Soto Ahri Garut
Anthony Bourdain in his show "No reservations" often remarks of his fondness for food with "mysterious meat" that he encounters along his travel around the world while trying out different cuisines. They're mysterious, relatively unknown to the western world, yet delicious. Well based on that description, then this Soto Ahri is among those that he would categorize as such; great delicious soto (Indonesian meat soup), with chops of meat parts that, even mentioned what they are, we would rarely know what is it.
(I wonder if Anthony got a chance to taste this Soto Ahri while he visited Garut, since I only see his part on reviewing the "Indonesian pancake" serabi, at the Kampung Sampireun)
Soto is Indonesian style meat soup, and the style is varied among different regions. Some soto are made with clear soup of light stock, and some are made with santan (coconut milk) and give the light curry like taste. Some are more courageous in using the spices, like including the aromatic clove buds, star anise, and keluwak (also spelled as keluak or kelewek) and give the significant uniqueness compared with other soto variants.
I don't have a good idea of when Mang Ahri ("mang" meant "uncle" in Sundanese) started his business, but it's long standing and having a consistent high quality; enough to grant his soto a legendary status.
Soto Ahri soup consist of beef meats, medium heavy stock base with santan, where the styles resembles more Soto Tangkar from Betawi (Jakarta), than common Sundanese soto which usually uses clear soup.
Just like the common practice with ordering the kind of mixed meat soto, this is where the fun part is: you can individually choose what part of meat to include in your soto; from the regular daging (meat), kikil (feet's glutinous skin), usus (small intestine), lidah (tongue), paru (lungs), up through the more exotic meat like mata (eye balls), otak (brain), and surely, some "mysterious meat"; with their exotic yet very enjoyable texture and taste.
Just ask mang Ahri for recommendations if you don't really know what you want, and he will gladly check in the large pot among where all the stock is, what's still in store, and let you aware of the choices. Kept under constant heat, the continuously cooked meat absorbs the seasoning very well and give the wonderful rich taste.
After chopping down the part of the meat of choice to a more edible pieces, and move them into a bowl, mang Ahri will then put the toppings of kacang kedelai goreng (fried soy beans), and chopped seledri (celery), and pour on the soup base from the same pot, and the soto is ready to eat. There will always be condiments on the eating table to fine-tune the taste to your preference like jeruk nipis (slices of lime orange), kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and surely, the sambal (chilly paste). But I prefer mine as it is since it's already flavorful and thick in taste.
Here at Soto Ahri, happens my very first encounter with eye balls. I dislike the idea of eating something that look back at me, but turns out to be that the eye balls here doesn't resembles what it used to looks like, as it's now just a big oval lump; where the eye balls is almost covered in the layers of fat.
Well it's a big surprise, first, since on overall the taste is either very fatty meat, or tasteless jelly-like. Consistency is very soft, too soft to be meat, yet chewy unlike meat fat. Not my kind of meat.
Though had branches in Bandung, the capital city of Jawa Barat, Mang Ahri headquarters is his soto stand in Pasar Mandalagiri, or also known as Pasar Baru (the new marketplace). On this narrow street, buyers usually queued for an empty seat on the bench, or for the take away orders.
Damage cost is about 15K a portion including nasi (rice). A bit high for Garut standard, but it is quite worthed. Will be back? Perhaps... when I'm not worry about my cholesterol level, since shortly after finish eating Soto Ahri, I got this lingering headache at the bottom of my head.
Recommended with cautions. (bay)
Indonesian version here: http://epicurina.multiply.com/photos/album/207/Soto_Ahri_Pasar_Baru_Garut
Photos by Bella Wu
About author: Bayu Amus
Bayu Amus is a gastronomic storyteller and Food Experience designer. He pens food articles for travel magazines, speaks on food events, and was part of the team who compiled Makansutra Indonesia 2013, the pocket book which showcases Bali’s best street food. Contact him through email@example.com