This Indonesian Pop-up Wants to Make Bakso a Household Name in the Bay

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Overhead view of a bowl of noodle soup with meatballs and a spoonful of sambal.
D'Grobak's signature dish is its bakso, a noodle soup made with hand-rolled beef meatballs. (D'Grobak)

Like so many of the Bay Area’s singular food experiences, D’Grobak started with a craving. Back in Indonesia, Christna Lim and Yohanes Ng would buy the meatball noodle soup known as bakso from street vendors multiple times a week. But they couldn’t find the dish here in the Bay. 

“We said, ‘Let’s create some bakso because we miss bakso,’” Lim explains.

Ng, whose day job is at a sushi catering company, already had a reputation as a skilled cook within the couple’s circle of Indonesian friends. One year of experimentation later, he’d nailed down the recipe for a version of the soup that's popular in the city of Surakarta, made by simmering marrow bones for 12 hours until the broth turns as cloudy-white as a rich tonkotsu ramen. When he served his bakso to friends, they couldn’t stop talking about how much it reminded them of home. “Why don’t you sell it?” they said. When the pandemic hit, Lim and Ng decided to give it a shot. 

Now a weekly pop-up restaurant, D’Grobak (pronounced “the Growbuck”) holds in-person events every other Saturday at various locations. (The next one will be on Saturday, Feb. 12, 11am–4pm, at Lilikoi Boba in San Francisco.) On the Saturdays in between, Lim and Ng sell bakso to pre-order customers out of their commissary kitchen in Richmond, where they live.

D’Grobak has a growing fan base thanks in part to a shoutout in the San Francisco Chronicle last summer and strong word of mouth within the Bay Area’s tight-knit Indonesian community—and, most of all, because the bakso is delicious. The basic version features two different kinds of noodles (vermicelli and egg noodles); jiggly, soft-cooked tendon; and the “bakso” itself—bouncy, hand-rolled beef meatballs, some of which are stuffed in tofu or wrapped around a boiled quail egg. 


Like all of the great Asian noodle soups, each bowl of bakso comes with an assortment of toppings and condiments to hit every part of the palate: crunchy fried shallots, fried wonton skin, sweet soy sauce, a squeeze of lime and a shot of fiery housemade sambal, the pride of every Indonesian kitchen. The smell of the broth alone—all beef fat and white pepper—is enough to get you salivating.

The pop-up also sells a vegetarian version of the dish made with Impossible plant-based meat and a version crowned with a well-charred beef short rib.  

Two chefs in orange and brown aprons pose in their kitchen in front of many empty soup containers.
Christna Lim (left) and Yohanes Ng started making bakso because they couldn't find it at any restaurants in the Bay Area. (D'Grobak)

Ng and Lim say they never intended to turn the little bakso experiments in their home kitchen into a business. Now, they hope to turn D’Grobak into a proper restaurant, and they’ve made it their personal mission to spread the gospel of Indonesian street food. In her hometown of Jayakarta, Lim explains, there’s a bakso stall on every street corner. In the Bay Area, however, it’s nearly impossible to find: Padi, a short-lived Sumatran-style Indonesian spot in Berkeley, had a bakso soup on its menu during the restaurant’s early 2010s run. But the Bay Area’s two longtime Indonesian staples—Berkeley’s Jayakarta and San Francisco’s Borobudur, both closed in 2019—didn’t serve the dish. Neither does Redwood City newcomer Warung Siska, currently the region’s buzziest Indonesian restaurant. Apart from D’Grobak, the only place where you can find bakso is at a handful of informal, Instagram-based pop-ups run out of people’s homes. 

Part of the reason for this omission is because the Bay Area really doesn’t have the kind of street food culture found in Asian cities such as Jayakarta. Lim and Ng named their business D’Grobak after the wheeled push carts known as grobak (or “gerobak”), the basic building block of Indonesia’s bustling street food scene and still one of the primary ways that bakso is sold. Ng’s own father sold pickled fruit from a push cart. And Ng has memories of seeing bakso vendors who were even more old-school in their setup: They’d walk through the streets carrying a bucket of broth on one side and a bucket of meatballs on the other, balancing the two on their shoulders with a wooden pole. 

Ng and Lim don’t have any plans to convert their business into an actual push cart or bucket-based operation. (“I would collapse before I get to the distance,” Ng says, laughing.) But they hope to do their part to bring Indonesian street food culture to the Bay Area. At their in-person pop-ups, they’ll sometimes bring in an Indonesian musician to perform, to recreate the feeling of eating at a bakso stand in Jayakarta, where a siter player or ukulele player might wander from stall to stall playing for tips. And they do hope that the word “bakso” will enter into the everyday vocabulary of all Bay Area food enthusiasts.

“We’re aware that Indonesian food is really underground here,” Ng says. “So why don’t we try to promote this? So that bakso will be known like pho in Vietnam, like ramen in Japan.”

A bowl of bakso (Indonesian meatball noodle soup) topped with a whole beef short rib.
D'Grobak sells a vegetarian version of their signature bakso and another version, pictured, that comes crowned with a well-charred beef short rib. (D'Grobak)

D’Grobak takes pre-orders for delivery and pickup at Artisan Kitchen (865 Marina Bay Pkwy #33, Richmond) every first and third Saturday of the month. (The online pre-ordering window opens on the preceding Monday at noon.) One the second and fourth Saturdays, D’Grobak holds in-person pop-ups at various locations in San Francisco and the East Bay. For details, follow the company on Instagram