Message in a Bowl

In the middle of the nation’s issue of disintegration, we can learn a lot about unity in diversity from our ancestors through, believe it or not, Soto Tauto.

After reviewing our magazine for the past 3 issues, we felt that we didn’t expose much of the traditional food in a deeper perspective. In fact, Indonesia has very rich culinary culture and started to take the center stage in the world’s gastronomy stage.

Therefore, in this issue, we challenge Chef Budi Lee, a true Pekalongan man to interpret his hometown’s specialty, Soto Tauto, in a modern way. Budi Lee is the former President of YCCI (Young Chef Club Indonesia), involved in founding the restaurant Munchies in Jakarta. Now, he’s enjoying his life as F&B consultant, and also selling online rendang with the name Babi Baper (Babi Pelepas Rindu).

History of Tauto

We have a misconception of the name tauto, people thought it’s an abbreviation for “tauco (fermented soybean) soto”. Actually, the word derived from Chinese word “caudo” which was first announced in Semarang in the middle of 18th century. Gradually, caudo became soto, Makassar people called it coto, and Pekalongan folks named it tauto.

According to M. Dirhamsyah, a Pekalongan history observer, the Chinese played important role in the culture development in Java. Some cultural identities, which were known as Javanese’s, were actually belonged to the Chinese culture. You can see it through food such as noodle and soun (glass noodle).

The question is: why tauto was popular in Pekalongan and most of the sellers are Javanese? According to Haji Damudji, a tauto seller whose outlet is located on Jalan Haji Agus Salim, south of Klego’s village office, the Javanese used to serve the Chinese soto seller. Along the way, the Chinese didn’t have any successors 

for the business, and it’s up to the locals to take the baton.

You can learn about high level of tolerance from the use of buffalo meat as protein in Soto Tauto. Pekalongan was inhabited by ethnicities such as Javanese, Arabic, Chinese and some Hindu, so they picked the meat that can be accepted by all of them: buffalo.

Budi Lee and Tauto
“I’ve known Soto Tauto for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’m home, I always look for Tauto. My family is quite unique because my father and sister don’t really like meat; meanwhile my mother prefers something lighter. Most of the times we opt for chicken Soto Tauto, such as Bu Nanuk’s,” said Budi. Other than that, Budi is a regular for other Tauto places in Pekalongan such as Soto Rohmani and Tjarlam who’s still true to the authentic buffalo meat.

“The difference among these food stalls are minimum, perhaps the difference lie in the use of the blended spices and the aromatic herbs. However, real Soto Tauto has to use authentic Pekalongan’s tauco (fermented soybean). We have 6 regions in Indonesia which have stand-out taucos: such as the more liquid and salty Medan’s tauco, or the more acidic Bangka’s tauco. The tauco form Pekalongan is known for it’s more solid form and its distinctive aroma,” explained Budi.

Budi told some unique experience he had when he introduced Soto Tauto with Bekraf (Indonesian Creative Economy Agency) in South Korea. At the time, Bekraf wanted to introduce Rendang, but they also want to do some branding with our sotos. To show the richness of our soto, Bekraf featured 3 sotos: Surabaya Soto, Betawi and Pekalongan.

According to Budi, Soto Tauto is the easily accepted one by the South Koreans. “They are drawn to it because they swore it was Doenjang Jigae, the difference is Korean’s counterpart has smoother texture, similar to miso. Actually doenjang, tauco, and miso have the same basic ingredient: Chinese fermented soybean.”
Budi wants Indonesia to be known for its food, not just the culture and nature. “Figures such as Chef Vindex Tengker and Wiliam Wongso have done it, but as the younger generation, we’d like to give different twist and approach. It’s by introducing the traditional version, along with the alternative version to show the recipe’s adaptability to suit the local market’s palate,” he said.

Many people underestimate those who are into Indonesian cuisine. “To me it’s a big mistake, Indonesian cuisine is actually far more difficult. Personally, I’m getting tired of western food, but I never have enough of Indonesian cuisine,” said Budi.

Tauto Reinvented
Some of the major modifications of Budi’s version of Soto Tauto are the use of the thicker broth and the use of potato. Budi deliberately featured the thicker sauce for the sake of plating and presentation, along with the fact that the more liquid broth is not as easily accepted as the thicker ones.

Soto Tauto also has some spiciness and rough texture; therefore, Budi used the soft and smooth mashed potato to balance the overall experience, also as carb. Meanwhile for the fried potato, Budi was inspired by the concept of ifu mie. The crispy texture was featured because he wanted his version not to stray too far from the original, which actually featured some fried rice vermicelli and fried intestine as toppings. In addition, Budi also threw in a poached egg to add the playful layer as you can break the egg to get some runny yolk.

For the protein, Budi chose beef brisket. “To me, brisket is not too tough and has the proper composition for Tauto. As addition to the rich fat content, brisket also has some silver skin that give the bite and crunchiness. But personally, I love brisket because it’s like the pork belly’s counterpart for beef. I don’t know why people identify me with pork. Probably because 3 things: I sell pork rendang, I love pork, or because I look like one (laugh)!” he said proudly.

Budi’s sense of humor and the lesson of tolerance through Soto Tauto is a breath of fresh air in the middle of our nowadays easily offended society. I believe food is one of the foundations of genuine happiness. After all, perhaps Indonesians don’t really need picnic, on the other hand, we need good foods. Fortunately, we’re surrounded by abundance of the great traditional food.