“Martabak Pecenongan 78 has over 60 years of history in Indonesia,” says Juli Santoso, co-owner of Martabak Pecenongan 78 & D’Bakmie, which opened on the city end of Lygon Street back in June. “It’s a taste that Indonesians have grown up with – we wanted to bring that legendary brand to Melbourne.”
Santoso and partner Andy Indra are both from Sumatra, and have experience introducing popular Indonesian restaurant chains to Australia: in 2019 they opened Melbourne’s first D’Penyetz & D’Cendol, a popular franchise that specialises in ayam penyet – a classic Javanese fried chicken dish. The signatures at their new venture are twofold: on the sweet side is the martabak manis – a chewy, generally thick, folded pancake that’s massively popular. On the savoury end is a range of bakmi dishes: a category of wheat-based noodles, often served with meat, found throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
Martabak Pecenongan 78 & D’Bakmie, which has more than 400 outlets in Indonesia, is proof there’s a significant demand for having both of these dishes under the one roof. Santoso and Indra are hoping that appeal transfers to Melbourne – this is the first overseas outpost for the franchise.
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Climate is an underrated factor when it comes to cooking. Although many of the fillings for the martabaks – such as the Ovaltine and the chocolate sprinkles – are imported from Indonesia, Santoso and Indra have to had to adjust the recipe slightly.
“The weather affects the cooking process,” Santoso says. “In Indonesia it’s very humid, so the filling melts together. Melbourne’s climate is very different.”
Each pancake is made individually, and it’s an involved, time-consuming process. They’re cooked on a special cast-iron pan that’s extremely thick and heavy. Each martabak takes about 20 minutes to prepare. Once it’s finished, it’s loaded up with any number of fillings – including Nutella, Skippy cheese, Toblerone and Lotus Biscoff – then folded onto itself. Like a pancake calzone. The result combines the fluffiness of a pancake with an interior that has some of the chewy, elastic bounce of an English crumpet. It’s unique and deeply satisfying. If you prefer crepes to flapjacks, consider the martabak tipkers – they’re also filled and folded, but they’re much thinner. Beef, chicken and vegetarian martabaks are all available too.
While the martabaks make for an excellent (and hefty) morning or afternoon snack, the D’Bakmie side of the menu is a real lunchtime winner. The bright yellow wheat noodles star across a variety of dishes, with options including spicy chicken mince, chicken-feet stew, fried chicken cutlet, and mushroom stew. On the side, make sure you order some fried wontons and chicken skins. There’s also a range of light, brothy soups.
Martabak Pecenongan 78’s Lygon Street location is tight – expect it to fill up quite quickly at peak lunchtime. But it’s all takeaway friendly, and now that it’s starting to warm up, lunch on the grass at Carlton Gardens is well and truly back on the cards.