Due to its close proximity to world wonders such as the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur, Yogyakarta is perhaps the most popular destination on the island of Java. A bustling town of some 500,000 people, the place itself offers so much more than a simple transit town. It’s the center of art, education and also home to Indonesia’s oldest reigning royalties.
Get the best bargains
Probably the best known shopping promenade in the city, Malioboro stretches at least 2km in length, making it home to over a hundred shops and street stalls which sell a variety of locally-made handicrafts, from traditional batik to t-shirts. Aside from being the perfect place to test your bargaining skills, Malioboro is also decorated with old colonial-age houses. Traditional transports such as the three-wheeled becak or the horse-powered dokar can help you get around to both ends of the street, passing by the lively indoor market, Pasar Beringharjo. The silver industry is especially thriving in Yogyakarta, centralizing its business in the quiet suburb of Kota Gede. There, silver stores and workshops are plentiful, selling various items from jewellery to dining plates.
Tour the royal grounds
One of the city’s many original traits is having its own independent ruling by the Hamengkubowono royal family lineage. The residential area, called Kraton, is a sprawling complex of the city’s oldest architectural structures, dating back to the 1700s. Notable charms of the imperial area that is open to public include the Northern Grounds, Tamansari Gardens and the Kraton Palace itself. The latter consists of two separate entrances, the main court and residence. Displaying the grandeur of the Sultan’s monarchy, each section is attached with a fascinating history. Gamelan performances and Javanese dance shows are also held on the palace grounds regularly.
Go on a spiritual journey
Just a short trip away from the city lie complexes of various Candi, which is a 7-9th century religious structure, most carved with storytelling reliefs. Borobudur is the largest of them all, while Prambanan has anciently epic Ramayana stories to tell. It’s not hard to be in awe of the size and intricate detail of these Candi complexes as all of them are built and assembled by human labour. One lesser-known Candi is located around three kilometres South of Prambanan, often referred by locals as Ratu Boko. The nickname derives from a native folklore character, though its real name is still a mystery. What makes this Candi appealing, however, is its location on a plateau, making it an excellent site for sunset-viewing.
Known for their sweet-tasting cuisines, Yogyakarta food is rather different from other Indonesian cuisines, which usually range from spicy to fiery hot. Now that more people are entering and living in the city, there is more variety in taste, but the core of Yogyakarta food still lies in its unique sweetness.
An iconic food of Yogyakarta, the gudeg is made from the flesh of the jackfruit and coconut milk. Many hours are needed to make this dish and the end results are normally dark brown in colour. It is served with rice, chicken, egg, tahu and krecek fried sambal, all topped with coconut milk broth. The different types of gudeg depend on how the broth is served – there is the dry gudeg, the wet gudeg and the Solo gudeg, in which the broth is creamy white.
Although this dish was initially prepared only during funerals, don’t be alarmed by its morbid origins. Made from beef and ground kluwih fruit, dendeng age is now enjoyed daily and always eagerly anticipated. It’s no secret that Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono VIII considers it his favourite dish and locals are likely to eat dendeng age together with kluwih fruit to get a more intense taste.
Yangko & Bakpia Pathok
Anyone’s visit to Yogyakarta would not be complete without trying its famed sweet cakes, yangko and bakpia pathok. The yangko originates from Kota Gede and like the Japanese mochi, this square-shaped cake is made of glutinous rice and come in different colours and flavours. Some are even filled with nuts. In the olden days, yangko was known as the confectionery of kings and aristocrats. Bakpia pathok on the other hand are small, roundish rolls stuffed with sweet beans. The ‘pathok’ in the name comes from the street where a vendor first sold it in 1978, which amazingly, still stands today. Both cakes make very popular souvenir gifts and can last for quite a long time.
Not quite a city but larger than a mere town, Yogyakarta’s down-to-earth pride makes every step of the city delightful. Tradition is prioritized for special days like weddings with the bride and groom treated like kings and queens. It’s that homegrown charm of Yogyakarta that makes any wedding there feel regal, even if you’re not of royal blood.