Semarang is a bustling city located in Central Java, Indonesia, known for its diverse and flavorful culinary scene. Among the city’s many dishes, Tofu Petis stands out as a unique and must-try delicacy.
This dish is made from fresh tofu that is marinated in a rich and savory mixture of fermented shrimp paste, garlic, and other seasonings. The resulting flavor is a perfect balance of umami and tanginess, making it a popular choice among locals and tourists alike.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the history, ingredients, cooking methods, health benefits, and cultural significance of Tofu Petis, especially in Semarang. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a traveler looking to try something new, Tofu Petis is a dish that you won’t want to miss.
Where is the city of Semarang in Indonesia?
Semarang is a city located in the north coast of Java Island in Indonesia. It is the capital of Central Java province and the fifth-largest city in Indonesia, with a population of over 1.7 million people.
Growing up on the island of Java, on both East and West side of the island, I hardly spent time in Semarang due to it being in the Central part of the island of Java. However, Semarang is an important hub for trade, transportation, and tourism, and is known for its rich cultural heritage, bustling markets, and delicious culinary scene.
The Indonesian government, over the last 10 years has also made it a bigger port city by increase road and seaport infrastructure. Semarang’s unique blend of Chinese, Dutch, and Indian Arab influences has created a vibrant and diverse city, making it a melting pot of cultures that both locals and tourists love to explore and enjoy.
Brief overview of Semarang’s culinary scene
With Semarang having a rich heritage of being a melting pot of cultures for 100s of years, her culinary scene is as diverse and vibrant as the city itself. It is renowned for its traditional Javanese cuisine, which features a rich blend of flavors and spices.
Some of the most popular dishes in Semarang include Nasi Ayam (chicken rice), Tahu Gimbal (fried tofu with vegetables and peanut sauce), Lumpia Semarang (spring rolls filled with bamboo shoots, carrots, and minced chicken), and Tofu Petis. In addition to Javanese cuisine, Semarang also boasts a range of Chinese, Dutch, and Indian Arab-inspired dishes, thanks to its unique history as a trading hub. These dishes have been adapted to incorporate local ingredients and cooking techniques, resulting in a fusion of flavors that is truly unique to Semarang.
The culinary scene in Semarang is not limited to traditional dishes alone. The city has a growing cafe culture, with a plethora of trendy cafes and coffee shops that offer a range of international cuisine and artisanal coffee blends. Many of these cafes also offer a cozy and inviting atmosphere, making them a popular spot for locals to relax and socialize.
Additionally, Semarang has a thriving street food scene, with numerous food carts and vendors selling a variety of snacks and meals. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty traditional dish, a fusion of international flavors, or a quick snack on the go, Semarang’s culinary scene has something to offer for every taste and budget.
Tofu Petis and its significance
Tofu (called tahu in Indonesian) petis is a dish that originates from Indonesia, and it is a popular street food in the country. It is made by taking fresh tofu and adding a thick, flavorful sauce made with petis, a type of fermented shrimp paste. This paste is an important ingredient in many Indonesian dishes, and it adds a distinctive umami flavor to the dish.
The tofu used in tofu petis is typically fried, giving it a crispy texture on the outside while remaining soft and tender on the inside. The sauce is made by mixing petis with spices and other ingredients, creating a savory, slightly sweet flavor that complements the tofu perfectly.
In Semarang, tofu petis is often served with white rice as a complete meal, but it can also be eaten as a snack or appetizer. It is popular because it is affordable, delicious, and widely available from street vendors throughout the country. Some variations of the dish may include other ingredients such as vegetables or meat, but the basic components of tofu and petis remain the same.
History of Tofu Petis
Tofu petis is a dish that originated in Indonesia and has her roots in the Javanese culture. One theory on the history of tofu petis is that it was created by street vendors in Semarang as a cheap and filling snack for workers in the area. The combination of tofu and petis sauce provided a tasty and satisfying meal that was easy to prepare and transport.
Semarang has been an important seaport for many years. Sailors, trades people and skilled laborers were plentiful and everyone needed a meal that was easy to make and take with them as they traveled over sea and land. Over time, the dish became more popular and was eventually adopted by the wider population.
Today, tofu petis is a staple of the street food scene in Semarang and is loved for its unique flavor, which is both savory and slightly sweet. The crispy texture of the fried tofu and the thick sauce made from petis and other spices make for a delicious and satisfying meal.
