JAKARTA FOOD TRIP

Its reputation as a land of stalled traffic precedes it, but I always tell friends and ilk to get over it to see Jakarta’s appeal. Everyone descends to the archipelago’s capital city to shop in its grand malls, eat in formal restaurants or roadside eateries, and catch a movie or concert in town.

Jakarta is the melting pot of diverse ethnic tribes; it is home to nine million+ Indonesians chasing their dreams. The landscape is a panoramic view of towering buildings in a melange of glass and steel that mirror all-business in the morning and pleasure-and-leisure when night falls. When I first landed in the city, I was struck by its vastness – the highways, malls and distances of places – and the people’s standoffish demeanour. Relocating three years ago, I am still gobsmacked by its immensity and the locals’ reticence, which, I discovered, disappeared when you smile. This cordiality extends even to road mishaps: the absence of anger and intense gesticulation are amazing.

But whether an Indonesian lives in Jakarta or outside, they are united by their love of food. It breaks down social barriers and glosses over agonizing traffic snarls. They are ready to jostle for parking spaces and seats to dine in a formal restaurant or roadside eatery.

Dinner is available from 6pm onwards at warung tendah.

Dinner is available from 6pm onwards at warung
tendah.

Tented Dinner

My flatmate introduced me to roadside dining at the side of Tempo Scan Tower on Jl HR Rasuna Said Kav 3- 4. A row of tented eateries, collectively called warung tendah, open after office hours, targeting office workers burning the midnight oil. The road narrows considerably when the vendors set up. I gravitated towards one eatery, my flatmate’s favourite, which is easily identified by its speciality – ayam pecel, deep-fried chicken with chilli sauce, rice, cucumber and mint leaves. Other popular menu items are pecel lele (deep-fried catfish with chilli sauce) and fried chicken innards – usus (intestines), hati (liver), and ampla (gizzard).  Most of the diners, like us, ate under an incandescent light hanging overhead while others packed to go.

It’s sacrilegious, my flatmate said, not to have nasi goreng, one of the country’s national dishes, so I ordered a plate from the man working the wok at the side.  Served piping hot, I revelled at the cornucopia of flavours – garlic, chilli, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and sunny side up egg.

Dinner is available from 6pm onwards at warung tendah.

The secret to pecel ayam is the pecel or chilli sauce.

One of the nasi goreng vendors whipping up a dish of nasi goreng in a jiffy.

One of the nasi goreng vendors whipping up a dish of nasi goreng in a jiffy.

Unpack your nasi goreng istimewa and dig in.

Unpack your nasi goreng istimewa and dig in.

Spice it Up

It was a hot dinner for me at Chamoe-Chamoe (said chamoo-chamoo), a restaurant serving spicy Menadonese fare. It’s a bit difficult to find it, but once you locate Blossom Boutique Outlet on Jl. Jend Sudirman Kav 52-55 Selatan SCBD, Chamoe-Chamoe is on your right.

Earth colours and soft lighting greet you at Chamoe-Chamoe.

Earth colours and soft lighting greet you at Chamoe-Chamoe.

The wonderful thing about Chamoe-Chamoe is you can adjust the dishes’ spiciness. Indonesians, my flatmate told me, rank the spiciness according to levels, with 0 being like a fillip on the wrist and 10 being tongue-and-gut burning. Our waiter’s recommendations: kuah asam ikan bobara, bobara fish in sour spicy soup; waku belanga kepala kerapu, fish head soup with vegetable; perkedel jagung, spicy crunchy corn patties; kangkung cah, fresh and crunchy sautéed kangkong with garlic; bunga papaya caklng, green papaya salad to cleanse the palate; and sate ayam, chicken barbecue topped with chilli sauce.

My chilli tolerance is a bit weak so I added ayam goreng kecap tondano, deep-fried chicken with sweet sauce, to the order list that had me finishing my portion of Japanese-like rice to the last grain.

It's one spicy feast at Chamoe-Chamoe.

It’s one spicy feast at Chamoe-Chamoe.

 

Solo Grilled Chicken

Ayam bakar (grilled chicken) my favourite Indonesian dish and the best ayam bakar is from Wong Solo, which has outlets scattered across the country. The branch I went to with friends in Jakarta is at Jl. Lapangan Roos No. 29 Tebet Raya, near Tebet station. We wanted to go for the “al fresco” area where diners sit on the floor because it’s much cooler compared to the enclosed area fitted with ceiling fans, but it was full.

Simple setting at Wong Solo but you're in for one scrumptious dining experience.

Simple setting at Wong Solo but you’re in for one scrumptious dining experience.

The menu features several meal combos to choose from with ayam bakar being the number one choice. Completing our order of ayam bakar were sop ayam, chicken soup with vegetables; cumi goreng tepung, calamari; tumis kangkong, stir-fried kangkong with garlic; tumis tauge with ikan teri, stir-fried bean sprouts with dried anchovies; tahu goreng, fried tofu; and nasi goreng ayam, chicken fried rice. Cooked on the spot, the vegetables were fresh and crunchy, the grilled chicken succulent and the fried rice and tofu far from oily.

From ayam bakar to tahu goreng, it's a cornucopia of delights at Wong Solo.

From ayam bakar to tahu goreng, it’s a cornucopia of delights at Wong Solo.

Talk about desserts is mute. The sweet ending to dining is found in the flavours that Indonesian cuisine has to offer. Dessert is another food trail to explore on your next trip.

Photography by Rico Jay Falcunitin

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