Ah, Jakarta. Not an easy city to love. Legendary traffic jams with equally horrendous air quality, inhabited by the most unfriendly, materialistic Indonesians I’ve ever met, and where the contrasting extremes of wealth and poverty makes me sick. The city really doesn’t have much going for it. Except for the food. Oh, my.
I typically make an annual trip home around January-February to soak up Vitamin Sea and Vitamin D and to avoid the cold dark Berlin winter for a few weeks. For whatever reason, I didn’t make it till March this year, traveling for three weeks sans the handsome-and-talented husband. While there are disadvantages to traveling without him, the biggest plus is that I can eat all the Indonesian food my
heart tastebuds desires.
This time I would spend the first week in Jakarta, before spending two weeks in Bali, where my sister now lives. My parents would join us in Bali for a brief family vacation and I’d have a week alone where I can dive to my heart’s content.
Bali is great for Balinese food and Western food, but sorely lacks decent eateries serving other Indonesian cuisines like Sundanese and Padang food. So in my Jakarta week, I was determined to cross as much comfort food as I can off my food list. When I realised that I had a list of people to see, I simply mapped food and people together. I never had a solo meal and was always in the presence of family and friends who amplified my spirit and made me laugh till I cry.
Family, friends, food; that’s what my Jakarta trip was all about.
Padang (Minangkabau) food
Ubiquitous across the Indonesian archipelago, Padang (Minangkabau) cuisine is best known for their rich curries, especially their beef rendang. I fell in love with it as a kid, and it’s still one of my favourites. Dining at a Padang eatery is always such fun: they bring you small plates of every dish they do, and you pick what you want and only pay for those. You can always ask for seconds, and ask for more rice.
The Minangkabau people are a matrilineal society. Young boys live at home, before they reach adulthood, and once they’re married, they move to their wives’ family home. So what to do between moving out as an adult and getting married? They travel! Wherever they travel, they cook and open Padang restaurants. That’s the supposed story of how Padang food got ubiquitous across the country.
My cousins picked me up from the airport and we immediately drove to Garuda, a family favourite, on Arteri Pondok Indah for a late Padang dinner. OMG, as you can see from the photo above, I completely lost my head. So good! As an opening meal to my Jakarta trip, I couldn’t have had a better one. My cousins know what rocks my socks.
Later in the week, my cousins and I made it to Marco Padang in PIM 3’s Street Gallery. My good friend, John, had been raving about Marco’s food for a while now, and I had to give it a try. I was not disappointed. The food was awesome: my favourite was “daging betokok”, grilled beef strips with green chili. Marco’s differs from other Padang restaurants in that he doesn’t serve family-style, and rather individual dishes beautifully plated.
My mother’s family is predominantly Sundanese from West Java, so I’ve always had a sweet spot for Sundanese food. In contrast to the rich, coconut milk dishes present in Padang/Minangkabau cuisine, Sundanese food has a fresher, simpler taste. Fresh sliced vegetables and various sambal dips accompany grilled fish and chicken and salted fish.
The Sundanese definitely have a thing for salted, cured fish: all types of fish can be salt-cured, with the most famous being “jambal” which you simply eat it with steamed rice and dollops of chili dips. While the fermented food of choice for the Javanese is tempe, the Sundanese have oncom, made from peanut presscakes. So yum!
Another typically Sundanese way of cooking is “pepes”: which is wrapping food like fish, vegetables, tofu with mixed spices and occasionally grated coconuts in banana leaves and steaming them. Again, eaten with a dab of chili, with simply steamed rice.
We typically eat with our hands. A lot of the Indonesian street food were originally served in banana leaves and either eaten with the hands, or in the case of sate, with bamboo skewers which you use to pick up the blocks of rice cake or “lontong”. I like this concept of biodegradable crockery and cutlery which you just toss into the compost bin.
Spicy is the name of the game. If you love a disco in your mouth and love seafood sans rich coconut milk sauces, Manadonese is the way to go.
Sami, Angki and Ata met me one Saturday and we spent the whole day together. We ate well at Jakarta’s most well-known Manadonese restaurants, Beautika in Kebayoran Baru. Serving style is picking what dishes you want from the counter and they’ll bring all the dishes to your table to enjoy family-style.
Hands down, the best dish I’ve had on trip was their cakalang rica. Cakalang is skipjack tuna. Rica-rica is the signature Manadonese red chili sauce. This dish uses smoked cakalang, just beautiful, doused in a healthy dose of spicy rica. Puts a disco in my mouth, leaving your lips tingling (like when you kiss someone you really like :)). My cousins know how to rock my socks.
I ate a bunch of other things too…
Thanks for reading!
See you in the next trip write-up!