At the beginning of the 20th century, bubur ase was a popular food among Batavia residences and was a mainstay for Betawi society. A bowl of this special rice porridge, full of nutritious condiments, warmed stomachs and provided sustenance for the day. Other than being a favourite breakfast meal, the dish is an example of the multiculturalism of the day, displaying influences of Chinese, Middle Eastern and European cuisines.

Sadly, this unique Betawi dish is now seldom seen and served. It’s much easier to find classic regional porridges across Jakarta, for example ‘bubur’ from Cianjur, Cirebon or Sukabumi. These are perhaps the most well-known local porridge dishes of Java. Of course, porridges of all kinds in Indonesia are an example of local adaptation, with ‘congee’ originally introduced by the Chinese and then being locally adapted by different regions. Local produce, geography, customs, traditions and even economics then play a hand at shaping and moulding dishes.

Now, back to bubur ase. Its peculiar name is believed to be a portmanteau (as always!) of ‘asinan’ (pickled vegetables) and ‘semur’ (stews), i.e. ‘as-se’, which are the two main condiments of this dish. The condiments are said to be components of three cultures: Chinese, Middle Eastern and European. The Chinese of course introduced the base congee, but also bean sprouts, tofu and soy sauce; the watery stew, comprised of chicken or beef, potatoes and eggs, is a Dutch influence, ‘semoor’ being a dutch word. Finally, the rich nutmeg, pepper, ginger and clove spices used in the cooking are believed to be Middle Eastern influences.

In the past, bubur ase was enjoyed by most of the people of Betawi Tengah or Betawi Kota (Central Betawi), or Jakarta during the Dutch colonisation. Over time, what was once a staple feed has diminished, as new foods and also regional foods made their way into the city. However, there are a few local vendors who keep the tradition going, especially in Kwitang and Tanah Abang, or during Pekan Raya Jakarta (PRJ). Recently, Hotel Indonesia Kempinski Jakarta has ‘revived’ the dish and serve it as part of their Mustikarasa dining programme, for those wanting to savour bubur ase in a formal restaurant!

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.