Jakarta is one of the world’s truly great cities. That’s a bold statement, I know. And, many would challenge it. The naysayers might ask – Where is the rich history found in Rome? Where is the culture of Paris? Where is the tradition of London? Where is the ultra modernism of Tokyo? Or, where is the diversity of New York?
An answer to those questions I would reply, “there, not here in Jakarta.” That is precisely what makes Jakarta a truly great city. Jakarta is completely unique unto itself. Jakarta is a frontier city – an inferno of activity blending ancient traditions with 21st century development. It’s the political, social, and economic hub of the world’s fourth most populous nation. How could it not be fascinating?
Come to Jakarta and you will find world class architecture, the trendiest designer shops, chic nightclubs, an array of five-star international hotels, and gourmet restaurants staffed by some of the best chefs thriving next to traditional food sellers and traditional markets.
You will sit in the worst traffic you have probably ever seen where an endless river of motorbikes swirl around cars like a wild river churns around its boulders. You’ll breathe some of the most polluted air in the world. A rat will likely cross your path more than once. You will likely be repulsed by the sight and smell of the open sewers and heavily polluted canals. And, the grinding poverty with its dirty street children, deformed people, and the elderly begging for their next meal in the shadow of a sleek high-rise will break your heart.
Through all the challenges of being in Jakarta, remember that you are witnessing the coming of age of a very young nation and of a people who struggled under colonial rule for centuries.
Jakarta is a traveler’s city and a business city – not a tourist city. You will enjoy and learn from Jakarta to the extent you discard any preconceived notions of how things ought to be, or how things were back home and accept, experience, and respect what is.
Book a ticket, buckle your seatbelt and ready yourself for one of the most dynamic experiences you will ever encounter.
Jakarta Food & Drink
The challenge is not finding something good to eat in Jakarta – it’s deciding what to eat. Jakarta restaurants are as diverse as Indonesia itself. From basic, traditional food served by street vendors to 5-star luxury hotels, Jakarta has it all. As you spend some time here, I’m sure you’ll develop your own favorites, but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite places to eat in Jakarta to get you started.
If you love fresh seafood, head over to Everfresh Fish Market. They have a wide range of fresh seafood, both on ice and in their live aquariums. You begin your dining experience by selecting what you want from the aquariums, or from the displays. Then, they ask you how you want it prepared. After that, it’s just a short wait at your table until your fresh seafood arrives, cooked just the way you wanted it. Be careful though, sometimes one’s eyes can be bigger than their stomach.
The bill usually runs from Rp 50,000 to Rp 100,000 per person.
Traditional Javanese Food
For Traditional Javanese food, it’s hard to beat Warung Mbah Jingkrak. Their slogan is: “When great taste and exotic ambiance meet,” something I think they achieve quite well. Your table is in a traditional Javanese garden, complete with pools and wooded bridges. It’s a bit dark, traditional music is playing, along with the sound of the water fountain – a very nice atmosphere.
Try the Rawon Klewung – a spicy beef stew with a broth created from sautéing a variety of spices in oil and blending them into the simmering soup. The rich black color comes from the main spice – keluak, which is a black nut. Price: Rp 18,000
Traditional Sundanese Food
Gurame (Gourami) is a freshwater fish native to South East Asia. Tahu/Tempe Tepung is tofu and tempe rolled in flour and deep fried.
Dapur Sunda is my favorite for traditional Sundanese food. The Sundanese people are from what is now West Java. Their food is the spiciest of all Javanese food. They mix many more varieties of spices into their food, than do their Javanese neighbors. The Sundanese have traditionally eaten lots of salads and fish.
Dapur Sunda is a chain restaurant, so it’s not much on ambiance, but the food is great, and the price is reasonable.
The location I have eaten at is on the second floor of Setia Budi One (the middle building of a three building office and restaurant complex) on Jl. HR Rasuna Said. Any Taxi driver will know where it is.
Chinese Indonesian Food
Another great choice, also on the second floor of Setia Budi One on Jl. HR Rasuna Said, is Ta Wan – A Chinese Indonesian restaurant that specializes in porridge. It not only porridge though – everything is fantastic, and reasonably priced.
If you’d like to explore the village (kampung) near Setia Budi, Matahari Restaurant has very authentic Chinese Indonesian food, at very reasonable prices. It’s a bit tricky to find, but if you’re adventurous, and in the mood for a 10 minute walk, go out the back of Setia Budi past the fountains. When you get to the street, turn left, walk to the curve in the road, and go up the hill to the first intersection – turn right, walk to the next intersection, and turn left, walk to the next intersection, and turn left again. Follow that road about 200 meters and Matahari will be on your right. If you get lost, just ask. Everyone will be happy to point the way.
One of my Matahari favorites – Ayam Kung Pau, Tumis Kacang Panjang + Tempe, and Juice Jambu. If you get tired of the local food, it’s hard to beat Ya-Udah Bistro. Their food is really good, and reasonably priced. They have steaks, pasta, sandwiches, salads, burgers, and some Indonesian food too. The restaurant is open on the front – there’s no air conditioning so it can be hot during the day, but mornings and evenings it’s a comfortable place to eat, or hang out while taking advantage of their free wi-fi.
Traditional Food Courts
If you want to eat a bit cheaper, have the flavor of street food, but eat it in a more hygienic environment than on the street, all the malls have food courts serving every traditional dish imaginable.
The food court at Ambassador Mall has nearly 50 food outlets at prices similar to what you would find at street level. It’s good, basic, and cheap eating. Ambassador Mall is on Jl. Prof. Dr. Satrio, in Kuningan.
If you’d like a great view of Jakarta while enjoying some pretty average food, Plaza Semanggi has a food court on an outdoor patio on the 10th floor. There is often live entertainment in the evening. It’s located at Jl. Jenderal Sudirman 50.
The best place I have found to eat street food in Jakarta is set-up every evening in Menteng Plaza, next to the Hotel Formula 1, on Jl. Cikini Raya. It draws a huge crowd of Indonesians every night of the week, so it must be good. I’ve always had a great meal there. Just tell the taxi driver, “Plaza Menteng.”
Enjoy your Jakarta food experience!
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