Sayur Asem: Sour Tamarind Soup with Vegetables and Beef Trimmings

A common sour vegetable soup with a refreshing tamarind broth, originally from the Jakarta area. This recipe gives sayur asem a beef twist.

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Sayur asem is basically a mix of vegetables cooked in a sour tamarind soup, giving it a refreshing, slightly-acidic flavour. According to legend, this dish originated in the Jakarta area during the Dutch colonial period. The story goes: during the Dutch Occupation, people in Batavia (the old name for Jakarta) were poor, and had to eat anything on hand. As asem (tamarind) trees were thriving on their land, they created a tamarind-flavoured soup and added vegetables from their garden to it, creating sayur asem

In Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, a sayur asem mix can be bought at the market or vegetable stall, containing everything you need to make the dish. Most of the time, the vegetables in the pack will be based on availability, such that even now, sayur asem ingredients are never fixed. There are always one or two vegetables missing, and that’s perfectly acceptable. The most common vegetables used are: young jackfruit, chayote, long beans, corn and the leaves and fruit of a special local plant known as melinjo (gnetum gnemon). Melinjo is native to Indonesia and can hardly be found outside the country. 

In this recipe, I used a vegetable mix I bought from a neighbourhood vegetable stall. In the package were: melinjo leaves and fruits, long beans, corn, chayote and young tamarind fruit. However,  I’ve modified this recipe to use different vegetables as some of them, such as melinjo, are very difficult to obtain outside Indonesia. I also added young jackfruit (which is optional, because it can be hard to find as well), and raw peanuts. If long beans are unavailable, you can substitute them with french beans or green beans. 


Even though young tamarind fruits are included in the package (and people will normally use it), I prefer to use tamarind pulp instead, because it’s more sour and the flavour is more intense. 

This particular recipe calls for beef trimmings (which is a luxury) and shrimp paste, both of which can be omitted to make a vegan version, which will result in a much lighter but equally delicious soup. 

Make sure that the soup is sour, because that’s what makes it special! Sayur asem can be served both on hot and cold days. To make it a complete meal, serve with steamed rice, ayam goreng and sambal terasi.

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Sayur Asem: Sour Tamarind Soup with Vegetables and Beef Trimmings

Sayur Asem: Sour Tamarind Soup with Vegetables and Beef Trimmings

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Soups & Stews, Beef & Lamb, Vegetables
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal


Sayur asem is a very common sour vegetable soup with a refreshing tamarind broth, originally from the Jakarta area. This recipe gives the classic soup a twist by adding beef trimmings, which can be ommitted.


  • 250 gr beef trimmings (optional)
  • 1 corn cob, cut into 4
  • 50 gr raw peanuts (optional)
  • 150 gr young jackfruit (optional), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 0.5 chayotte, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 long beans, cut into 4 cm pieces.
  • 5 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 candlenuts, chopped
  • 0.5 tsp roasted shrimp paste (optional)
  • 2 red chillies (optional)
  • 2 cm galangal, bruised
  • 2 Indonesian bay leaves (salam leaves)
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste
  • 1 tsp tamarind pulp
  • 2 lt water


  1. Knead the tamarind pulp with 4tbsp of water to make tamarind juice.
  2. Using a blender or food processor, blend into a fine paste the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, chillies and roasted shrimp paste.
  3. Put the beef trimming in a medium-sized pot, then add the water.
  4. Cook over high heat until the soup boils.
  5. Add the corn pieces, young jackfruit and peanuts.
  6. Bring the soup to boil again, then reduce the heat to medium low.
  7. Add the spice paste to the soup.
  8. Add the galangal, salam leaves, salt, sugar and tamarind juice.
  9. Cook for about 30 minutes. During the 30 minutes, you can correct the flavour and add salt, sugar or tamarind according to your taste.
  10. Add the chayote and long beans, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
  11. Turn off the heat and let the soup rest for a while before serving.


  • If the beef trimmings are omitted, cook the hard vegetables such as peanuts and corn with the spices until tender, before adding the rest of the vegetables.
  • When the red chillies are omitted, the soup will be clear rather than reddish/yellowish.

Keywords: One-pot meal, Non-spicy

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