My soto ayam recipe for the beloved Indonesian chicken noodle soup is based on the aromatic breakfast noodle soup we became smitten with on our last day in Yogyakarta, Java. Found across Indonesia’s archipelago, each island, region, city, town, village, and cook has their own take on this recipe.
Soto ayam is chicken soup. ‘Soto’ means soup and ‘ayam’ is chicken. It’s an Indonesian chicken soup with noodles that is the go-to street food breakfast for many locals. But just as my favourite chicken soup recipe might differ markedly from your chicken soup recipe, there seems to be a soto ayam recipe for every village, town, city, and region on Indonesia’s 18,307 islands.
But if there’s one thing that Indonesians seem to agree on, that’s that soto ayam is the country’s chicken noodle soup for the soul. Like all good chicken soups, soto ayam is comfort food, eaten as a healthy filling breakfast to kickstart the day, and recommended for the restorative properties of its ingredients (its turmeric in particular) when you’re feeling a little off or unwell.
This is my soto ayam recipe inspired by the street food soto ayam we sampled in Yogyakarta.
Soto Ayam Recipe for Yogyakarta’s Indonesian Chicken Noodle Soup
Located in Central Java, Yogyakarta was at the centre of the Mataram Sultanate, which from its old capital in historic Kotagede, at the peak of its power, conquered East Java. The Sultanate would become the last independent kingdom before Dutch colonisation in the middle of the 18th century.
Now Yogyakarta is best known as a base for exploring the archaeological wonders of Borobudur and Prambanan, but also loved by locals for its street food and home-cooking, we’d noticed signs for soto ayam on rickety old food carts all over the city.
But it wasn’t until our last day in the city, on our way to the Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace, that we had time to stop and sample Yogyakarta’s take on Indonesia’s soto ayam from a spotlessly clean 30-year-old food stall ran by a fastidious cook near, located by the palace walls. After the first taste I knew I had to chase down her soto ayam recipe.
Soto ayam is essentially an aromatic chicken broth with rice noodles, garnishes and condiments, and while there are countless versions of this Indonesian chicken noodle soup, the Yogyakarta cook’s stood out for the consommé-like clarity of the light soup and fragrant aromas from the stock.
And no wonder. Soto ayam typically includes our favourite Southeast Asian aromatics: lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and cloves, some of the same ingredients that go into the herb and spice pastes here in Cambodia.
Further flavour is added before eating: a squeeze of lime juice, some deep-fried shallots and a spoon of spicy sambal soto, a relish-like sauce made from chillies, candlenuts, garlic, shallots, sugar, salt, and lime.
Some Notes on My Soto Ayam Recipe
My soto ayam recipe does not require coconut milk, as the bowls of Yogyakarta soto ayam we spotted, including the cook’s soto ayam we sampled, definitely did not include coconut milk. But I noticed that many recipes do. As I suggested, there are probably as many versions of soto ayam as there are islands in Indonesia.
Our Yogyakarta cook’s soto ayam included bean thread noodles and vermicelli-style rice noodles. Choose either or both. I’ve spotted soto ayam recipes with everything from glass noodles (also called mung bean noodles or cellophane noodles) to yellow noodles (egg noodles or wheat noodles).
Many soto ayam recipes have hard-boiled eggs in the bowl. Amusingly, some have eggs in the photo but not in the recipe. I blame overzealous food stylists for those. We didn’t have eggs in our chicken noodle soup in Yogyakarta nor did we see any in the soto ayam being prepared at other street food stalls.
After a lot of researching and experimenting, here’s my Yogyakarta style soto ayam recipe.
Yogyakarta Style Soto Ayam Recipe
- 2 chicken thighs
- 2 chicken breasts
- 200 g bean thread vermicelli noodles
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 stalks lemongrass white part only and bruised
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 2 stalks of Chinese celery chopped
- 6 shallots roughly chopped
- 2 cm piece fresh ginger sliced
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3 tsp ground turmeric
- 3 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tomato chopped
- bean sprouts
- fried shallots
- lime Wedges
- bird’s eye chillis
- sambal oelek or samba soto
- Place the chicken pieces in a large wok or stock pot with the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and celery. Cover with 4 litres cold water and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat to a slow rolling boil and skim the surface of the stock as necessary.
- After 20 mins check the doneness of the chicken breasts. Remove when they are cooked through. After another 10 minutes remove the chicken thighs. When cool enough to handle remove the meat from the chicken thighs and put the bones back into the stock and put the stock back on a slow rolling boil.
- Place the shallots, ginger and garlic in a mortar and grind to a paste. Add the ground turmeric and ground coriander
- Heat the oil in a large wok or saucepan over medium heat. Add the paste and cook until the aromas are released and the paste takes on a darker colour. Add the tomato and combine.
- Strain the stock and add 2 litres of it to the paste mix. Simmer for half an hour. Season to taste.
- Shred the chicken breast meat and add all the chicken meat to the soup.
- Cook the noodles and divide evenly between the bowls.
- Ladle the soup over the noodles and garnish with bean sprouts, fried shallots and coriander.
Learn More about Indonesian Food
The Food of Indonesia: Delicious Recipes from Bali, Java and the Spice Islands
by Heinz Von Holzen and Lother Arsana
Flavors of Indonesia: William Wongso’s Culinary Wonders
by William W. Wongso
Do let us know if you make our soto ayam recipe and how it turned out. We’d love to get your feedback and also hear from anyone who has a different soto recipe. We’re eager to know how it varies and where it comes from.