Commonly found in Central Java, especially in the cities of Solo and Yogyakarta, tongseng is the love child of satay and gulai. Through the marriage of these two dishes, tongseng was born, thanks to the influence of Arab and Indian traders who came to the country around the 18th and 19th century. Along the way, these traders also introduced their religions, cultures and culinary arts.
Initially unpopular, goat and mutton were gradually introduced and popularized in Indonesia. The locals became fond of making satay out of the tender parts of the meat, while the innards and bones were simmered in spices and coconut milk, to make gulai. These two dishes eventually spread throughout the region and became known as a specialty in several areas in Central/East Java and Yogyakarta. Satay and gulai vendors mushroomed, due to lots of Arab and Indian descendants living around the areas.
Later on, when the Dutch built sugar factories in the region, kecap manis, or sweet soy sauce, was manufactured, and the locals started to add this ‘new seasoning’ to enhance the cooking. They sauteed the mutton with spices, the broth of the gulai, and kecap manis. This is how tongseng was born. The name itself comes from the cooking technique ‘oseng’ which means stir frying.
The dish traveled beyond Central and East Java, and was adapted to suit the local tastes of the many different parts of Indonesia. Today, there are different tongseng variations. Since some people still don’t enjoy mutton, beef and chicken are often used. The level of spiciness is also adjusted according to the preference. For a lighter version, coconut milk is sometimes omitted.
In general, tongseng is (goat or mutton) meat cooked in gulai broth or a gulai spice mix. It’s pleasingly fragrant, savory and creamy. The level of creaminess will depend a lot on how thick the coconut milk is. The less, the lighter. The addition of cabbage and tomato gives crispness and balance to the dish.
Tongseng and gulai are mostly available in warungs (small restaurant) selling satay kambing (goat/mutton satay).Print
Tongseng kambing is a spiced Indonesian mutton or goat meat soup. Here, the spices are sauteed, and the meat and water added, along with coconut milk and sweet soy sauce.
For the broth:
- 500 gr lamb/mutton, cut into smaller pieces (bite sizes)
- 2 cm galangal, sliced
- 2 salam leaves
- 1 lemongrass, bashed, sliced into 5 cm pieces
- 2 cardamoms
- 3 cm cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 150 gr white cabbage, cut into bite pieces
- 1 spring onion, chopped
- 5 birds eye chillies (optional)
- 1 big firm tomato, slice into bite pieces
- 1.5 lt water
- 2 tbsp sweet soy sauce
- 50 ml coconut milk
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- Salt to taste
- Fried shallots for garnish
For the spice blend:
- 6 shallots, peeled, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
- 3 roasted candlenuts, chopped
- 3 cm fresh turmeric, chopped
- 1 cm fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 tsp white peppercorn
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- Blend all the spices using a food processor or a mortar and pestle until fine. Set aside.
- Put the cooking oil in a wok and heat it over a medium flame.
- Add the spice blend and fry until fragrant, around 2 minutes.
- Add the fresh galangal, salam leaves and lemongrass.
- Add the cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves and the ground nutmeg. Fry for 1 minute.
- Add the lamb.
- Add the water, mix well.
- Add the salt and the coconut milk, and bring it to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium low, and continue cooking for around 40 minutes until the meat is tender. Don’t forget to stir it regularly to avoid the coconut milk breaking apart.
- When the meat is tender, add sweet soy sauce, cabbage, chillies and spring onions. Cook for another 4 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomato and turn off the heat.
- Transfer the dish into a serving bowl, garnish with fried shallots and acar as the side dish.
- To remove the smell of the mutton, boil the meat for 10 minutes, then throw away the water.
- Coconut milk can be omitted.