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Jakarta – the Asian foodies’ paradise you probably don’t know about

If you have visited Singapore, you will know why it is famous for its food. You may be surprised to know that Jakarta is a foodies’ paradise too – but in Jakarta there are more cuisines and dining options to choose from, and they cost a lot less.

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THINK ABOUT IT this way … Indonesia consists of 34 provinces with more than 1,000 recognized ethnic groups. Most have local cuisines or local variations of national dishes.

And over the past 100 years tens of thousands of people from all the provinces and most of the ethnic groups have flocked to Jakarta, bringing their cuisines and signature dishes with them.

Add to the mix an overlay of Chinese, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Dutch, Italian, Greek and just about every other category of international cuisine (yep, even the ubiquitous McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC, and their home-grown imitators).

Unsurprisingly, the result is a food scene that absolutely spoils you for choice of both foods and styles of eating. Indonesians love good food and Jakarta abounds in restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, food courts, and hawkers selling street foods. It’s magic.

Streets, malls, markets, and parking lots

Jakarta’s food vendors are famous. You will find them in the streets, in the shopping malls, in and around the hotels and transport hubs, and especially in and around the markets.

Many magically pop-up only at night in daytime parking areas. They are cheap, colorful, and friendly, and the food is typically safe, fresh, and delicious. Vendors develop loyal followings of regulars.

Here’s an excellent video about Jakarta’s street food markets and vendors from the YouTube Best Ever Food Review Show – You can check the names of the dishes and prices in the YouTube show notes.

The prices, convenience, and quality mean many locals don’t much bother cooking meals at home. Their attitude is why bother?

Not to mention the opportunity for convivial chat and joking with friends, neighbors and associates – a favorite Indonesian pastime.

For visitors, just watching the wizardry of some of the street vendors in preparing their dishes can be enthralling entertainment.

Why not be a little bold and do your tastebuds a favor

There is not enough space here for complete detail about food styles or eating places. But I urge you to move on from the ‘safe’ and boring ‘international’ menu on offer in your hotel and check what’s out there in the cafes and the streets.

If that’s too big a stretch, choose one of Jakarta’s many excellent and well-appointed restaurants. Ask the wait staff to recommend popular local dishes.

Jakarta has superb fine dining and casual restaurants offering a wide range of local, ethnic, and international cuisine choices.

GOING UPMARKET ...

We may not agree with all the selections or rankings but this video from the Apricot Wanderers channel will give you an idea of restaurant quality in Jakarta. There are thousands more with a huge variety of cuisines and price points.

Now here’s a place that should go in your little black book for Jakarta – Mike Chen from the Strictly Dumplings channel believes Jakarta has a champion Sunday brunch buffet deal (actually it’s one of many). Take a look, and decide whether Mike deserves a Gold Medal for the quantity of food he puts away

Contemporary greenhouse styling in the Three Buns Restaurant in Jakarta (Pic inhabitat.com ) – its specialty gourmet burgers, and (BELOW) the Skye restaurant and bar atop  te BCA Tower – Pic Jakarta Post.

Sky Rooftop bar and restaurant Jakarta from drone

Still feeling uncertain about where to go - maybe try a food tour

If you are still nervous about Jakarta’s food options – especially the street food – then perhaps try an introductory culinary tour.

You will find plenty of food tours and guides listed and reviewed on the Internet who will steer you through the overwhelming choices, keep you safe and ensure you try variety and quality.

They will take you to one of the specialist foodie areas like the alleys of the Glodok Chinatown market in North Jakarta. It is renowned for its local cafes and street foods. (You can do some market-place bargain hunting or check out the Chinese medicines and remedies while in the area.)

Lenggang Food Court in Central Jakarta from the street

Tenggang Food Court near Freedom Park in Central Jakarta – it has more than 300 vendors and carnival rides for children – Pic aeronbinang.com

Another option is the Lenggang food court opened in a former parking area for Merdeka Square and the MONAS national monument in 2015. It has more than 300 vendors and a huge variety of offerings in clean, pleasant surroundings. But it can be crowded.

There has been talk of upgrading the Merdeka Square area with the food vendors to be moved to another location, possibly near the close-by Gambir railway station. So if you have no guide then check before you go searching.

Put these local Jakarta food specialties on your list

A Jakarta specialty to seek out is Martabak Manis. It has been described as ‘a caloric masterpiece of fluffy pancake’ stuffed with chocolate sprinkles, crushed peanuts, sesame seed, condensed milk, and cheese.

Martabak Keju (ceese) - Jakarta street food

Savory Martabak Keju (cheese) from Martabak AA in South Jakarta – Pic from Indoindians.com

It sounds grotesque, and it’s sweet, very sweet. But for anyone with even a hint of a sweet tooth, it’s truly delicious. Martabak Manis is popular throughout Indonesia.

If sweet is not your thing, there are delicious and hugely popular savoury martabak options with fillings of egg, cheese, and meats enhanced with herbs and spices.

An unusual snack to try is Kerak Telor, a dish of the original Betawi people of the Jakarta region. It’s a kind of omelette of duck eggs, sticky rice, and spices.

Part of its appeal is in the making. The ingredients are mixed in a pan over flames. Then the pan is flipped so the kerak telor has direct contact with the heat. The result is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. 

Soto Betawi - famous Jakarta street food specialty

Popular Sop Betawi – beef simmered in herbs and coconut milk. Its a Jakarta street food specialty Pic Wiki Commons

Another Jakarta favorite is Sop Betawi, sometimes also known as Jakarta Beef Soup. Chunky pieces of beef and offal are simmered in a spicy broth of coconut milk and herbs. It is topped with slices of tomato and green onion. Deelishhh!

THE BIG PICTURE

If you are into food, Jakarta is probably one of the great places to be. It offers tantalizing choices while being extraordinarily kind to your budget.

If you are a newcomer, you may at first find the massive range of foods and eating styles overwhelming. The trick is to just get out there and start tasting. If there is something you don’t like then you can easily afford to try something else.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance – there will be someone nearby with enough English to help. For a quick and expert introduction engage a guide or take a food tour.

One note of caution – Indonesian food can be hot and spicy. If you would like a little less of the fiery stuff the magic words are TOLONG TIDAK (pron tee-dah) PEDAS. (It means please not spicy hot.)

And if it all gets too much, you can always pop into a Maccas, a KFC (they serve rice as well as French fries) or a Starbucks for a break.

Go discover!

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