Tanjungsari, Borobudur’s Tofu Village

Travelsmith Mangalika Ghosh goes off-the-beaten track in Indonesia for this photo story.

Photography: Mangalika Ghosh and Ujjal Dey

As you hear the name ‘Borobudur’, the words which cross your mind must be: mystic ancient temple, Buddha, history, monument, UNESCO World Heritage. Tourists who have already visited Java might also tell you their stories of this magnificent monument. There is no doubt that the temple has the grandeur to steal the attention of visitors.

But if the explorer in you cannot stay calm without checking the surroundings beyond the icon, you may just discover another side of Borobudur. Three kilometres away from the main temple lies a picturesque village called Tanjungsari, popularly known as the ‘tofu village’ because of the old workshops making tahu (tofu) scattered around it.

Making tahu the traditional way is a team effort.

As reaching Tanjungsari by public transport or cab is almost impossible, a bicycle and a local map can be your saviours. We took an extra step. Instead of renting a bike we ‘rented’ the bike shop owner himself! That was one of those funny travel moments that still make us laugh. The guy got puzzled when we approached him saying “We don’t want your bike, we want you to take us there!” It was a lesson from all our past trips; a local’s help is a must if you wish to explore a non-touristy place where you do not know the language. So after a minute of negotiation, the friendly owner got ready to give us a ride as his friends encouraged him on his new job! ?

Tanjungsari is a beautiful Indonesian village surrounded by the green landscapes of Menoreh Hills. Our newly appointed guide happily took us to the first workshop, owned by the middle-aged Sumbi. The signboard was half-broken and the exterior of the workshop was not at all interesting; it looked like just another village home. But after getting inside, we found an old Javanese workshop full of traditional utensils and no electric machines.

Light streaming through the wooden roof and walls gave an amazing rustic look to the in-house workshop. The lone worker greeted his new visitors with a big, hearty smile. The entire setting automatically triggered our hands to take out our photography gear.

The tofu worker explained to us the traditional process of making tofu, the healthy white blocks we often include in our daily diet.
Soya beans are soaked overnight in water to soften and ground into a coarse paste, which is then simmered in hot water.
The result is strained through white cloth inside wooden frames.
After being pressing down with the wooden heavy frame, the tofu block takes on a near-perfect shape.


We visited a few more such workshops and all still continue the traditional local process of tofu-making, but working beside an ever-steaming tofu tub seems to be a constant challenge in the hot and humid weather of Borobodur. Some workshops are run by the various members of same family. The art of tofu-making is thus passed down through generations.

Here the tofu straining process is little different than the earlier workshop. They stir the watery tofu by hand in an ancient yin-yang pattern.
The youngest member of the family curiously observes the technique.
Instead of using a motor to remove the water, this curious manual method is employed.


For ages, tofu has been extremely popular in Indonesian meals. Hence these workshops, although still manual, do not face much crunch in demand.

A workshop worker poses with his Javanese cigarette
The tofu block is cut into bite-size pieces before being fried. Batches of fresh or fried tofu  are sent to the local market.


In an era of artificial intelligence and automation, there are still few parts left in the world that remind you of old movie scenes. This place was definitely one of them. I will especially remember Tanjungsari because of the picturesque traditional workshops and the friendly people. It’s a reminder that slow travel always offers something special that is often missed by most tourists.

GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Yogyakarta from Bali, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

About Mangalike Ghosh
I am an Indian photographer currently based in Singapore. The urge to photograph makes me wander with my partner-in-crime Ujjal, who is also a photographer. We love to explore all common and uncommon places, cultures, people and their stories. Follow us at happyfeet and dreams.

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