How is the food in Jakarta

Jakarta Food Journal 1: The city, the people and the food

This is the beginning of the Jakarta Food Journal. In a series of posts I will report on my journey to the culinary heart of the Indonesian capital. Fast your tastebuds and follow me!

The trip

“Where do you want to go so late?” Asks the young officer who could be my son. It is shortly after 10:00 p.m. when I show my travel document at passport control at Frankfurt Airport. I grin inwardly at the comment, because late is different, but answer politely: I want to go to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur.

A trip to the culinary heart of the Indonesian capital lies ahead of me - it is the prize that I won as the winner of the blog event Streetfood & Sambal at the 2015 Book Fair; Indonesia was the guest of honor there last year. At the invitation of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism, I will spend five days in Jakarta, visiting chefs and culinary experts, eating in restaurants and at street food markets and discovering the historical and modern side of Jakarta. When planning the trip I decided against Bali because I had been there before and because I was curious about a city in which the whole diversity of Indonesian cuisine and local culture is united like in a magnifying glass. I had discussed the flight and program with my contact person Panji Pamungkas via email, but now that it really starts I'm a little nervous. How will this city, how will its people receive me?

The country

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, the state consists of over 17,000 islands, 8,000 of which are inhabited.

More than half of the population of 250 million, namely 143 million, live on Java, in the greater Jakarta area alone there are over 30 million. 30 million and me in the middle. My nervousness increases when I board the plane to Jakarta after a few days in Kuala Lumpur. The Islamist attack in the center of the city sits in the back of the mind, as does the sheer size of the city. At the same time, I'm curious and full of expectation, a mixture that makes traveling so exciting for me. Because if you don't venture out of your own comfort zone, you won't experience anything new. Because after all, I am on the go to experience new things; I want to learn more about this fascinating country with its diverse ethnic groups and its culinary specialties. When we land, I suddenly notice that I don't even know whether Panji is a male or female first name. I only have one Whatsapp message and it is: I'm wearing blue clothes and waiting for you at the exit.

The town

The humid, humid warmth of the tropics greets me as I step out of the airport building. Less than a minute later, Panji waves to me. As described, he wears a blue shirt and blue pants and greets me warmly. The gender issue is now resolved and my adventure in Jakarta can begin. It seems to be true what I read about the city before my visit: the noise is deafening, the air bad and the traffic chaos and the many traffic jams time-consuming and nerve-wracking. In terms of tourism, Jakarta is more of a sideline, as the sights are limited. Two places are exemplary of the history of the city. On the one hand, the remains of the old Batavia, as the city was called during the times of Dutch power - faded witnesses to the colonial past. Not much has remained: a market square, which is lined with historical buildings, as well as a few surrounding streets and museums. After all, the district is the only one that is car-free, if you like you can explore it by bike.

Merdekaplatz, Independence Square, is the opposite of this. This is where the heart of modern Jakarta beats. A 132-meter-high victory column with a gold-plated flame dominates the complex, which was built by Sukarno, the first president of the independent Republic of Indonesia, to witness the victory over the colonial power of the Netherlands. Around the huge square are the Emmanuel Church, shared by Lutherans and Reformed, the Catholic Cathedral and the Istiqlal Mosque, which was also built under Sukarno. It offers space for 120,000 worshipers, making it the second largest mosque in the world. I don't see much of the houses of prayer, the square acts like a big magnet to me, which magically pulls all vehicles that approach it in order to steer them around on invisible paths and then spit them out in all directions.

It's these huge dimensions of the city, the masses of people, motorbikes, buses, Bajais and cars that overwhelm me, but also fascinate me. Jakarta feels to me like a monster that you cannot defeat, but with which you can live if you submit to it.

I'm naturally quite sensitive to noise and I don't really like large crowds, but strangely enough, none of this bother me much. I don't feel unsafe for a moment either, although my hotel is very close to the terrible attack. And I quickly realize why that is. It is the people, their unbiased friendliness, their endless patience and their warm affection that make Jakarta so special. Under the hectic and seemingly chaotic surface lies a carefully knotted, fine blanket of human warmth, helpfulness and happiness, in which everyone I meet generously and without reservations envelops me.

The human

From the porter to the driver, from the service staff to the street vendor, from the cook to the hotel manager - the people I meet in these five intense days are very close to themselves, very authentic and very open. Everyone welcomes me and patiently answers my questions and my camera.

Even Ratna Suranti, Marketing Director at the Ministry of Tourism, takes the time to greet me personally. The conversation is about the tourist attractiveness of Indonesia, about cultural monuments and natural treasures. The specialist has an unusual hobby, she is an enthusiastic diver and knows the best places in the diverse underwater world of Indonesia.

William Wongso is also a profound expert on the Indonesian island world, but his specialty is culinary art. For years he traveled from island to island, always looking for the best regional specialties. He generously shares his inexhaustible wealth of knowledge with me. I feel like I'm in a land of milk and honey when an employee suddenly shows up with a freshly roasted chicken during our interview. Crispy on the outside, boned on the inside and filled with an aromatic minced meat filling, the first bite is a revelation.

