JAKARTA: “Madam, what is that? It is a burnt banana fritter, please don’t serve it to people.
“We don’t like it.”
Such was the feedback Nanik Soelistiowati received back in 2007 when she first introduced her round, seemingly charred banana fritters to hotels in Jakarta, where she was serving catering food.
Fast forward 10 years later, her banana fritters known locally as Pisang Goreng Madu Bu Nanik (Mdm Nanik’s Honey Banana Fritters) is the bestselling product on Indonesian food delivery platform GoFood.
Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the honey fried banana remains widely sought-after and is still among GoFood's most popular products.
“When I look back, I sometimes shed tears,” Mdm Soelistiowati told CNA.
Mdm Soelistiowati has always loved cooking and she started to establish a food catering service for hotels in Jakarta when her two children were small.
Her honey fried banana was initially part of her catering menu, but when demand for the fritters grew, Mdm Soelistiowati decided to leave the catering industry and focused on building her honey fried banana brand.
Many customers say her banana fritters are crispy and the honey melts in the mouth.
There are usually long lines of queues at her one and only outlet in West Jakarta. Sometimes people even have to wait for hours to get hold of the fritters.
Sold at about 6,800 rupiah (US$0.46) per piece, Mdm Soelistiowati's fritters are affordable but cannot be easily reproduced, she claimed.
”Perhaps a lot of people now make honey banana fritters, but theirs are not the same as mine. Because we care about the taste, and I always put quality first,” she said.
To make her fritters, Mdm Soelistiowati mixes bananas with honey, flour and salt.
She uses honey instead of sugar because her mother had diabetes and Mdm Soelistiowati wanted her to enjoy the snack.
The secret behind the successful fritters is that the bananas must be ripe enough but not too ripe, she added.
Mdm Soelistiowati said if she does not have the right bananas, she would rather close her outlet – which has happened before – than selling fritters which do not taste good.
A TENACIOUS ENTREPRENEUR
Apart from the quality of the bananas, the other secret to Mdm Soelistiowati’s success is her tenacity.
“I want to work hard, and I was tenacious,” the 65-year-old said.
“When I was still catering food, I only slept two, three hours a day. Initially, I worked on everything. I delivered it myself, I looked after the food (at the hotel) myself. Once done then I had to cook again.”
“I went shopping at the fish market myself, I woke up at 3am in the morning to shop for vegetables … I once fell into a drain at the fish market in the middle of the night. I did everything and I did not grumble because I like cooking,” she revealed.
Even when the hotels complained about the appearance of her fritters, she was not discouraged.
She explained that the fritters were not burnt; it was the honey that made them look black.
People started to enjoy the snack and soon she received requests to sell the fitters at bazaars.
“When we first started, it was not easy,” Mdm Soelistiowati said.
The big breakthrough came when Mdm Soelistiowati’s two children, who work on the production and marketing of the product, decided in 2014 to put the product on GoFood, the new food delivery service owned by ride-hailing app Gojek.
DELIVERY PLATFORMS HELPED BUSINESS GROW
Pisang Goreng Madu Bu Nanik was one of the first merchants on GoFood and its product became a big hit.
When rival Grab entered Indonesia a few years later, they approached Mdm Soelistiowati to be a merchant on the app and Pisang Goreng Madu Bu Nanik became even more popular.
Grab even wanted the product to be on their food delivery services in other countries such as Vietnam, but Mdm Soelistiowati declined for the time being as she is afraid that she cannot ensure the quality of the snack.
Later, delivery service Paxel also wanted to offer Pisang Goreng Madu Bu Nanik on its platform.
With Paxel, the delicacy can now be shipped all over Java island and Bali on a same-day delivery service.
The banana fritters have also attracted many individual resellers, who buy from Mdm Soelistiowati in Jakarta and then sell them in other Indonesian cities and even abroad such as Hong Kong.
Back in April, Mdm Soelistiowati decided to close her outlet to protect her employees as well as customers from COVID-19.
She continued to pay her 50 employees and told her children: "We are not just looking for profit. Now the most important thing is to look after our health.”
During the three-month closure, many kept asking when they would reopen and once they did again in June, they recorded encouraging sales.
Mdm Soelistiawati, however, is tight-lipped about how much she earns from her fritters.
Declining to reveal the quantity she is able to sell per day, Mdm Soelistiawati, however, said she needs two pickup trucks of bananas every day.
Her ultimate goal is for her fritters to go global, and for people to know more about Indonesia and its food.
That is also why she always wears an Indonesian kebaya during public events.
“My mission is to attract foreigners to try our food. So, I want to export my honey banana fritter to several countries one day.”
Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.