It’s perhaps ironic that the translation of the Indonesian word soto is summed up so modestly as “soup,” for there is nothing modest about this deeply flavored, complex, traditional meal, designated by the Indonesian government as a national dish. Also known in parts of the country as coto, tauto, sroto, or saoto, there are 75 types of soto, and each region boasts its own specialty based on local spices and produce. There are 22 varieties of soto on the island of Java alone, and there you will find Soto Betawi, a defining dish of the Betawi people from the nation’s capital, Jakarta. Traditionally, the soup is made with a full-bodied beef broth that develops over several hours and served with meltingly tender chunks of beef and offal, fried potatoes, tomatoes, and layers of spice and coconut milk (a recipe for this version is in my cookbook, Coconut & Sambal). You’ll find Soto Betawi eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner all over the bustling metropolis, from street food kaki lima vendors to fine-dining restaurants.
My version of the dish here swaps bone-in chicken thighs in for beef (ayam means “chicken” in Indonesian), reducing the cooking time to just under an hour, while still showcasing the rich, spiced, and coconutty flavors the soup is famous for. With aromas of makrut (Thai) lime and lemongrass and a turmeric-golden hue, Soto Ayam Betawi is delicious on its own, but I prefer to eat it as the Betawi do, with a side plate of rice. Spoon a small amount of the broth and some chunks of chicken and potato over the rice and enjoy eating it from both plate and bowl for a heartier meal. The Betawi often serve it with fried shallots, vinegary acar pickles, crackers made from the local melinjo nut, and a chili sambal, but my favorite addition is lime wedges for extra zing and seasoning.