Jakarta is truly Asia’s melting pot of cultures and cuisines. It is also the economic, political and educational center to Indonesia’s 261 million people from a chain of 17,000 islands spreading from the Indian to the Pacific oceans.
There’s never been a better time to visit Jakarta, the most overlooked city in Southeast Asia. During my three-week visit, I discovered Jakarta is inexpensive, the people are friendly, and all services rendered at the hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are top notch.
Jakarta is also a culinary paradise waiting to be explored. Here’s a look at some of the most delicious foods I ate while I was there:
1. Sundanese gurame goreng (fried flying fish)
When visiting Jakarta, one must try the Sundanese cuisine. Sundanese and Javanese are the largest ethnic groups in Java island. The Sundanese live mainly in West Java, and Jakarta and their cuisine is fresh, and the aroma is tantalizing.
Sweet, hot and spicy are the essence of the Sundanese cuisine. A Sundanese signature dish is gurame goreng (fried fish), better known by the locals as gurame terbang (flying fish). Gurame is a type of carp native to Java island. To prepare the dish, the fish is marinated in freshly ground spices, and freshly fried before serving.
Gurame goreng is served with rice and Sundanese shata (chili sauce) on the side.
2. Fried tempeh
Tempeh is Indonesian tofu, a type of fermented soybean product made from the whole soybean. The texture is harder than the usual soft Japanese tofu because the soybeans are not entirely crushed.
The fresh tempeh is coated with a batter made with flour, eggs, spices and chives and deep fried in vegetable oil.
3. Dadar gulung (Indonesian coconut pancake)
Dadar gulung are rolled crepe-like pancakes with freshly grated coconut and a brown sugar filling. Gulung in Indonesian means rolled. The green coloring of the pancakes is from the local pandan leaves. Pandan is an herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves. These fragrant leaves are savory-sweet and used in most desserts throughout Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia.
This traditional Indonesian snack is available for breakfast and tea time in Jakarta.
4. Nasi goreng and krupuk
Whether it is early morning or mid-afternoon, nasi goreng and krupuk is a sought-after dish in Jakarta. Nasi goreng is fried rice, but Indonesian fried rice is served with krupuk or deep fried shrimp crackers. Shrimp crackers are essential in serving Indonesian dish. You’ll find authentic nasi goreng in hotels’ restaurants, in the warung (small family-run shelter-style restaurant) and Jakarta street food stalls.
Bakso was former President Obama’s favorite Indonesian food when he was growing up in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971. Bakso is meatballs made from ground beef, and tapioca flour served with beef broth, noodles, and vegetables. There are many bakso joints in Jakarta, each with its version of the dish. Some of the meatballs are so large that it could fill up the whole bowl of noodles. This dish is best for lunch and during rainy days.
6. Indonesian sate
Sate are strips of marinated meat skewered and grilled and served with spicy peanut sauce. It’s a popular dish in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and The Netherlands as well. However, this chicken, mutton or beef skewered meat dish originated from the island of Java.
7. Gado Gado (mixed salad)
Gado Gado consists of boiled vegetables like cabbage, string beans, potatoes, corn mixed with boiled eggs, fried tofu and tempeh, all mixed in peanut sauce with terasi (dried shrimp paste). Some restaurants serve Gado Gado with krupuk (shrimp crackers).
8. Soto Betawi (Jakarta beef soup)
Soto is soup in the Indonesian language and in Indonesia there are variations of soto. The most famous soto in Jakarta is the Soto Betawi, named after the Betawi ethnic group in Jakarta. Soto Betawi is made of creamy coconut milk, herbs, spices, garlic, candlenuts topped with fried shallots.
9. Nasi Padang
Originated from the west coast province of the island of Sumatra is Indonesia’s most famous cuisine – Nasi Padang. The dish consists of a variety of pre-cooked spicy dishes served with white rice. In Jakarta, there are many Nasi Padang restaurants.
When you are at a Nasi Padang restaurant, the server will come with over ten small dishes of cooked food. Eat whatever you want and pay for the ones you consumed.
10.Pisang goreng (Indonesian fried bananas)
Banana is widely found throughout Indonesia. Besides eating it as a fruit, Indonesian use the ripened bananas for pisang goreng or fried bananas.
Article and photos by Claudia Looi