Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Jan 27, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Friday, January 4, 2008

Jakarta is the melting pot of every culture in Indonesia, plus the international side of it. Growing up in Jakarta, we have a long list of must-eat, so long it seems that five meals a day will not even make it.

Padang food - the spicy and curry-based dishes from Sumatra is a must have. Our favourite has been Sederhana - a chain of humble place but great food at a fraction of 'lush' Padang resto such as Sari Ratu. Beef rendang (close to thai's masaman curry), chicken curry, spicy (and sauce so red of chilly) egg dish, curry-based veggies.

Oh, they also have soto (indonesian beef/chicken soup specific to the area, probably around 50 different soto), gulai kepala ikan (the curry based fish), all the internal organs and brain and tendon and 'babat' (only god and devotees know which part of the stomach, not for me thanks). Tempting (and not expensive) as it might be, tasting each will extend lunch to 3 hours (stomach upset can be the side effect due to the spicy and rich sauces.
The unique way of serving padang food is entertaining enough for the jrs - the waitress took all 10 or 12 disshes in small plates piling up like pyramid on his arm. And yes, you pay what you eat only.

Another must-have in Jakarta is Bakmi Gajah Mada - the chain of noodle resto famous for decades. I still remember their first humble outlet at Gajah mada street in western Jakarta (hence the name, bakmi simply means noodle) as weekend treat from my childhood. Special noodle thin and soft (nowhere to be found, at least not in Jakarta where noodle vendors and small eateries and resto can be found every 300 meter!). OTher than the normal chicken noodle with soup or dumplings or meatballs, they have noodle with stir fry beef or sweet and sour chicken.   

Soto mie is another popular beef soup (originally from Jakarta??) - noodle with thinly sliced cabbage, meat slices and spring roll slices on top. Delish soup difficult to describe.

Toge Goreng is another signature dish - noodle with bean sprout (the 'toge'), slices of tofu and boiled egg, topped with rich tomato-miso based sauce. There's one super-humble smaller than hawker-stall outlet just behind Pasar Baru in central jakarta which has been there for 3 generations. You might wonder why they're still there if their food is so famous, but there's this belief among these traditional food enterpreneurs that leaving the original humble shop for a better place might ruin their fortune. Despite the not-so-hygienic look, the germs are all boiled with the noodle and bean sprout...

Empek-empek is probably more snack, afternoon-tea type of food. This is the fish-cake based dish from Palembang, Sumatra, served with noodle, slices of cucmber and the brownish thin sweet and so-sour sauce. Different shapes other than the normal fish-cake shape, including the "kapal selam" literarlly means the submarine, which has egg yolk in the middle of the fist-size fish cake.

Bakso is another snack-afternoonish : noodle or vermicelli with meatballs and beef stock soup. Street vendors, small warung to part of any resto's menu, every person in Jakarta has his or her own favourite. It's either the soup, the crispy-ness of the meat ball, the chilly sauce, the atmosphere of the humble outlet, the memory and who-you-spend-time-with value attached to it, or the combination of all ....

Traditional chicken is abundant, mostly the west or central java style. Including Ayam Goreng Suharti (ms. suharti's fried chicken, originally from Jogjakarta?), ayam goreng Kalasan (kalasan being the name of supposedly its original place in central java near Jogjakarta ), the deep fried chicken marinated in coconut juice are among the most popular ones.  Their cousin is the ayam bakar (grilled chicken) from every part of indonesia, the sweet-sauce javanese style to hot and spicy ayam Taliwang (and I mean s-p-i-c-y with tears coming from my eyes and runny nose) style from Lombok.
Add to those the snacks - martabak (the sweet or savoury type usually by street vendors, probably one in 500 meter on the main streets!) The sweet is basically thick, large-pizza size, pan cooked, cut in half, topped with grated cheese, crushed peanut chunks or chocolate sprinkle  before the other half put on top.
The savoury one is thin, crisp wrap of chicken or beef mince, egg, shallot and onion slices, fried in flat wok. This comes with thin sweet and sour sauce and cucmber pickle.

(Let's skip the post script of this feast after so many years eating non-spicy other than thai-on-the-corner. Squeezing my loudly-protesting stomach and spoonfuls of antacid, still, it's worth it......)
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