Jogja’s Secret Chicken Soup Kitchen
Cutting through a kampong today we come across a one-floor parking garage filled with Soto Ayam (Chicken Soup) carts. Essentially a shelf on bicycle wheels with a section open for a bin to warm soup in, the narrow carts can stack 30 deep in the tennis court-sized space. At mid-day when we stop in, most of the soup hawkers are still out. But Dava Ragil Saputra is just getting his cooking started.
Squatting on his haunches, Saputra fans a small charcoal fire over which he boils water to cook noodles. This is his first step, he explains, in prepping his cart for business. Later, he boils soybean sprouts. How long? Just till the water goes lumbung-lumbung (boils!). At four pm, he’ll cut up three chickens into a broth that he brews for six hours. Then he hits the streets to sate the late night crowd. Jalan Brigarjo off Yogya’s main drag, Jalan Malioboro, is Saputra’s beat. Along it he sells 100 bowls of soup a night, brewed from a three chicken stock.
And this is his inheritance. The daily route and his chicken soup recipe, Saputra explains, were passed down from his father and namesake, the honorable Dava Ragil, and his father’s father before that.
They didn’t make meatball soup, beef soup or anything else common to this region. Just Chicken Soup, for Dava Ragil Saputra. He said he’d been making it just so for 20 years already. “ Enough to make my hair white,” he added with a laugh.
Deeper in the parking garage, there’s a well with what seem to be generations old stone mortars and pestles drying in the afternoon sun. But a conversation with another hawker suggests that not all of them come from as long a lineage of Soto Ayamers as Saputra. This guy told us that he had only been at the garage two nights after returning from a job in Jakarta.
One of the Soto Ayam makers is finished with his soup, and he ladles us out a bowl. The noodles mingle with bits of chicken skin, green onion, and coriander in a spicy broth.
Nearby, a young, shirtless man in faded camo shorts pounds garlic with a four-foot pestle. A thump of the pestle sends garlic juice squirting into his eye. He scurries over to the buckets of water near the well to soothe the sting.
As we thank our generous hosts and step back into the afternoon sun, Saputra leaves his secret family recipe to brew for a second. Whipping out his smart phone, he asks, “Could we be his friends on Facebook?”