Tahu Gejrot: Exploring the Tangy Temptations of Cirebon’s Authentic Culinary Gem
Written by Bambang Supriadi on June 20, 2023
The liquid seasoning from the bottle is poured onto the pieces of tahu that have been seasoned with green chili and shallots. The liquid seasoning consists of sweet soy sauce, which provides a sweet and slightly savory taste. Tamarind water gives a fresh and slightly spicy sour taste. Vinegar gives a strong acidic taste to the liquid seasoning. Brown sugar provides a distinct sweetness to the liquid seasoning.
Finely sliced or roughly chopped shallots give a unique aroma and flavor to the liquid seasoning. Crushed or thinly sliced bird’s eye chili gives a spicy taste to the liquid seasoning. Salt is used to balance the flavors in the liquid seasoning. These ingredients are then mixed and stirred until a thick liquid seasoning is formed, which has a harmonious combination of sweetness, sourness, spiciness, and savoriness.
This liquid seasoning is then poured onto the tahu (tofu in in the Chinese language) that has been seasoned with green chili and shallots.
“Jrot,… jrot… jrot… jrot”
The distinctive sound is heard when the sauce is poured from the bottle. Over time, this onomatopoeic term became associated with the signature dish from Cirebon, and people started referring to it as “tahu gejrot”. This name perfectly captures the essence of the dish, evoking the lively and dynamic atmosphere of Cirebon’s culinary scene. The term “gejrot” not only depicts the sound of the sauce being poured, but also represents the overall sensory experience of enjoying tahu gejrot.
Behind its deliciousness, the history and origin of this dish are unveiled. Tahu or tofu originally comes from China. In its home country, China, tofu is a very common and popular ingredient. Tofu has been an essential part of traditional Chinese cuisine for centuries. In China, tofu is produced in various forms, textures, and flavor variations.
The most common type of tofu in China is white tofu, which is made from soybeans. White tofu has a soft and chewy texture and can be used in a variety of dishes, whether fried, boiled, or stir-fried. In addition to white tofu, there is also silky tofu or soft tahu, which has a smoother and softer texture. Silky tofu is usually used in soups or dishes that require a softer tahu.
Picture 2. Tofu factory in China.
According to history, tahu (tofu) was first discovered in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), but some argue that tofu has been around since the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC). The method of making tofu was initially simple, using soaked and ground soybeans mixed with water and a natural coagulant such as seawater or freshwater containing salt to solidify the soy milk into firm tofu.
Over the centuries, tofu production techniques in China continued to evolve. More advanced and detailed tofu-making processes emerged, such as the use of natural coagulants like gypsum or saltwater as thickening agents to form solid tofu from fermented soybean curds.
In further developments, tofu became an integral part of Chinese cuisine, with various variations and processing methods developed in different regions of China. Since its emergence, tofu has spread to various countries worldwide and has become a popular and versatile food ingredient. To this day, tofu is considered a healthy food rich in plant-based protein and is used in various dishes across the globe. Tofu is not only used in typical Chinese dishes but also as a key ingredient in vegetarian dishes, noodle dishes, soups, and much more.
The arrival of tofu in Indonesia is closely tied to the trade relations between China and the archipelago in the past. For centuries, Chinese traders have established trade contacts with communities in the Indonesian islands, particularly along the coasts of Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. They brought various commodities, including tofu, to be sold in local markets.
Initially, tahu was introduced as one of the foreign foods in Indonesia. However, over time, tofu was adopted by the local population and became an integral part of Indonesian cuisine. Indonesians started preparing tofu in various ways, combining it with Indonesian spices and seasonings to create unique dishes.
Tahu Gejrot, a popular food in Cirebon, has a strong connection with the Chinese community that established tofu factories in Jatiseeng Village, Ciledug District, East Cirebon Regency. This historical relationship unveils cultural exchange and culinary influence between the local Javanese community and Chinese immigrants during the Dutch colonial period, particularly around 1919.
Picture 3. Tahu factory in Cirebon, Indonesia.
The presence of the Chinese descendants in the area played a significant role in the development of the tofu industry in Cirebon. The Chinese immigrants brought their expertise in tofu-making techniques and introduced them to the local community. The establishment of tahu factories by the Chinese community in Jatiseeng Village not only contributed to the local economy but also enriched the culinary diversity in the region. Over time, the local community in Cirebon adopted tahu as a staple ingredient in their cuisine and combined it with local flavors and techniques. The fusion of Chinese and Javanese culinary traditions gave rise to Tahu Gejrot, a unique dish that reflects the multicultural heritage of Cirebon.
The tahu used in Tahu Gejrot is typically produced traditionally by the local residents in Jatiseeng village. They employ time-honored techniques and recipes to create tofu with the desired taste and distinctive qualities. The process of making tofu involves the use of specific ingredients and well-tested processing techniques. Tahu Gejrot is believed to have emerged around the 1930s – 1940s.
The popularity of Tahu Gejrot is not limited to its place of origin but has also spread to various major cities in Indonesia. Many street vendors or small eateries feature Tahu Gejrot as their signature menu item. It is also commonly sought after during culinary festivals or night markets.
The influence of social media development and transportation accessibility has contributed to the expansion of Tahu Gejrot’s popularity. Many people upload photos and reviews of this dish, attracting the interest of people from different regions to try it. Additionally, some Tahu Gejrot vendors have opened outlets or franchises outside their original area, making it easier for people to enjoy this dish without having to travel to Cirebon.
If “tahu gejrot” were a beautiful symphony of music, the supporting elements would be:
Tahu (tofu) as the main instrument: Tahu takes on the role of the dominant part in this symphony, like the main melody that creates the unique characteristics of this music.
- Green bird’s eye chili as percussion instruments: Green bird’s eye chili provides the element
of spiciness and uniqueness in this symphony. Like percussion instruments, they add rhythm,
excitement, and an energetic touch.
- Shallots as wind instruments: Shallots can be likened to wind instruments that provide color
and softness to this music. They bring a delightful nuance that blends with the other
- Palm sugar water as string instruments: Palm sugar water adds sweetness and caramel
elements to this symphony. Like string instruments such as violins, they contribute softness,
warmth, and a beautiful touch.
- Kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) as plucked instruments: Kecap manis provides a savory and
rich flavor to this symphony. Like plucked instruments such as guitars, they bring harmony,
diversity, and texture to the music.
Together, these elements create a harmonious and flavorful symphony that represents the unique experience of enjoying tahu gejrot.