As the dish became more popular, vendors began to experiment with different ingredients and flavors. Some started adding vegetables or meat to the dish to make it more filling, while others began using different types of tofu or creating their own unique sauces.
Today, tofu petis has evolved into a more complex and versatile dish that can be found in a variety of different forms throughout Indonesia. As I travel to different regions of Indonesia during my scuba diving vacations, I have come across tofu petis in its different forms. Even as far as in the Sorong area of Raja Ampat.
In some regions, it is served with noodles or rice, while in others it is served as a standalone dish. Some vendors even sell sweet versions of tofu petis that are made with a different type of sauce and are often served as a dessert.
Despite its evolution, tofu petis remains a beloved part of Semarang’s culinary culture and continues to be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. The dish has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a simple street food snack, and its evolution is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of the people of Semarang and their love for delicious and satisfying food.
Tofu Petis Ingredients
Now let’s have some fun and let’s learn how to make a wonderful dish of tasty tofu petis like the way it is made in Semarang. Here is a list of ingredients as well as one way of making this mouthwatering dish.
- 1 block of firm tofu, cut into small cubes
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, sliced thinly
- 2 red chili peppers, sliced thinly (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of petis (fermented shrimp paste)
- 1 tablespoon of sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and shallots, and sauté until fragrant and golden brown.
- Add the sliced chili peppers (if using) and continue to sauté for another minute.
- Add the petis and sweet soy sauce to the pan and stir until the petis is dissolved.
- Add enough water to the pan to create a thick sauce, then add the tamarind paste and salt.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes until it thickens.
- Add the tofu cubes to the sauce and stir gently to coat them with the sauce.
- Cook the tofu in the sauce for another 5-7 minutes until the tofu is heated through and the sauce has thickened further.
- Remove from heat and serve hot with rice or as a standalone dish.
Tofu petis is a versatile dish and can be customized to suit your tastes. Some variations may include adding vegetables, such as green beans or spinach, or adding meat such as chicken or shrimp. Tofu petis can also be served as a side dish, a snack or a main course depending on the size of the portions.
One other note, there is one unique Top of Formingredient used in tofu petis which is petis udang (shrimp in Indonesian). That is a type of fermented shrimp paste that is commonly used in Indonesian cuisine. It has a strong, salty flavor and is often used as a base for sauces and condiments.
Another key ingredient is kecap manis (a sweet and thick soy sauce that is commonly used in Indonesian cuisine. This sauce is made from a mixture of soybeans, sugar, and various seasonings such as garlic, star anise, and galangal), which is a sweet soy sauce that adds a sweet and savory flavor to the dish.
Tamarind paste is also used to add a tangy flavor to the sauce. It can be replaced with lime or lemon juice as a substitute. Other common ingredients such as garlic, shallots, chili peppers, and vegetable oil are used to create the base flavor of the dish.
Health Benefits of Tofu Petis
As my wife and I get older, (and yes, we can feel it in our bones more and more now), we realize the importance of eating healthier. It’s funny how we now follow our parents’ advice from childhood more than we did back then, particularly when it comes to eating our vegetables at the dinner table. Even though tofu is not a vegetable in itself, it is made from vegetables (a food product made from soy beans and soybeans are legumes which are a type of vegetable).
Here are some health benefits of consuming tofu, which include:
- Tofu is a rich source of plant-based protein, making it an excellent alternative to meat and dairy products.
- Tofu is low in calories and fat, making it a great option for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
- Tofu is high in iron, calcium, and other minerals that are essential for bone health.
- Tofu contains isoflavones, which are plant compounds that have been shown to have a positive impact on hormonal health and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
- Tofu is a good source of antioxidants, which help protect the body against oxidative stress and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Side note: It’s important to note that some people may have allergies or intolerances to soy products like tofu, so it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.
Regional variations of Tofu Petis in Indonesia
In the past 50 years, tofu petis has amassed a cult-like following among food enthusiasts across Indonesia. This irresistible blend of savory and sweet flavors has evolved into a culinary adventure, with each region of Indonesia showcasing their own unique twist on the dish. So, whether you’re visiting the city of Semarang or the islands of Java, Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi, or Kalimantan, get ready to experience a tantalizing array of tofu petis variations that will leave your taste buds begging for more.
- The island of Java: Tofu petis in Java is usually served with spicy sambal and fresh vegetables. Some variations include adding shredded chicken or beef for added protein. In Solo, tofu petis is served with sticky rice and fried tempeh. The Javanese version of tofu petis often has a sweeter taste compared to other regions.
