Madura: Bull Racing and Great Dishes

Soto Madura: Photo by Suryatini N. Ganie
One of Indonesia’s smaller but more famous islands is Madura, off the north coast of East Java. Although I was not born in Madura, but in Situbondo, a quiet place in East Java, I feel at home on this island. People of Situbondo speak Madurese and still practice Madurese customs. One such tradition is the kerapan sapi, the bull races that makes Madura famous.

When I first saw the kerapan sapi in a small village, I noticed that as the bulls got closer to the finish line, their nostrils let out steam and their eyes turned red. It seemed that they were ready to just ram through us. But despite standing only 2 meters from the track, the screaming jockey made sure they stayed on track. My friend from Pamekasan, a town in Madura, told me to forget the race and focus on the varied and delicious Madura cuisine. Growing up, I really appreciated Madurese food, and feel it deserves an honorable place in the archipelago’s culinary map.

Soto ayam Madura for example, is a staple item in restaurants serving Indonesian food both here and abroad. The dish, in fact, was not invented on the island itself, but in nearby Surabaya by a coterie of Madurese who ran restaurants in the country’s second-largest city. They tacked on the “Madura” to the generic soto ayam dish. Actually, purists in Madura consider the dish an aberration. Soto Madura, they argue, has to be made from beef and it is only in western Madura that soto is made with chicken. The second variation could be found in the form of soto Pamekasan, which is traditionally served with mung bean fritters. The fritters are prepared by mixing 200 grams of washed, cleaned mung bean sprouts and 8 tablespoons of rice flour, 4 tablespoons of water, a ½ teaspoon of salt to taste and 20 tablespoons of cooking oil. The mung bean sprouts are fried in hot oil, tablespoon by tablespoon until it is done.

But in a way, I was also interested in how the racing bulls were fed and kept fit for racing, because they were relatively small compared to the bulls in Spanish bullfighting. I was told that a Madurese bull with a good chance of winning the race will be given an honorary status by villagers. That is why during the preparatory stage for the race, the bulls are treated like kings. They will be bathed two to three times a day, served 1 kilogram of eggs daily, increasing to 2 kilograms in the run-up to race. The eggs are mixed with local wine, a glass of pure honey and a bottle of soda water. The soda water allegedly keeps the bull hydrated and the eggs, honey and wine give it strength. On the day of the race, the bulls are fed 1 kilogram of ground cabai rawit or hot chili, which are also applied on the animals behind to keep them running.

But it’s not just the racing bulls that are well fed. Spectators on race day get a special rice delicacy locally known as a nasi jhajhan, served by a women who in the midst of screaming crowds and daytime temperatures in excess of 33 degrees Celsius.

Nasi jhajhan comprises of rice and an array of dishes. For example, a fish or squid locally known as gengsah is mixed with a cocktail of coriander, cumin and turmeric sauce; espaes juko pase (local spinach soup), juka gareng (salted fish), petis ola telur (eggs in fermented shrimp paste), dendeng ragi (thinly sliced beef filet) or osik daging, a dish with French etymology, because osik comes from hachée, or at least this is what my host told me. After the meal we are served iced water by our host. But our host also served an exotic looking drink called cendol celeng or black-colored rice flour balls in a cold, sweet, thin, coconut sauce. Some put additional ice cubes into the concoction.

“I forgot to tell you”, a woman said, when we received the black rice balls, “we also like black. A fascinating, mysterious color whether it is for fashion or foods. Black is also our official kabaya with gold buttons and the men’s traditional baggy trousers. The black color in our food comes from sifting finely stamped grilled dry rice straw which is added in teaspoons.”

What about preparing some soto ayam Madura Barat made with a chicken stock? Boil 500 grams of chicken and 1.5 liters of water into a stock. Halfway through, chop the meat and return it to the stock. Grind 4 garlic cloves, ½ a teaspoon of pepper, ½ a teaspoon of fish paste into a paste and stir fry in 2 tablespoons of cooking oil until it emits an aroma and add to the stock. Add 2 slices of ginger, 2 stalks of lemon grass and season with 1 tablespoon of salt. Stir until the chicken is tender and done.

Soak 75 grams of soun (glass noodles) in 600 mililiters of warm water, take out when ready and sieve. Instruction for serving: place 2 tablespoons of well-done glass noodles in a bowl and pour in the stock, including the chopped chicken. Top off with 1 teaspoon of minced celery and 1 teaspoon of crisp fried shallot slices.

Sumber: The Jakarta Post, Sun, 03/28/2010


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