Summary: food locations mentioned in this article
- Cafe Batavia
- Sabang 16
- Kopi Oey
- The People’s Cafe
- Ron’s Laboratory
- Le Maison Kopi Luwak
- Anomali Coffee
- Lara Djonggerang
I came to the end of day one of my trip to Jakarta a little disappointed – I felt like I didn’t “get” this city. Traffic, pollution, lackluster monuments and hours of walking around in the heat and humidity – I wasn’t instantly charmed by the atmosphere, like I was by Rome, Seville or New York. Now, at the end of my rendezvous with The Big Durian (an apt name), I am sad to be leaving. It may have taken some time to realise it, but there is much to be loved about this sprawling metropolis. This post is intended to be somewhat of a rough guide for somebody looking for a food-centric tour of the city. Note that I only spent a few days in Jakarta, so I too still have much to do and see.
A great way to start exploring is with a visit to Kota Tua, or the old town of Jakarta. To the far north, it makes sense a starting point to a south-bound journey through the city. I met with a friend there with plans to commence the day with some brunch from Cafe Batavia. The night before was heavy – an ethanol fueled night as we explored what Jakarta after dark has to offer – so I was feeling like something not-so-delicate. The cafe’s Nasi Campur fit the bill, with a conical mound of rice surrounded by an array of meats and condiments. Food and drink wise I don’t think it is a mind blowing restaurant, but the location is great and the interior is something to be admired.
The thing that struck me the most about Kota Tua was the attention that we both received (both white males of European descent). Fatahillah Square strikes me as a hotspot for tourists to be hassled by locals looking to make some money by selling trinkets or pick pocketing, so I was not surprised that it didn’t take long at all to be approached by a seemingly well-dressed young Indonesian asking for something. What he asked for was not what I expected, though. Instead of trying to sell me a “real” Rolex for only 1% of its retail price, he asked if he could speak with us, so he could practice his English.
We continued the Journey around the square, and before we knew it a girl aged in her teens approached us. Holding her phone towards us I expected her to ask for us to take a photo of her in front of the square – perhaps she too was a tourist. What she actually asked for took me aback – she wanted to take a selfie…with me in it! Did she mistake me for a celebrity? Perhaps it was part of a game she was playing? Maybe just fascinated by the fact that I was clearly not a local? I tried asking her, but her English was poor, so I just went ahead and had the photo with her (being careful to cover my pockets, in case she had a more malicious motivation).
A short taxi ride south is a great little area worth exploring a bit, on Jalan H Agus Salim. For an earlier morning trip, where breakfast is on the cards, the srikaya toast from Sabang 16 is highly recommended. I first had a love affair with kaya toast when I was in Singapore last year, so was excited to stumble across this place. Also of note, and just a few meters away, is Kopi Oey. In fact, there are quite a few great looking places along this street, I just unfortunately didn’t have time to visit them all. A little further down the street is something a bit more authentic and akin to local eating habits – an outdoor hawker market. An alley packed with vendors selling their specialty cooked dishes, and locals sitting at tables that line the street eating their breakfast or lunch. The alley was filled with some great aromas, and I was getting very tempted to try something, however I was worried for my stomach and its ability to handle Jakartan street food. I held back and continued on my way.
A little north of Agus Salim are the likes of the Istiqlal mosque, the Jakarta Cathedral (funnily enough, almost at the doorstep of the mosque) and Monas, or the national monument, a celebration of Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch. Keep going south and eventually there is the Grand Indonesia, just one of the many malls scattered around the city. The selection of shops is impressive – a possession-lover’s paradise – but almost even more impressive is the huge range of food outlets to choose from, scattered from the basement floor right through to the top. Of note was the Nasi Bakar from The People’s Cafe – banana leaf-wrapped rice served with a bunch of condiments that make it a complete dish. Also highly recommended is Marugame, serving some of the best udon noodles I’ve ever had (made fresh right at the front of the shop). The lunch time queue was long, but definitely worth the wait. An after-lunch treat can be had at Ron’s Laboratory, where liquid-nitrogen ice-cream is conjured up in front of customers. Having tried two different flavours I found it a bit underwhelming. It does well for the “wow” factor, but I’d put my money on Häagen-Dazs, just around the corner, for a tastier treat.
Indonesia is renowned for its coffee production, however most famous of all is perhaps the Kopi Luwak, or coffee made from beans that are first eaten by civets (they like the fruit that encases the bean), digested and then reclaimed by a farmer. The beans are then washed, roasted, ground and then brewed into what looks like a normal cup of coffee. Noteably more expensive than any other coffee (I paid about $12 for a cup), this coffee is claimed by some to be the best in the world. I stopped at Le Maison Kopi Luwak in Plaza Indonesia mall (right next to the Grand Indonesia mall) to give it a shot. The attendant came to my table and prepared the coffee in an almost ritualistic manner – she opened a packet of ground coffee and offered me a smell of the coffee aroma emenating from the sachet, meanwhile handing me a certificate of authenticity (though I don’t know the regulations around this, so for all I know she was serving me a standard coffee blend with a certificate of authenticity that the cafe conjured up itself). She poured the ground beans into an ornate cup and then covered it with a lid topped with a golden civet, instructing me to let it brew for two minutes. To be honest it didn’t taste noticeably different to anything else I’ve had, though it was an opportune time to sit and relax after an exhausting day of wandering, almost aimlessly, through the streets of Jakarta.
One of my favourite things to do was explore the Menteng area. This subdistrict of Jakarta is home to many of the wealthy Jakartans, which is evidenced by the streets lined with opulent mansions and luxury European cars, though one would not be lambasted for mistaking some of the houses for fortresses, as would be suggested by some of the roof-height gates wrapped in razor wire. As fascinating as we found some of the architecture, the real reason we went to Menteng was to exolore Jalan Surabaya, home of the antique flea market, which is also well worth a visit.
Unknown to us beforehand, the Menteng area seemed to be a great place to find a hip cafe or a fancy restaurant. Exhaustion was setting in, so we stopped by Anomali Coffee for a cup of Java. Anomali sets its standards high, and would fare well against some of Australia’s top coffee hotspots.
After some more Menteng exploration we hit the final location of the night – Lara Djonggrang. Owned by Tugu Hotels, Lara Djonggrang is a classy restaurant serving typically Indonesian food, prepared with authentic flavours in a very stylish way. Something should be said for the interior decor, which itself is quite impressive. The food is slightly pricier than the typical Jakartan fare, but for an expat used to Australian prices and earning an Australian salary it is remarkably cheap. Another restraurant of note, also owned by Tugu Hotels, is Kunstring. Offering an interesting fusion of Dutch and Indonesian cuisine, it is well worth a visit, even if only to observe the grand design of the interior.
Jakarta – a city of around 10 million people – met and exceeded my expectations. It is a city that is sometimes overlooked by world-seekers, but it really does have something to offer, for the foodie or otherwise.