Angkringan (əNGk-krɪŋ-ən) is closely related to Yogyakarta. It’s how the Javanese called the wheeled stall used by the street food peddlers. They can be found easily on every corner of the street in Yogya. It’s so inseparable that even one Indonesian poet, and a Jogjanese, Joko Pinurbo, wrote: “Yogya terbuat dari rindu, pulang dan angkringan.”
It comprises one stall built on two wheels (which make it mobile), several wooden benches and big tarpaulin sheets acting as the roof and wind breakers. For some reason, the color of the sheet is either blue or bright orange with a few of dark brown.
The stall has a built-in charcoal stove where the peddler put three kettles. (I don’t know why, but it has always been three.) The beverages served are mostly coffee, tea and ginger and sometimes milk or other local drinks (mostly ginger-based). The stove has a second other use, namely to grill the dishes as per the customer’s request.
The typical side dishes of angkringan
The angkringan serves small portions of rice wrapped in banana leafs or brown food paper. By small I mean really, really small. So small, in fact, that it earned a nickname of nasi kucing, referring to the leftover with which one feeds a cat. Each of them comes with either a dollop of plain hot sambal (chili paste), stir fried spicy dried local anchovies or tempe and beans (oseng-oseng tempe). The side dishes are more varied, such as sweet and savoury quail eggs and almost all parts of chicken, including its feet (nicknamed dragon claws), heads, liver and intestines (yeah, we love chicken that much), all of which are considered local delicacies. Various type of gorengan— a generic name for everything that is fried with batter–can also be found here. Banana, tempe and stuffed tahu (tofu) are among the favourites.
A classic angkringan look
Its odd operational hours–anywhere between the late afternoon and hours past midnight–with some exceptions, makes angkringan an after-hour dinner/supper joint favorited by all, from college students to artists, from commuters to night workers.
Angkringan’s menu are humble and typical and light-weighted. It isn’t much for a place to satiate your hunger. However, over the years, angkringan has outgrown its concept as a mere place where you can eat and drink. It has become something more, serving the following purposes:
The peddler doesn’t cook all the dishes by themselves. Sometimes he (the peddlers are mostly male) allows the locals to sell their own cooking in his stall. He lets them provide the side dishes or various snacks. Using consignment system based on profit-sharing, the angkringan helps empowering local mothers to cash in on their cooking skills and earn money for their families.
Becak and city mural in one corner of Yogya. Becak pedaler is the frequent customer of angkringan.
Due to the location of the angkringan, which is mostly in residential areas or area with high concentration of students, it quickly becomes a favorite hangout for both the elderly and the local youths. Angkringan has garnered a reputation of being an egalitarian melting pot where you can see a pedicab driver (becak pedaler) and a professor chat freely and casually for hours: a total stranger to each other and oblivious to each other background. Information is traded this way. Here, rock n roll bands are formed, college paper and thesis
copied drafted and revolution is cooked (see below). No topics are too taboo to be discussed by the customers while sipping their drink of choice, from politics to religions, from economic issues to those cheap yo mama jokes. The peddler takes the role of either a moderator or a good audience. In the end, everyone is going home better-informed (including about each others’ mama).
Yogyakarta is like the mecca for students all over Indonesia. Reputable schools and universities populated the city. “Pilgrims” come flocking in every year to study, even from abroad. For years, it has been a place where you can find all ethnic groups of Indonesia. They shared their customs and culture while studying and interacting socially with each other. Since I don’t know when, Yogya has become a cultural meeting point without losing its Javanese roots: the cultural capital of Indonesia.
It’s a city of education, art and history. You can find classics arts as well as contemporary ones here (Yogya Biennale XIII, an international event, wrapped up just a month ago in December 2015). Legendary temples were built within and on its borders. It’s also one of the last bastion of Javanese culture with the functional Sultanate of Yogyakarta as its chief representative and guardian. Yogya art scenes are vibrant with achievements and events; established and emerging artists; mainstream and underground music scenes. Culturally rich, it’s no wonder, Yogya has become the second most visited place after Bali since the 80s. It’s also home to many established Indonesian artists, such as Eko Nugroho, whose work those living in Bali probably have been very familiar with: the iconic towering façade of wooden, traditional window shutters in Potato Head Beach Club.
One contemporary painting by Yogyanese artist of Balinese descent, I Nyoman Masriadi titled The Man from Bantul (The Final Round), sold for US$1,000,725 in an auction by Hongkong Sotheby’s in 2008.
