Located in Northeastern Java, Surabaya abounds with fresh seafood all year round.
The city is also home to various seafood products, such as petis or black shrimp paste. It’s no wonder most traditional Surabaya dishes use petis as their main ingredient.
Petis is made from shrimp and fish stock that is then thickened into a sauce. Although there are some variations in petis, Surabaya’s petis tends to have a darker colour due to the added ingredient of caramelised palm sugar. Despite its unpleasant colour and odour, petis actually tastes sweet and is a bit tangy, making it perfect for a dipping sauce or cooking. We have compiled five of the best-known petis dishes in Surabaya.
Rujak is widely known as a traditional Indonesian salad consisting of tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya, jicama, star fruit, and mango poured over sweet-spicy peanut and brown sugar sauce. However, rujak cingur is very distinct from the commonly known variation of rujak. Along with fruits, rujak cingur also consists of various kinds of vegetables, such as bean sprouts, kangkong, long beans, and cucumber.
The combination between fruits and vegetables is incorporated by the spicy sauce made from petis, peanut, plantain, brown sugar, and chilli. It is usually served on banana leaves and topped with rice cakes, tofu, tempeh, and curled white crackers to enhance the savoury taste. What makes this dish special is “cingur” or the Javanese word for cow’s muzzle. That explains the name rujak cingur.
There are two versions of rujak cingur, namely “matengan” and normal. Matengan rujak cingur means it uses the boiled ingredients only, such as boiled vegetables and cingur, while normal rujak cingur uses all the ingredients. Although rujak cingur may include diverse ingredients, it actually tastes delicious. The combination between sweet and sour fruits, juicy vegetables, chewy cingur, crunchy crackers, and succulent dressing makes it a flavourful dish. This dish can be found across the entire region, especially in Surabaya. There are many street vendors and Indonesian restaurants that sell it.
Price: Rp25,000 – 40,000
Best time to eat: Brunch and lunch
Semanggi is a traditional food that is quite rare to find nowadays because the main ingredient is difficult to find. It is a water clover (M. crenata) or aquatic ferns from the Marsilea family. This plant normally grows in rivers and rice fields. Semanggi is assembled with boiled bean sprouts and covered with a generous amount of spicy dressing made with petis, sweet potato, chilli, palm sugar, and peanut. The water clover itself tastes bland, but when it is mixed with the sauce, it tastes sweet and creamy.
This vegan-friendly dish is served on folded banana leaves as a plate. To enjoy this dish, there is no cutlery provided; we use a particular yellow cracker called krupuk puli that is large enough to substitute as a spoon. Semanggi can be found in Surabaya, especially in West Surabaya where semanggi mostly grows. Usually, semanggi sellers are old ladies who walk door-to-door carrying a basket of the rare treat on their back.
Price: Rp10,000 – 15,000
Best time to eat: Breakfast and brunch
Tahu tek is a light and simple dish. This dish consists of medium-fried tahu or tofu, bean sprouts, rice cakes, scrambled egg, and diced cucumber. It is served with prawn crackers and topped with petis and peanut sauce. Tahu tek is best served hot as the combination of softness from the tofu, tanginess from the bean sprouts, chewiness from the rice cakes, crunchiness from the crackers, and the spiciness from the dressing creates a unique taste and texture.
The name of tahu tek itself derives from the “tek-tek” sound that the hawkers make while pushing their food carts to attract attention. Some also assume that it is the sound of the hawkers’ scissors when cutting the ingredients before plating the dish. Wherever the sound may come from, all we know is the “tek-tek” sound is the only sound we anticipate every evening.
Price: Rp10,000 – 15,000
Best time to eat: Dinner
Literally meaning racing rice cakes, lontong balap was previously carried in a bamboo basket that was hung across the hawkers’ shoulders. They half walked or ran as the basket was too heavy and they had to get to their customers quickly. That is why the term racing or “balap” was coined. Today, most lontong balap hawkers wait for their customers in food courts or restaurants so that they do not need to “race” anymore.
Lontong balap is one of the most typical dishes from Surabaya. It is a tofu and bean sprouts soup that is seasoned by petis. Lontong balap is usually served with rice cakes, spicy mussels satay and lentho, a fried cake that uses cowpeas or mung beans as the main ingredient. This dish is the kind of comfort food that will definitely light up your gloomy day.
Price: Rp25,000 – 35,000
Best time to eat: Lunch
Kupang, or blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), are small seashells that can be found in the saltwater muds of East Java. Kupang is the main ingredient for lontong kupang; it is boiled and seasoned with petis. Similar to lontong balap, lontong kupang is eaten with rice cakes, mussels satay, and lentho. However, the lentho is a bit different from the one for lontong balap as it is made from grated cassava.
Although the appearance may not look tantalising, lontong kupang tastes surprisingly good. It has sweet and salty flavours, just like the taste of the ocean. Adding lime juice will get rid of the fishiness of the dish. Usually, a portion of lontong kupang also comes with fresh coconut ice. There are many lontong kupang hawkers around Surabaya and Sidoarjo, especially in the coastal areas.
Price: Rp15,000 – 35,000
Best time to eat: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
These are the most popular dishes in Surabaya that use petis as one of their ingredients. Surabaya has always been known for its incredible cuisines that incorporate its natural resources and local wisdom. Each food is full of flavours that make you want more. If you visit Surabaya, don’t hesitate to give any of these a try!
By: SNA Media Club