- The island of Sumatra: Tofu petis in Sumatra is often served with a spicy sauce made from ground chilies and shrimp paste. In Padang, tofu petis is served with a side of beef rendang and boiled eggs. The Sumatran version of tofu petis is usually more savory and less sweet compared to other regions. Tofu petis is often made with a firmer tofu to hold up to the bold flavors of the dish.
- The island of Bali: Tofu petis in Bali is usually served with a side of steamed rice and fresh vegetables. Balinese-style tofu petis often has a milder flavor compared to other regions. Some variations include using a blend of different types of tofu for added texture and flavor. In Bali, tofu petis is often made with a thinner sauce that is more like a broth.
- The island of Sulawesi: Tofu petis in Sulawesi is often served with a side of rice noodles and boiled egg. This Sulawesi version of tofu petis often has a more complex flavor due to the use of local spices and herbs. Some variations include using a mixture of fish and shrimp paste in the sauce for added umami flavor. Tofu petis is often served as a breakfast dish in Sulawesi.
- The island of Kalimantan: Tofu petis in Kalimantan is usually served with a side of steamed rice and vegetables. The Kalimantan-style tofu petis often has a spicier flavor compared to other regions. Some variations include using a blend of different types of tofu and adding sliced boiled potatoes for added texture. In Kalimantan, tofu petis is often eaten as a snack or appetizer.
Can I order tofu petis online?
You for sure can order tofu online. There are several online stores that sell tofu petis and other Indonesian ingredients. Here are a few options:
- Indofood Store: This online store offers a wide range of Indonesian food products, including tofu petis. They ship within the United States.
- Waroeng Groceries: This online store specializes in Indonesian groceries and also carries tofu petis. They ship worldwide.
- Toko Indo: This online store sells a variety of Indonesian food products, including tofu petis. They ship within the United States.
- Dunia Boga: This online store is based in Indonesia and sells a wide range of Indonesian food products, including tofu petis. They ship worldwide.
Side note: These are just a few options and there may be other stores available as well. It’s always a good idea to read reviews and check the shipping rates and policies before making a purchase.
How can I get to Semarang from Jakarta?
When my wife and I head back to visit Jakarta next year to show her my high school I graduated from in 1986, Jakarta International School (JIS), we may want to head over and spend a couple of days in Semarang on our way to Surabaya (in East Java) to see the sights and for sure to taste some great local dishes like the tofu petis.
Here is what I came up with and think I will go with the quickest method, flying. But the train option sounds a bit more fun. We will have to see if we have extra time to do a more relaxing trip via train.
- Fly from Jakarta to Semarang: The easiest and fastest way to get to Semarang from Jakarta is by taking a flight. There are several airlines that operate daily flights between Jakarta and Semarang, such as Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Citilink. On average, the flight time is about 1 hour.
- Take a train from Jakarta to Semarang is another option: There are several trains that operate daily between the two cities, such as Argo Lawu, Argo Sindoro, and Taksaka. The journey takes about 7-10 hours, depending on the train.
- Driving from Jakarta to Semarang: If you prefer to drive, you may want to rent a car and driver from Jakarta to Semarang. The distance between the two cities is about 450 km and the journey takes about 10-12 hours, depending on the traffic and the route taken. Personally, this is not that fun for my wife and I knowing how the roads are in Indonesia. But I have been told that there a lot more toll roads making the journey by car or bus more tolerable.
- Take a bus from Jakarta to Semarang: There are also several bus companies that operate daily services between Jakarta and Semarang. The journey takes about 10-12 hours, depending on the traffic and the route taken.
Don’t Forget to Travel Safely!
One very important step that people forget when making international travel plans is purchasing travel insurance. We never plan for accidents to happen, but sadly, they happen more than we realize. We’ve been serving travelers for over 26 years and have heard more tragic stories than we would have liked.
Your friends at Good Neighbor Insurance have been helping travelers like you find the best plan to meet their needs for over 26 years. As experienced travelers, we understand the importance of having the right health insurance as you travel. Allow us to help ensure you and your loved ones are protected while overseas, so your trip can be as successful as it can be!
Before you travel, make sure you have a travel health insurance plan or trip cancellation insurance that will protect you and your loved ones. You will be able to travel with peace of mind knowing your covered if anything unfortunate happens.
Also, we have created a lot of great videos on how to use your travel insurance best. Our Ask Doug series of videos are located here.
We sincerely hope you enjoy your travels to Indonesia and beyond!