Recently, TasteAtlas declared rawon as the “Best Rated Soup in the World.” It even outshone dishes like tonkotsu ramen, tom kha gai, sopa de lima, and Taiwanese hot pot. So, what’s so special about rawon that makes it a favorite among many? Let’s dive into the fascinating world of this delightful soup!
The Origins of Rawon
The history of rawon’s origins isn’t crystal clear, but there are a few clues. Some internet sleuthing suggests that a stone inscription called “Prasasti Taji” dated back to the year 901 AD mentions the word ‘rarawwan.’ This name is believed to be the precursor of the word “rawon.” The Prasasti was discovered in 1868 near Ponorogo, East Java, and it described “rarawwan” as a black, spiced soup made with keluak fruit and various spices.
In “Eten en Drinken in Het oude Java (600-1600 AD)” by HIR Hinzler, it’s revealed that there were dishes made with either meat or vegetables, cooked in a substantial amount of water. Vegetable-based soups were known as “jejanganan,” while those with meat were called “gulay” (gulai) and “rarawwan” (rawon). Hinzler also found references to “rarawwan” in “Kakawin Bhomakawya,” a lengthy Javanese poem from East Java.
More recent discoveries come from various New Javanese literary works written in the 18th century. For example, “Serat Centhini” in 1811 and “Serat Wulangan Olah-olah Warna-warni,” a collection of recipes from the Mangkunegaran Palace in Surakarta published in 1926.
From these findings, it can be inferred that rawon has been around for over a thousand years. In fact, the names “rawon” and “gulai” existed much earlier than “soto” from China or “kari” from India, which were only introduced in the 11th to 13th centuries.
A Specialty of East Java
Based on historical records, rawon’s popularity is concentrated in East Java. You can find rawon in Solo as well, but its taste may differ slightly from the East Javanese version.
Surabaya, Malang, and Probolinggo are a few East Javanese cities known for their delicious and legendary rawon. For instance, in Malang, you can easily stumble upon excellent rawon eateries wherever you go.
So, what’s in a bowl of rawon?
At its core, rawon is a rich, black soup filled with tender chunks of beef, sprouts, and served with salted eggs and shrimp crackers. Savoring it with warm rice and sambal makes it a perfect dish for any time of the day.
Rawon’s spice blend is distinctively Indonesian, including ingredients like shallots, garlic, lemongrass, chili, cumin, coriander, bay leaves, galangal, aromatic ginger, pepper, salt, kaffir lime leaves, and, of course, keluak. Keluak, also known as pucung, is what gives rawon its distinctive dark hue. Keluak comes from the seeds of the keluak tree. It’s the dark, brownish flesh inside that imparts the unique aroma and flavor. However, keluak needs to undergo a fermentation process to remove cyanide compounds.
The Beef in Rawon
Rawon traditionally uses a mix of cuts like “sandung lamur,” ribs, shank, and offal. The beef is cubed into small pieces, similar to what’s used in soto or tongseng. Not all parts of beef work well, as the choice of meat influences the flavor of the broth. Still, you’re free to enjoy rawon with additional delicacies like intestines or tripe if that’s your preference.
The tradition of serving side dishes or accompaniments with a meal is believed to originate from Chinese immigrants who settled in the archipelago centuries ago. Rawon is no exception.
Enjoying a bowl wouldn’t be complete without adding fried tempeh, tempeh mendol, or perkedel. However, the true companions are salted eggs, bean sprouts, sambal, and shrimp crackers.
The bean sprouts provide a crispy texture when combined with the beef, rice, and soup. This texture combination is what makes rawon feel refreshing as you savor it, making you eager to slurp up every last drop of the broth!