A Gastronomical Adventure in Jakarta - Part 2 of 2

If horrendous traffic and hygiene violation do not make you turn back, then you are ready to delight your palate. In Jakarta, food outlets can be broadly categorized into four classes. First is the street hawkers and vendors that are commonly referred to as kaki lima (due to the fact that they have five legs - 2 from the push cart, 1 from the push cart stand and 2 more from the guy). Second is the home-style family-run food outlets that are usually situated at Ruko (Rumah Toko - literally translate to Home Office). Third is the fast-food or franchise chained establishments that are usually found in the shopping malls. Last is of course the fine-dining options reserved for the non-budget conscious.

Street Hawkers - The Art of Enjoying True Indonesian Delicacies
Street hawkers usually sells tasty local favorites. One of the most common and most popular street food in Indonesia is probably the fritter. A pushcart fritter hawker usually sells items such as Tahu Goreng (plain fried tofu), Tahu Goreng Isi (fried tofu with vegetable fillings), Tempe Goreng, Pisang Goreng, Bakwan Goreng (vegetable fritter) and Ubi Goreng (sweet potato). While the taste may be addictive (especially the Tahu Goreng Isi), one common criticism of fritter hawkers is their use of unhealthy cooking oil that is used over and over again. Pushcart fritter hawkers are common sight and you can find them in almost every corner of Jakarta. Each fritter piece costs around Rp. 1,000 (US$0.10~$0.15).

Another very popular street food is Bakso (Meat Ball). Traditionally, bakso are made of beef meat. What makes it special is the tangy taste and succulent texture. However, even till today, what kind of meat used to make these bakso remain a mystery. Bakso hawkers use pushcarts too and can also be found almost everywhere in Jakarta. If you prefer something that is slightly more classy and hygienic, you can head down to the legendary Bakso AFUNG located at Jalan Mangga Besar (West Jakarta). Or if you happen to be in South Jakarta, you may want to try the first original Bakso Lapangan Tembak Senayan outlet that is located in Senayan. Over the years, large number of bakso variants have been invented such as bakso malang, bakso tenis and bakso loncat. A bowl of bakso bought from street hawkers cost around Rp. 10,000 (US$1) while a bowl bought from establishments such as AFUNG and Bakso Lapangan Tembak may cost up to Rp. 35,000 (US$4).

Equally popular street food is Bakmi or Noodle. Bakmi Ayam (Chicken Noodle) is the most common of all. Unlike pork, chicken is consumable by both the Muslims and majority of the population. Like bakso hawkers, noodle hawkers can be found in many parts of Jakarta. Of course, like any other street dish in Indonesia, the common criticism of noodle hawkers is their use of ingredients. But rest assured, the noodle-eating culture seems to have taken root in almost everyone living in Jakarta. More hygienic and not less mouthwatering options are plenty. Just to name a few, Bakmi Gajah Mada (Bakmi GM) located at one of Jakarta's busiest road of Gajah Mada is a good place to try what this particular delicacy taste like. Alternatives such as Bakmi Naga and Bakmi Gang Kelinci are common in the shopping malls these days. Bakmi Kadut is another road-side establishment that has cult-like patronizers. It is also located along Jalan Gajah Mada but only open from 6-7PM till midnight. Owing to its huge popularity, many Bakmi Kadut copycats have been sprouting up along the same road. So, do not be fooled and make sure you pick the right one. Another eateries with similar cult-like patronizers is Kwetiau Akang located at the heart of Muara Karang (North Jakarta) and serves Chinese-style version of the noodle dish. A bowl of noodle bought from street hawkers cost around Rp. 8,000-10,000 (US$1) while a bowl from establishments such as those mentioned above may cost between Rp. 25,000-35,000 depending on its portion, meat ingredients and location.

Sate (Meat Skewers) is another local favorite. Popular flavors are Sate Ayam (chicken) or Sate Kambing (mutton). What makes Indonesian Sate special is probably the mouthwatering peanut sauce that is served together with lontong (rice cake). Sate hawkers usually come out only at night and they will go around pushing their carts while shouting "saTEEEE...." But be warned that the freshness of the meat used is not guaranteed and I would not recommend trying sate from these street vendors. Instead, go to more established eateries if you want to introduce yourself to the taste of sate.

There are few famous eatery localization. Jalan Sabang is one of them. Here, you can find some of the most renowned street hawkers from the much sought after nasi goreng sosis (sausage fried rice) to the sinful chicken sate to the celebrity-owned Kopi Tiam Oey. Being located few steps away from Jalan Thamrin (CBD), Jalan Sabang is popular even among executives. This is where they would go to find good, cheap foods that still retain the old charm of Jakarta. Muara Karang is another one of them and it is known as seafood paradise.

From Street Hawkers to Modern Eateries
In recent years, lifestyle of people in Jakarta has been undergoing significant evolution. With new and large shopping malls mushrooming and popping up every few months, people are moving towards urban lifestyle. Family-run eateries have to reinvent to make themselves relevant. Some managed to survive while many others have to wind down. The lack of succession planning and mismanagement resulted in many traditional recipes - with some being hundreds of years old - being lost.

Nonetheless, no matter how much I love my childhood experience with street food, recommending it to visitors (especially if it is your first time) seems a little too hard core even to myself. The better way to acquaint yourself with local delicacies is probably to try some of the more well-established eatery. Kafe Betawi is one such example. They have outlets in major shopping malls. They serve wide range of authentic Betawi cuisines, from Soto Betawi (signature dish of Jakarta) to Sop Buntut (Oxtail soup), from Gado-gado (vegetable salad served with peanut sauce) to Ketoprak to Lontong Sayur.

If you prefer a more exotic dining experience, you can try Dapur Baba or Loro Jonggrang. They display a glimpse of authentic Indonesian architecture, but taken rather to the extreme. So the moment you step inside, you will either love or hate it. They used to be a popular choice among office executives who need to entertain their foreign guests. Today, many other great options exist. Seribu Rasa is one of them. Located in Menteng, it is today one of the most highly frequented food establishment in Jakarta. While these restaurants offer a great way of tasting Indonesian cuisines, they do not come cheap. Nonetheless, it is worth trying at one of these restaurants when you happen to touch down in Jakarta.

I guess a culinary trail in a city as big as Jakarta is worthy of a blog by itself. Through this short (but rather lengthy) entry of my digital travel diary, I hope you have some idea about the kind of gastronomical experience that you can have when you are planning a trip to Jakarta.

A Gastronomical Adventure in Jakarta - Part 1 of 2

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