Soto (also known as sroto, tauto, or coto) is a traditional Indonesian soup mainly composed of broth, meat, and vegetables. Many traditional soups are called soto, whereas foreign and Western influenced soups are called sop.
Soto is sometimes considered Indonesia's national dish, as it is served from Sumatra to Papua, in a wide range of variations. Soto is omnipresent in Indonesia, available in many warungs and open-air eateries on many street corners, to fine dining restaurants and luxurious hotels. Soto, especially soto ayam (chicken soto), is an Indonesian equivalent of chicken soup. Because it is always served warm with a tender texture, it is considered an Indonesian comfort food.
Because of the proximity and significant numbers of Indonesian migrants working and settling in neighbouring countries, soto can also be found in Singapore and Malaysia, and has become a part of their cuisine.
In the Indonesian archipelago, soto is known by different names. In the local Javanese dialect, it is called soto, and the dish also reached Makassar where it is called coto. Soto is found to be most prevalent in Java, and suggested that the hearty soup was originated from that island, and over the years this dish branched off in an assorted array of soto varieties.
Although soto was undoubtedly developed in the Indonesian archipelago and each region has developed its own distinctive soto recipes, some historians suggest that it was probably influenced by foreign culinary tradition, especially Chinese. Denys Lombard in his book Le Carrefour Javanais suggested that the origin of soto was a Chinese soup, caudo (Chinese: 草肚; pinyin: tsháu-tōo; literally "Tripe"), popular in Semarang among Chinese immigrants during colonial VOC era, circa 17th century.
Another scholar suggests that it was more likely a mixture of cooking traditions in the region, namely Chinese, Indian, and native Indonesian cuisine. There are traces of Chinese influence such as the use of bihun (rice vermicelli) and the preference for fried garlic as a condiment, while the use of turmeric suggests Indian influence. Another example is soto betawi from Jakarta uses minyak samin (ghee), which indicates Arab or Muslim Indian influences. Another historian suggest that some soto recipe reflects the past condition of its people. Soto tangkar, which today is a meat soup, was mostly made from the broth of goat rib-cage bones (Betawi:tangkar) in the past because meat was expensive, or the common population of Batavia were too poor to afford some meat back then. Soto recipes has been highly localized according to local tradition and available ingredients, for example in Hindu-majority island of Bali, soto babi (pork soto) can be found, since Hindu Balinese prefer pork while beef is seldom consumed, they also do not shared Indonesian Muslim halal dietary law that forbid the consumption of pork.
The meat soup dish influenced various regions and each developed its own recipes, with the ingredients being highly localized according to available ingredients and local cooking traditions. As a result, rich variants of soto were developed across Indonesia.
The spread of soto in Indonesian archipelago was followed by the localization of Soto's recipe, according to available ingredients and distinctive local taste. As the result, myriad soto recipes and variations can be found throughout Indonesia.
Soto Betawi, mainly consisting of offal in creamy milk or coconut milk soup, from Jakarta
Some sotos are named based on the town or region where they are created:
Ambon soto – made of chicken and broth, flavoured and coloured with turmeric, ginger, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, and loads of spices. Served with rice, the toppings are blanched bean sprouts, shredded chicken, vermicelli, chopped celery leaves, golden fried shallots, fried potato sticks, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), hot sauce, and potato croquettes.
Semarang soto – a chicken soto spiced with candlenut, mixed with rice, perkedel, tempe, and often eaten with sate kerang (cockles on a stick) or tripes and quail eggs. Soto Semarang is also known as Soto Bangkong, named after Bangkong crossroad in Semarang.
Tegal soto or Sauto Tegal, almost same with Pekalongan soto spiced with tauco (a fermented miso-like bean paste). Sauto can be chicken soto, beef soto, or even beef offal.
By primary ingredient
Soto ayam with clear yellow broth, garnished with emping crackers and fried shallot.
Other sotos are named based upon their chief ingredient:
Soto ceker – a chicken foot soto, served in rather clear yellowish spicy broth soup, which uses spices including shallot, garlic, lemongrass, and turmeric that add the yellowish colour, served with of cabbage, celery, rice noodles, and garnished to taste with sambal, lime and soy.Soto ceker is one of the popular street food in Jakarta, Bali, and most of major cities in Java. In street side warung or humble restaurants, soto ceker is usually offered as a variation of soto ayam.
Soto babat – a cow's or goat's tripe, served in yellow spicy coconut milk soup with vermicelli, potato, and vegetables, usually eaten with rice. It is commonly found throughout Indonesia.
Soto tangkar – also Betawi specialty soto made of chopped goat or beef ribs (Betawi:tangkar) and beef brisket cooked in coconut milk soup spiced with turmeric, garlic, shallot, chili, pepper, candlenut, cumin, galangal, coriander, cinnamon, Indonesian bay leaf (daun salam), and kaffir lime leaf.
Soto mi (spelled mee soto in Singapore and Malaysia) – a yellow spicy beef or chicken broth soup with noodles, commonly found in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Bogor, Indonesia, is famous for its soto mi made with beef broth, kikil (cow's cartilage), noodles, and sliced risoles spring rolls.
The meats that are most commonly used are chicken and beef, but there are also variations with offal, mutton, and water buffalo meat. Pork is seldom used in traditional Indonesian soto, however in Hindu majority Bali, soto babi (pork soto) can be found. The soup is usually accompanied by rice or compressed rice cakes (lontong, ketupat or burasa). Offal is considered as a delicacy: the rumen (blanket/flat/smooth tripe), reticulum (honeycomb and pocket tripe), omasum (book/bible/leaf tripe), and the intestines are all eaten.
The colour, thickness and consistency of soto soup could vary according to each recipes. Soto can have a light and clear broth just like soto bandung, a yellow transparent broth (coloured with turmeric) like the one that can be found in soto ayam, or a rich and thick coconut milk or milk broth just like those in soto kaki or soto betawi.
Soto in Malaysia and Singapore has a certain expected clear-soup look made of chicken broth, with spicy taste mixed with rice cubes. It seems that soto served there derived from common soto ayam type with a clear and slightly yellow-coloured broth, pretty much similar to East Javanese soto lamongan or soto madura. Like many dishes, it may have been brought into the country by the many Javanese migrants in the early 20th century.
Soto ayam, chicken soto in soup with turmeric and spices