Rawon Surabaya

Finally, I found it: Keluak nuts. They sell them from the freezer in an Asian store here in Holland. The frozen version is half prepared: the nut is cracked open and the black paste inside is easily accessible now. I can make rawon, finally! Rawon is sort of dark soup made with beef.

The rawon smells quite bitter but it does not taste extremely bitter. It is even a bit acidic and reminds me of tamarind.

Keluak is very poisonous when it is raw, but by fermenting the dangerous ingredient disappears.

On the Asian-Ingredienten.nl website, you will find a good explanation of these special and raw dangerous nuts. You can read a translation down below.

A keluak nut is the fermented kernel of the rugby ball-shaped fruit of the pangi tree (Pangium edule), a large tree that grows in the mangroves of Indonesia, New Guinea and Malaysia. Everything about this tree is actually deadly poisonous, but thanks to a complicated process of fermentation it is possible to eliminate the hydrocyanic acid in the seeds. Keluak smells a bit like bitter chocolate, but tastes more sour, saltier and above all bitter. It looks like a dried-up shovel. All in all an acquired taste, although that will mainly depend on the dose.


Rawon Surabaya #160 translated from Beb Vuyk’s Groot Indonesisch Kookboek, page 159.


  • 1/2 kg beef or mutton (with some fat)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1/2 L of water


  • 3 tablespoons of chopped onions
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of terasi
  • 3 keluak nuts
  • 2 teaspoons of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon of galangal powder
  • 2 teaspoons of Javanese sugar (or regular sugar)
  • piece of asem the size of a walnut (tamarind)
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 3 jeruk purut leaves (lemon leaves)
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • salt
  1. Cut the meat into large pieces and cook them half done in water with some salt.
  2. Grind onions, garlic, trassi, coriander, turmeric, galangal, sugar and asem into a paste.
  3. Crack the nuts (in the manner of a walnut), remove the seeds and rub them fine with a little boiling water.
  4. Strain and add the paste to the mixture of spices.
  5. Stir this well and fry it in the oil.
  6. When the onions are yellow, the semi-cooked meat can be added with the stock and the leaves of jeruk purut.
  7. Finish the dish with soy sauce and let it simmer until the meat is cooked.

I still have fresh galangal left, so it can go through my rawon. Powdered spices are fine too. I buy good quality, beautiful beef.


Nowhere in the description of Beb Vuyk’s recipe, the lemongrass is not mentioned, but if I compare other recipes of Beb, you can add the lemongrass in its entirety when the meat starts to stew. But you can also finely chop the stalk and rub it in the bumbu (spice mix).

Meat half cooked

Of course, the meat has to be prepared first, because beef needs time. To get the meat semi-cooked, as prescribed in Beb’s recipe, I cook it for about 1,5 hours first.

I stick to the 1,5 liters of water for half a kilogram of meat (I have slightly more meat, so also use a little more water) because at the end of the cooking process the ‘sauce’ should not be too little or too much.

Prepare the keluakKloewak

Now I can prepare the keluak. I pour a cup of warm water on the still half frozen content of the nut so that it becomes a paste that I can push through a colander. This is important because it may contain debris from the rock hard exterior of the nut.

The inside of the keluak goes through the sieve entirely. Nothing will stick to the sieve only pieces of shell, if there are any.

It will result in a watery drape of fluid in my bowl. It feels a bit like a witch recipe from the looks of it and the fact that this nut is poisonous when not fermented.

I have to add this dark liquid to my bumbu later on. So let’s grind my onions, garlic, trassi, coriander, turmeric, galangal, sugar and asem (tamarind) into a paste in my cobek (mortar).

Now the keluak mix can be added. I pour it directly into my mortar and mix everything well with a rubber spatula.

I saute this in a pan with some oil. I see similar rawon recipes online in which the bumbu is baked on high heat with a few tablesoons of oil.

The tumeric provides a nice yellow oil layer. This is promising!

You smell a bumbu if it is cooked. You can easily test that by just hanging your nose over the raw bumbu and then compare this smell with what is happening in the pan later. You can smell that the ingredients are cooked and mixed. The color changes too. This rawon bumbu turns dark in color.

I saute my bumbu for 5 to 8 minutes and keep moving everything well in the pan.

The meat can be added, together with my lemongrass stalk. I place the lid on the pan and let this simmer for about 1 to 1,5 hours. The last half hour I take the lid off the pan to let the sauce reduce. Do not let the sauce reduce too much. Rawon is best served pretty liquid as a rich soup.

The smell of the dish is amazing. You can tell there is something different about it because of the keluak. The smell is deeper and richer; even a bit bitter.

We eat this delicious rawon with some white rice and an homemade acar. I love it. The meat is super tender (maybe because of the keluak) and the flavors are warm but fresh. The tender meat makes this rawon from Surabaya the best comfort food there is!

Want to see more Indonesian meat dishes, check out this link. Want to learn how to make rendang? Check out my video.

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