the Malang culinary trail is bakso bakar. If you’ve spent any time in Indonesia, you’re already well-acquainted with bakso. Indonesia’s traditional beef meatball is one of life’s simplest pleasures, which begs the question: how do you improve on something so simple and perfect? You grill it.

Bakso bakar (literally, ‘grilled meatballs’) is the traditional bakso experience that you know and love, but with a slight char, a spicy-sweet kick from a soy sauce glaze, and a smoky after-taste. It takes a taste that you’re already familiar with and changes it just enough to make it extraordinary. Often served with noodles and a light broth, bakso bakar can be found in a bowl or on a skewer. How you eat it is irrelevant. All that matters is that you do!

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Our last stop might have you asking, “Isn’t it too soon for another bowl of soup?” But this is soto Lombok so the answer is no: it’s never too soon for soto Lombok. Named for the then-humble restaurant on the then-humble Jalan Lombok of 1950s Malang that first served it, soto Lombok is this East Javan town’s entry into the Indonesian soto sweepstakes. All of the usual soto suspects make an appearance – shredded chicken, potato, assorted greens, sambal – but then comes the wild card: koya.

Koya is a grainy condiment made from crushed shrimp crackers. The koya combines with the umami-filled soto to create a complex and uniquely textured broth that is host to all of the best flavours: it’s savoury, it’s salty, it’s spicy and it’s ever-so-slightly bitter.

It’s the koya that makes soto Lombok stand apart from every other soto in this archipelago, and it’s the koya that might best represent Malang: a town that is, at the same time, the perfect representation of Javanese culture and yet a completely new and original experience.