We are in the small village of Srandakan, in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta Sultanate, which is the last remaining Indonesian region to be ruled by a Sultanate. What is the reason for visiting this Special Region? Aside from the natural attractions, culture, and history, tourists want to try all traditional foods that they can find there. The region offers the classic one locally known as ‘Mie Lethek’. They are traditionally made with no machines, but with cows and workers, most of whom are middle-aged to elderly.
It’s hard work being a cow here: you may avoid a more sad culinary fate by spending your days walking in circles to turn a two-meter-wide, one-ton mortar, that grinds dried cassava and sweet potatoes into flour for use in Yogyakarta’s signature noodle variety. As thanks for all that hard hard work, you’ll eat a steady diet of delicious sweet grass meant to keep you strong and healthy.
But it’s the end result that really matters.
You’ll be part of the culinary legacy of Srandakan’s Mie Lethek Garuda, the last remaining traditional mie lethek factory!
Literally, mie lethek means “ugly” or “dirty” noodles, dubbed so because it looks pale and ugly and the blend of cassava and sweet potato flours yields squiggly carbs of a pasty, grayish tint. More inviting, the noodles have a delicate sweet-potato flavor and chewy texture.
Served either fried or boiled, with eggs, chicken, vegetables, garlic, and candlenuts, an oily nut with a flavor similar to macadamia nuts, they are famously delicious and considered healthier due to the absence of additions and food coloring agent.
It is said that Barack Obama, the former United States president, have enjoyed mie lethek on a visit to Yogyakarta, though no word on whether those noodles came from the Garuda factory or a more high-tech equivalent.
Yasir Feri Ismatrada, the current owner of Mie Lethek Garuda, credits his grandfather with the invention of these noodles. His grandfather was a Yemeni immigrant who married a local woman of Chinese descent. It was Feri’s grandmother who had the bright idea to try out cassava flour, and she supplied the noodle-making experience that led to the factory’s success. They officially opened up shop in the 1940s.
Eighty years and two generations later, the younger Yasir is the last producer to continue making mie lethek by hand, cow and all. After grinding the cassava and sweet potato flour, factory workers mix it into dough, which they then manually press into noodle form. Then, workers steam the resulting noodles and dry them in the sun for at least a day before sending them to local markets and for distribution throughout Yogyakarta.
Today, the Garuda factory employs around 30 local workers. While Yasir could certainly sit back, relax, and savor his status as noodle king, he continues to work alongside his employees, shows that he is no different from other workers, many of whom have been around since his parents’ tenure as factory managers. He said the factory’s purpose is to promote the well-being of local residents in Srandakan, rather than simply making a profit. Local residents have the opportunity to work in a factory without retirement and layoffs, and the age of the workers ranges from 40 to 70 years. And of course, he always remembers to save some sweet grass for his loyal cows, who have helped give the world a tasty gift in the form of an ugly noodle.
Source images: web and Roadsandkingdom.com.