As soon as we have eaten the bird, William suggests spontaneously that we try the dishes on the island of Lombok with me. He takes me to a simple restaurant in his neighborhood in South Jakarta and orders a cross-section of typical dishes. They are mainly characterized by the intensive use of trassi, the fermented shrimp paste that is so important in Indonesian cuisine. The satay skewers, the sauteed water spinach, the baked tempeh and the chicken have a very intense trassi taste that takes some getting used to for my taste buds. I can hardly keep up with eating, taking photos and making notes. William patiently answers my questions and spells out the names of dishes that are strange to me.

But that's not all. A short time later we are sitting in another restaurant called Saté Ku, which, in Williams' opinion, grills the best lamb and satay skewers in town. Freshly cut and cooked over red-hot coals, they are carried to the table with a hiss on a cast iron plate. I'm almost bursting, but can't resist and lo and behold, in some corner of my stomach there is actually still room for these wonderful skewers.

When I say goodbye, William invites me for the next morning, with the terse note that some of his friends are coming to lunch and that I can look over the shoulder of his cook, Herman, while the food is being prepared. How that day went and what William said with a few friends, more about that in a separate post.

Another highlight is the reunion with Bara Pattiradjawane, one of the most famous TV chefs in the country. Bara is practically the Tim Mälzer of Indonesia. I met him in the kitchen of the Gourmet Gallery at the Frankfurt Book Fair when I was preparing my show cooking event there. We loosely agreed to meet in Jakarta, and Bara kept his word. He invites me and his colleague, the well-known TV cook Sisca Soewitomo, to dinner in the Méradelima restaurant.

The reunion is warm and I am almost ashamed of the presents from the two of them. Bara brought me a wonderful hand-woven scarf from Bali and Sisca brought me a complete traditional Indonesian outfit, even though she doesn't even know me. There it is again, this unconditional friendliness. Fortunately, I also have presents ready so that I can return the favor a little. Of course, I immediately slip into the new garment, which is commented on with great amusement and documented on my mobile phone. Then there is already a multitude of well-filled plates and bowls on the table - authentic Peranakan cuisine. Bara and Sisca explain to me that people with Chinese roots are called Peranakan in Indonesia, and that Peranakan cuisine is accordingly a mixture of Indonesian and Chinese influences. In fact, the dishes taste different than anything I've tasted in the days before, you can clearly taste the Chinese origins, for example the typical sweet and sour aroma. However, this is mixed with Indonesian spices, herbs and coconut milk. An exciting culinary experience that I will report on again separately. And an unforgettable evening with great people who I miss very much.

Panji's help and support was great too. He not only organized the program, but also accompanied me on my daily forays through Jakarta. Without his calm prudence, his countless phone calls in the background, and his patience, I would have been lost and not have had a fraction of the experiences I came home with.

Panji led me from restaurant to restaurant to taste the local specialties with me, showed me street food stalls and markets. And arranged all of the meetings with Jakarta's vibrant culinary scene. Thank you so much for this experience, Panji, you helped me to broaden my taste and widen my cultural horizon so much!

The food

Jakarta is a city full of contrasts, also from a culinary point of view. From the simplest street food stand to the luxurious hotel restaurant, there are all shades. Really all of them! And - food is available practically at every turn at any time of the day or night; in no other city I know have I seen so many markets, street vendors and takeaways.

Saté skewers in all variations, baked bananas, pancakes filled with chocolate, laksa and oxtail soup a la Jakarta - the variety of dishes is incredible. My sense of taste constantly receives new information that makes me celebrate. And I find that there are not only thousands of kilometers geographically between the original and the European version of Indonesian food, but at least the same distance in terms of taste.

Should you eat anywhere on the street? I clearly say no, I also refused a few times. But that was not necessarily due to the food, which is usually cooked, but to the reusable tableware that many simple street food vendors use. This makes ecological sense, but if the plates are cleaned in dishwater, which looks more like sewage, then the health risk for us inexperienced tourists is very high. With the motto watching the food being prepared and looking at the sink, I drove great. Not once did I have stomach problems. And you can eat indifferently in the decent restaurants of the city anyway.

So, that's it, the first part of the Jakarta Food Journal. What else I ate how and where, which saucepans I was allowed to look into and how diverse the cuisine of Indonesia is, I will report in the next few days.

You can look forward to the following:

- Peranakan kitchen and two TV stars: Supercook Bara and Sisca Soewitomo
- Visit to a culinary authority: William Wongso
- Jakarta specialties: oxtail soup and soto betawi
- Street Food - sweet and savory snacks
- The best saté places in town
- The Kosenda Hotel - Cool Place, Cool People, Cool Atmosphere

And of course recipes

Soto Betawi - Jakarta beef soup

Kohu Kohu - spicy coconut and smoked fish salad

You can hear my live impressions from Jakarta at in the Food Correspondents section.

The trip was supported by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.


Barbara Steinbauer on February 17, 2016 / Indonesia culinary, Jakarta Food Journal, reports, world cuisine / 3 comments