Jakarta at five in the morning. The humid dawn is aglow with lights of various sources: orange gleams from bus stops, colourful neons from passing trucks and the white fluorescent bulbs of street food tents. In the midst of it all, the crew of Bubur Ayam Palapa Raya sets up their streetside stall on Jalan Sirsak in Pasar Minggu, a location they’ve been occupying for more than two decades.
It takes them only minutes. A wooden cart serves as their kitchen while a long table becomes the dining area, all under the canopy of a tarp tent. By the time they’re done, the streets are still dark while the chirping of birds lingers over the occasional roars of passing vehicles, just in time to serve the last batch of people walking home from morning prayers. An unassuming scene on an unassuming street in a city chock full of other stalls like it.
The appeal here is the bubur ayam or chicken congee, piled generously with shredded chicken, cakwe (fried dough), nuts, fried shallots as well as rice and melinjo crackers. Each bowl comes with a free cup of hot tea for dine-in as well as a selection of sweet and savoury skewers when requested, ranging from quail eggs to chicken liver and innards. Mixed first or eaten straight up, every spoonful of the congee is smooth and rich with comfortingly familiar flavours, burning a little as it goes down and quickly warming up the body against the morning chill.
Diego, who manages the stall, admits there’s nothing particularly special about his father’s recipe, though. “Bubur ayam is the same everywhere, so it’s all about maintaining the quality of your service and product. For example, we never use the cheaper and impure bulk cooking oil to fry our skewers, even as prices rise,” shared the only son of owners and husband-and-wife Darko and Nur Baity.
But if the ceaseless breakfast crowd (and before that, the afternoon diners too throughout the ‘90s) says anything about Bubur Ayam Palapa Raya, it’s that sometimes, simply nailing down the basics is more than enough. The stall sells out ten litres of congee before 10 am every day, and double the amount on weekends. From office workers on motorbikes, neatly-dressed civil servants to students in uniform, each equally enjoys the simple, wholesome fare to ready themselves for the day ahead.