The busy Pesanggrahan street is brimming with all sorts of culinary establishments. Lining both sides of the road, most of them still have that newly-opened shine—decked with big logos and recognizable brand names atop contemporary exteriors. Sitting amongst them, Nasi Gandul Ibu Endang’s humble wooden home steadfastly maintains its spot since the turn of the millennium.
Making up the interior, green-painted wooden beams come together with tarp-covered tables, an asphalt floor, a picture of the crew with the current Indonesian president, as well as a curious array of naturalistic paintings.
The eponymous Ibu Endang blends seamlessly with these surroundings, it’s easy to miss her without someone pointing her out. Casually dressed and assisted by family members including her sister Ibu Ani, she switches between handling payments, cleaning up tables, taking orders and preparing her signature dish, the Nasi Gandul.
It’s a simple fare. Steamed rice and thinly-sliced beef are placed on banana leaves-covered plates for added fragrance, and the golden brown broth of coconut milk, spices and soy sauce is poured last. Served warm, it adds a sweet and savoury finish to the dish, a balance that most would immediately recognise as characteristically Central Javanese.
A photo-copied newspaper clipping of the eatery from the late ’90s—boldly headlined, “Enthusiasts Willingly Eat Inside a Ramshackle Tent” in Indonesian, referring to her previous street stall—is a testament to Ibu Endang’s long and illustrious experience in making the speciality dish of her hometown Pati.
Other dishes from her regency and the surrounding province can also be found on the menu, including but not limited to the Garang Asem, with its bitingly spicy yet fresh and sour broth, as well as the equally-favoured Nasi Goreng Babat, where the fried rice is sweetened with soy sauce and generously complemented with chicken innards.
A sense of peace envelops Ibu Endang’s shaded eatery. Whether they are residents from the nearby housing complex, ride-hailing drivers grabbing a quick lunch between orders or couples on a date, diners eat with quiet contentment.
The steady rhythmic sound of banana leaves being shredded in one corner, paired with melodic folk tunes from the wandering street musician, complete the picture. Suddenly it’s easy to forget that it’s the city that awaits just on the other side of the flapping banner at the entrance, instead of the verdant farmlands of the Javanese countryside.