Those who’ve spent some times in this city has one thing in common. They all are under the spell of its calm, laid-back and romantic atmosphere. For what it lacks in traditional architectures (like Bali for example) is justly compensated by those mysterious vibes. Here, every corner of the city has a story that influences and intermingles with your own. Enchanted by the general vibe and appeal of Yogya, the students found hard time to leave this city.
Yogya is a city to fall in love and fall in love with. A city that symbolizes all the hard labor all students endured before graduating and its sweet rewards. A city that, once you live and breathe in it, blesses you with lavish inspirations, and is always on your mind no matter where you live.
And angkringan has its part in that.
For students with a tight budget, angkringan is a one stop solution for food, hot dating place and study group altogether. Not only the food is cheap, the ambience–because the main source of light sometimes only comes from a small kerosene lamp–is romantic too (by ignoring all the talk about politics and obnoxious banters between the customers that is). Its close vicinity to their campus and boarding rooms makes the place also appealing for hosting discussion session with friends.
The first angkringan. 19th century
Although no one seems to remember correctly when was the first angkringan culture started (some says in the 60s, while others in 80s), angkringan reached its peak following the economic crisis that hit the country in 1997. With the price of staple foods kept increasing following the fall of Rupiah (while the allowance from their parents was not), angkringan was a safe haven for many students, a blessing, and that’s not only because it’s cheap. Depending on how good your relation with the peddler had been, he would allow you to open a credit tab to some extent, allowing you to pay for your food later in the month, which was a huge favor for any students whose parents had been laid off as the result of the crisis.
The fall of Rupiah soon followed by the Fall of Suharto. But not before political struggles on the grass root level took place, especially between the students and the authorities that escalated into full blown violence. Here too, angkringan proved to be handy. Many students/activists had used it as a base camp and meeting point to concoct and to consolidate their plan, since the university won’t allow them to do so within the campus area.
Todays are not the late 90s/early 2000s anymore. In 1997-2000, following the economic crisis, tumultuous era of Suharto’s resignation and its aftermath, when socialist idea and punk rock sub-culture were predominant in every campus, angkringan reached its boom. There was angkringan in every 300 meters all around Jogja. Back then, even rich kids also went to angkringan or other places with cheap food. As a polite gesture to look somehow proletariat, I guessed… Some of my friends even feel “ashamed” to have rich parents. If there’s ever been a moment in time when the coolest thing you could be was to be a proletarian, those were the days.
Those days are gone, however. Now it’s the day for chic cafes and uber-cool hang out places with prices five to ten times more than you could get from even the priciest angkringan for a cup of coffee. Competition is a cruel mistress they said. Unfortunately, the kind of students that come to the city are not the kind that come to angkringan as frequent as previous generations.
However, is it the end for angkringan?
Well, it’s still a favorable community hub for many in Yogyakarta. Some legendary angkringans have never lost its appeal nor customers. Lik Man’s (Lik is Javanese for uncle, Man is the name) for example. It is famous for its Kopi Joss, a coffee and charcoal concoction. It owes its name to the sizzling sound when you add a chunk of red hot charcoal into a hot glass of sweet and black coffee. To answer your question: Yes. It’s drinkable. No, it won’t make you sick. And, yes, people actually come just for this coffee. That place, adjacent to another romantic spot of Yogya, the Tugu train station, is always full, not just by the local residents of Yogya, but also out-of-towners who visit the city.
We’re so bad-ass, we drink coffee with hot charcoal, and won’t have it any other way!
Some young, savvy entrepreneurs in Yogya even transformed angkringan into a modern joint. It sells the same food and menu, only with more comfortable settings, e.g. proper seatings and tables, cleaner environment, ambient music and, of course, wifi.
Some of those students who graduated from Yogya’s universities and had all the memories with angkringan decided to open their own in whatever city they’re working in now (employing others as peddler). With the same menu and settings as the original ones (three kettles and whatnot), they bring its humble form into urban settings like Jakarta, and therefore bring back its function back to originality in their new environment.
I’ve never known any other strong communities and friendships blossoming around food and beverages like those in angkringan culture. It’s indeed a small community without boundaries. It’s where a customer sometimes act humbly by serving other customer when the peddler occupied with something else. A place to tell your stories and to learn of others’. To discuss anything from bad policy of the government to the price of staple foods. It’s where the sweetest first kiss and discussions on quantum physics take place. A place where you can better your Javanese and each stranger is a just another friendly bloke. Only here, in the angkringan, the kings and the paupers sit and stand as tall. In such place, trouble only arises when neither you nor the peddler remember how many gorengan that you have eaten, when you’re about to pay the bills.