Bakso is a culinary creation that is deeply embedded in Indonesian culture. This extremely popular meatball soup can be found throughout the archipelago. Bakso sellers are ubiquitous, ranging from traveling street vendors rolling their carts and tapping their bowls with a spoon to let people know of their presence, to more upscale, trendier restaurants. Bakso is part of life in Indonesia. It’s comfort food when one is hungry, tired, ill, or distressed; it also serves as a celebratory treat on special occasions, and a delicious meal to bond with friends and family.
Bakso has a long history in Indonesia. It was brought by Chinese traders and influenced by the Dutch during the colonial period. The dish has been very much localized, especially by the Javanese (most of the bakso vendors are Javanese), who have adapted it to suit the local palate.
There is more to it than a bowl of soup. Bakso is a manifestation of Indonesia’s cultural diversity. It often reflects the unique identity of each place/region. There are hundreds of bakso variants, and cities like Solo, Wonogiri and Malang have emerged as bakso icons.
A simple bowl of bakso typically consists of a few meatballs, noodles (yellow noodles/vermicelli) and mustard greens. On top of that, fried shallots and thinly sliced celery are sprinkled as a garnish. Just like soto dishes, the bowl is customizable. Sambal, vinegar, kecap manis and ketchup are provided on the table to share with others. Each person is supposed to season their bowl according to their liking.
As most Indonesians are Muslims, generally, bakso is made of beef or chicken, though pork meatballs can also be found in areas with a non-Muslim majority, such as in Bali.
Different vendors might have different ways of preparing the meatballs, the soup and the additional ingredients. For example, the shape of the meatball is not always a sphere, but can also be square, flat and half round.
There are many interesting bakso variants too, such as bakso urat, or bakso with beef tendons. Then there is bakso tenis or bakso filled with a hard boiled egg, which resembles a tennis ball. Bakso setan or devil’s bakso is filled with super spicy sliced bird’s eye chillies meant to bring the fire of hell to you. There are even giant bakso, weighing almost 5 kg each, filled with many smaller bakso. It’s called bakso beranak or bakso in labour.
Other additional ingredients to complete the bowl include tofu, wonton, ribs, etc.
Nice springy meatballs and a good broth are what make a delicious bowl of bakso. The broth is an important component when preparing bakso dishes. The secret of tasty and authentic broth lies in a long simmering of bones and meat. Bones really give so much flavor and depth that the dish doesn’t require complicated seasoning (in this recipe, I just use garlic, white pepper and salt). It’s simple, but very fragrant and delicious.Print
Bakso is a meatball soup common throughout Indonesia, and is a comfort food for millions. This recipe uses frozen meatballs with a home-made broth that’s easy and delicious.
For the broth:
- 500 gr a mix of beef bones and trimmings
- 7 cloves garlic, peeled.
- 1 tbsp white peppercorn
- 3 lt water
- 1 cube beef stock or ¼ tsp MSG
- 16 pcs ready to cook (frozen) meatballs
- Salt to taste
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
For the garnish:
- 1 bowl of cellophane noodles/yellow noodles/rice vermicelli, or a mix of them.
- Few stalks bok choy, washed, chopped, and blanched.
- 1 stalk celery, thinly chopped.
- 1 stalk spring onion, thinly chopped.
- Sambal sop/soto to taste.
- Fried shallots (optional) to taste.
- Vinegar or lime wedges to taste (optional)
- Tomato ketchup to taste (optional)
- Sweet soy sauce to taste (optional)
- Wash the beef thoroughly, and bring to boil with 3 lt of water. Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat to medium low. Discard any scum from the soup.
- Meanwhile, crush the garlic and peppercorns into a paste.
- Heat the cooking oil over medium flame, and saute the garlic paste until fragrant (around two minutes).
- Add the sauteed garlic to the soup.
- Add salt and the beef cube/MSG.
- Continue cooking soup for 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs.
- 10 minutes before the soup is done, add the beef balls and cook until done.
- Turn off the heat.
How to assemble the bakso:
- First, prepare the noodles according to the instructions in the packet.
- In an individual serving bowl, put a little bit of noodles as a base.
- Add the bok choy.
- Add a few pieces of bakso and ladle the soup.
- Garnish with celery, spring onions and fried shallots.
- Serve the sambal sop/soto, vinegar, tomato ketchup and sweet soy sauce on the side.
- Any bone can be used to make the soup, but my favorite is to use beef trimmings and leg bones.
- Once cooked, the beef broth can be frozen for later use. I love to make a big batch of the broth, so I will have a yummy homemade bakso bowl anytime I want it.
- When in Singapore, I like to buy Armiya beef balls. It has a good springy texture and tastes just like Indonesian meatballs. It’s available frozen in supermarkets.
Keywords: meatballs, beef balls, beef broth soup