This is my submission for the ‘3 Things in the City’ I Love contest by Velvet Escape, Traveldudes and Wimdu.co.uk
Yogyakarta, a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists. It’s a special region located in the island of Java. The city is full of five stars hotels to comfort your sleep, top notch services to ease your travel, a haven for the shopping fanatics and fancy restaurants to satisfy your tongue.
Stop right there.
Yes all those mouth-watering offers might let you enjoy Yogyakarta, but the best way to embrace the city is to do what the locals do. So, leave your five stars hotel slippers and abandon the fancy taxi, get on a becak instead and I’ll show you why I fell in love with this city in the first place.
It was love at first sight. I was born here, back when bikes used to rule the city and the streets were quieter. At the age of 2 I left the city and came back for my senior high school and bachelor. Of course by the time I came back things have changed, bikes were replaced by motorbikes and the streets were more crowded. Nevertheless, there was a familiarity in the city that wouldn’t let me hate it.
Yogyakarta’s official name is Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta which roughly translates to “The Special Region of Yogyakarta”. Why special you might ask? Special because it is governed by a Sultan which is equivalent to a king with its own palace. Special because it has an active volcano called the Merapi mountain as well as the legendary famous beach Parangtritis which is filled with myths. Being special also means clouded with hundreds of rituals and traditions which is relatively normal to the locals but excitingly fascinating for travellers.
The way to get to know the people of Yogyakarta is through its traditions. Start by visiting the palace of the Sultan called Keraton. Inside the beautiful palace you will start to find myths and rituals being told or perhaps performed if you’re lucky enough. If you spot people wearing traditional clothes, these are the helpers of the Keraton, it is told that they work for free as they see it as a way to give their life to the Sultan. Though they don’t ask for anything in return, the palace usually give them help from food to education for their children. Say hello or ask them anything when you pass by.
The territory of the Sultan is quite big, including the Tamansari water palace where it was once a place to bath and relax for the Sultan. Near there, also lays two big fields with two old trees being separated several metres. They say that if you close your eyes and is able to walk between the trees, anything you ask will be given. It is not unusual to feel an eerie aura when you are here.
Feel Yogyakarta through a famous ceremony called Sekaten. This ceremony celebrates the birth of the prophet Mohammad and is celebrated by Muslims in Yogyakarta. The ceremony combines both religion and tradition. A night fair is usually put up near the Keraton and many people all over Yogyakarta both Muslims and non-Muslims enjoy the rides and different venues organized here. The Sekaten itself consists of many rituals from performances of traditional songs to the famous Gunungan which is “a mountain” of food carried in the street. Many people believe that if you get food from this “mountain” you will receive luck and prosperity.
The intriguing traditions are one of the main reasons why I love this city. When I think I know it all there is always something new I learn to enrich my knowledge on Yogyakarta.
Forget the restaurants and head for the food stalls. The best street food are sometimes hid under ordinary looking stalls and is often missed by travellers. Jalan Solo (Solo street) is full of Javanese snacks. This is where I get my puthu, klepon, lopes and cenil. Coconuts are the main ingredients of these snacks as well as palm sugar. The snacks are still traditionally made and are deliciously sweet. The best time to buy them is around 4-5PM as they are sold quickly.
Sit by the street of Sagan and enjoy the city’s pride gudeg. The sweet taste of jackfruit with chicken and brown egg will give a memorable taste in your tongue. If you are a fan of spicy food, try Padang food. Although originally from the town of Padang in West Sumatra, the food has become one of the favourites among the Javanese. Don’t be surprised if they bring all food to the table at once, this is the unique thing about Padang restaurants. For me, I prefer to take the food home. Wrapped in coconut leaf, the rice and the delicious dishes are mixed together with green chilli and cassava leaves, oh so heavenly!
There are still plenty of tiny food stalls, which are the local’s favourites. The sate babi (pork satay) in front of Kranggan street – open only at nights, the all-mushroom-restaurant Jejamuran nicely located away from the crowded centre, the famous Thai food Phuket which can be found all over the city, the sambal specialist Pondok Cabe with their delicious mendoan (tempe – made from soya beans – with flour then fried), the bakso by the side of Bethesda hospital. Those are a few of my favourites.
It is said that pure love is found in food…or is that just my saying?
Last but certainly not least. The people of Yogyakarta are known to be friendly and helpful. As the city is used to tourists, most sellers and people in the transportation systems understand the basic English. They greatly appreciate the occasional greet in Indonesian by foreigners and an even more bigger grin when you can splurt a little Javanese.
What I love is that you can totally create a random conversation with almost everyone. I was once in a taxi ride where the driver started speaking “soft Javanese” (there are several levels of Javanese, the one I know is the “rough” one for speaking with friends) and we both laughed because I couldn’t understand him. We then started talking about school and traffic. Enganged in a random conversation with a food seller or with a becak driver is what makes this city so loveable. The flow of the conversation and the cheery responses create a sense of connection to everyone.
So now you know why I’m madly in love with Yogyakarta. Next time when you visit Indonesia, take your time to stop by Yogyakarta and I’m sure love will spark.