Indonesia’s Best Kept Secret: The Indonesian Legend of Sweet Treats

by Dianne Curray
SEA Wave - Mbah Satinem Indonesia
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For this edition of SEAtizens, we highlight a culinary legend from Indonesia who has been making the waves recently, Mbah Satinem.

Southeast Asia is known for its diverse culture and rich cuisine. Indonesia is known for their dishes such as Satay, Indomie, Nasi Padang, and many more. But what was recently uncovered from the Netflix series Street Food: Asia, is Indonesia’s best-kept secret – the local culinary legend Mbah Satinem.

Mbah Satinem, now 76 years old, has been selling traditional market snacks in the streets of Yogyakarta, Indonesia for more than half a century already.

She starts her day by setting up her stall in Yogyakarta at 5am, carrying with her the sweet snacks that she prepared. You might wonder, what kind of food does she sell that makes the Indonesian locals rave about her?

The answer is lupis – an Indonesian sweet cake made from glutinous rice. She prepares this treat on a banana leaf, then she puts on thick liquid palm sugar and sprinkles grated coconut on top.

Alongside the star dish is tiwul, which is made using cassava flour, palm sugar and cenil, a worm-shaped tapioca flour jelly.

“I’ve been selling lupis for a very long time, nothing has changed. Lupis and I are fated with each other,” she told The Straits Times.

What makes the lupis so special? The secret is the recipe that she got from her mother, and a technique in cooking the treat – using firewood to give the sweet treat a smokey flavor.

“I used to help my mother making these snacks. When she found me getting better at it, she asked whether I wanted to sell them. I said yes,” Satinem said.

“She asked again whether I would feel embarrassed about it, but I said I wouldn’t. So, she agreed to make some snacks for me to sell.” 59 years later, Satinem’s stall is still surrounded by dozens of customers that watch her process in making the treats.

SEA Wave - Mbah Satinem Indonesia

Customers gather around Mbah Satinem as she prepares lupis. Photo by AFP

Budi, a 49-year-old local Indonesian said that the taste of Satinem’s lupis is still the same. He added, “the savouriness and stickiness of the lupis, and the thickness of the brown sauce, it is delicious.”

Satinem also sells her own version of jajan pasar, also a staple traditional Indonesian snack. She sells this until 9am at 10,000 rupiah (S$0.94) a pop, and has proven its popularity and uniqueness as customers in the past literally fought over her treats.

She has since then introduced a number system for customers so they could be organized, and this leads them to wait more than an hour to satisfy their sweet tooth. No complaints though, as the locals said that the wait is worth it.

Rama Luhur, a 39-year-old who travelled from Jakarta and waited nearly two hours just to get a taste of the famous lupis said that the wait is worth it. “You can find jajan pasar everywhere, but I value her hard work,” he said.

Satinem shares that she usually wakes up at 1am and goes to bed after Isha (prayer around 8pm). Due to her age, her family helps her in handling her stall.

Her husband is in charge of the sticky rice, her son handles the firewood and her daughter drives her to work and accompanies her through the four-hour shift.

Satinem was asked why she refuses to stop selling, and her daughter Makinem answered, “She likes it, she enjoys cooking the snacks,” she said. “And she can’t stay put.”

Have you also seen Satinem’s stall on the Netflix show? What do you think about her traditional snacks?


SEA Wave magazine’s SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness.

Featured photo by AFP

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