“Kota Udang” in Java Island

To reach my hometown, I usually rent a car with a private driver from Jakarta which will take about six hours nonstop through the new toll road. However, since most private cars offer the services to leave the capital in the evening—a brutal traffic jam at the rush hour can damage your consciousness anyway, there is an alternative route I can take by using the railway train. From Gambir Station, Jakarta, to Cirebon Station, Cirebon, the distance between the two big cities will take about three hours—probably a bit more, depends on which train you would like to get. Once I arrive at Cirebon, an additional hour will be spent travelling to the village by a rent car.

In my case, I choose Cirebon Express as it will take you to the city with only two short stops at Jatibarang Station and Haurgeulis Station. An executive seat will be more convenient if you would like to have your own space with spacious room for your legs.

Talking about Cirebon, I spent three years living in this city while attending my school, senior high school precisely. At that time, I was a nerdy one, hardly ever exploring the city because my whole time was spent studying and doing extracurricular activities, such as being the leader of the Red Cross Youth at my school. One thing can take a trip down my memory lane: the variety of aesthetic yet delicious local cuisine. You may contact me if you would like to visit this fascinating town one day. I will give you a long list the local food you can try as a compliment.

A portrait of Cirebon Station in 1913 (Credit: PT. Kereta Api Indonesia)

Back in the early 15th century, Cirebon gained its fame as Kota Udang, The City of Prawns, due to most of the people here made their living as the shrimp hunters. The shrimp was made into shrimp paste and petis which were offered to the Padjajaran Kingdom as a tribute. Then, shrimp has become known as the icon of Cirebon, the symbol itself was used as the logo of the City Government. At least six large golden prawns were displayed at the front building of the city hall. In addition, Cirebon is also a port city on the northern coast of Java, the only coastal city of West Java that has a diversity of religion, race, and culture as well.

That’s why there are still many ancient buildings maintained by the local government. At the center of Cirebon, there are two historic palaces: the 16th-century Keraton Kasepuhan, home of the Sultan of Kasepuhan, and the 17th-century Keraton Kanoman. Between them lies the 15th-century Sang Cipta Rasa Kasepuhan Great Mosque (Great Mosque of Cirebon). Taman Sari Gua Sunyaragi (Sunyaragi Cave) is an 18th-century water palace. And Cirebon City Station is one of the archaic buildings that are still well-preserved since the Dutch colonized the country way back then.

Cirebon Station was designed by a Dutch architect named Pieter Adriaan Jacobus Moojen which was inaugurated on June 3, 1912. The architectural style of the building is a combination of local architectural features with the influence of Art Deco. On the upper part of the tower and the main building, a row of colorful square glass windows was made with a few ventilation slots. Other than for the elegance purposes, the stained glass also serves as the natural lighting during the night.

This railway station is always be my liking. Surely its capacity is not comparable to Gambir Station, Jakarta, but the well-maintenance makes it pleasant to look at: clean, organized, orderly people, and a special waiting room located between Starbucks and Batik Trusmi, a well-know local brand of traditional Batik, where you can get free Wifi and a recliner for your back.

Public toilet has also been prepared with a separate area for men and women. Don’t worry, it always being cleaned regularly and a modern one without paying an additional charge to use the service. Just be careful when you need to pass the railway and wait the instruction patiently from the traffic officers.

Once you arrive at the station, you can take the exit hall on the left where you will likely be greeted by several middle age men offer you the becak services. Becak, three-wheeled pedal-powered bike with a passenger seat, is the descendant of the original hand-pulled rickshaws that originated in Japan in the 19th Century. And the city of Cirebon still allows them to provides this service as another transport option.

Before continuing the trip to the village, I will stop by to eat Nasi Jamblang in the city. Nasi Jamblang is a typical food of Cirebon, West Java. The “jamblang” term comes from the name of the region to the west of the city of Cirebon, home of the food vendors. The characteristic of these foods is the usage of teak as a pack of rice leaves. The dish is served via a buffet. That said, this food has existed since the Dutch colonial era.

The queue at Nasi Jamblang Mang Dul by Huglooms

There are so many Nasi Jamblang vendors all over Cirebon, but I chose Mang Dul since a long time ago. Not only as a form of loyalty, the taste of the food has been constantly rich and flavorful since the last time I remember it. Nasi Jamblang Mang Dul has been around since the 1970s. Now it is managed by the second generation (or probably the third one). In the past, Mang Dul started his business by going around. I also remember well when they were selling it with lesehan style in front of the Grage Mall.

Don’t be surprised, every time I visit this place, Nasi Jamblang Mang Dul is always full of customers. Especially during the National Holidays and even on weekends. Sometimes I have to queue for hours just to sit on the shared table. But that’s okay, for the sake of relishing Mang Dul’s signature spicy scallops and also its red sambals, I am willing to do it after all my long journey to get there.

Cirebon has many other tourist attractions worth to visit. I will try to summarize them in separate portfolios as I’d like to show more photos of the natural beauty of the city. At the moment, my intention here was to emphasize the Cirebon Railway Station which has always been my favorite antique building in the city. Make sure to bring your hand-held fan when you visit the town. Since Cirebon is located around the port and is blocked by Mount Ciremai on the other side, when the hot summer hits the town, the heat will be trapped in the city which sometimes reminds me of the Death Valley National Park in USA.

Oh, when the summer comes, try the shaved coconut ice where you find around Jalan Cipto Mangunkusumo. It’s like having a pool in the dessert.