I lived in Jakarta for ten years, and graduated from high school there. Most of my days were taken up by homework or rehearsal for the school’s dance team, but every Friday we’d go to the mall and watch a movie. There’s not much else to do there, to be honest, except to eat delicious, delicious food. Nowadays I have a list of eats I power through whenever I head back to Jakarta (which is relatively often because my parents still live there).
If you happen to find yourself in Jakarta, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things to eat and do for you.
My love for Bakmi GM spans back over 20 years. The pangsit goreng (deep fried wontons) are the BEST you’ll find in Indonesia. Nobody knows the recipe or how the pastry is so crumbly and tasty. The other must-order dish is the bakmi – I generally go for the Bakmi GM Spesial. If you’re more of a rice-eater, the nasi goreng is a goodie, too.
There are so many types of sate in Indonesia, but my favorite is sate ayam (chicken satay). And being the carb-fiend I am, my even more favorite thing to do is to eat the accompanying lontong drowned in peanut sauce, more than the sate itself. Sate should be eaten on the streets, but if you’re wary about eating street food, the best restaurant for sate is Sate Khas Senayan.
There’s a savory and sweet version of martabak. My preference is always for martabak telor, the savory version, filled with eggs, spring onion, and typically beef mince. The sweet martabak is a thick pancake filled with your choice of peanuts, chocolate, condensed milk, and even cheese (Indonesians have an odd obsession with adding Kraft cheese to sweets). My favorite spot is Martabak Bandung Ken Ken, which we discovered because it’s in our neighborhood. But the famous ones are the likes of Martabak Pecenongan or Martabak Boss.
If I had to choose my top 3 favorite Indonesian dishes, gado gado would be in it (alongside martabak and sayur lodeh, a homecooked vegetable dish in a coconut milk soup). We get our favorite gado gado, a salad of cooked veggies with tofu, tempe, eggs and peanut sauce, from Gado Gado Yenny in Cinere. What’s special about it is that instead of the normal peanut sauce, it’s made with cashew nuts. Check out Irene’s post on the best gado gado in Jakarta to get a broader view of where to get good gado gado.
Sunday brunch at il mare at The Mulia
My dad loves Sunday brunches at il mare, where the booze flows freely and the food is Italian buffet-style with a few main events like a whole suckling pig wheeled around the tables. Unlimited sparkling, white, red wine, and a selection of cocktails are included if you opt for the drinks package, and the whole ordeal will only set you back around 70AUD. Tip: you really make it worth your while if you power through the alcohol. The service is great too – your glass will never be left empty.
If you like fine dining and molecular gastronomy, give Namaaz Dining a go. It’s a super-fun deg experience. But I found that the flavors weren’t always balanced. Erring on the side of sweet, the table-side theatrics and surprises were worth it. What made it slightly disturbing was how far the chefs took it. Eating cigarettes or charcoal is probably not very high on most people’s to-do list, even if they’re in fact made of popcorn or cassava. It’s great to see Indonesian flavors in a fine dining setting though.
THINGS TO DO
Be A Mall Rat
My local go-to is Pondok Indah Mall (which now actually has 3 malls). Most importantly Pondok Indah Mall (also referred to as PIM) houses Bakmi GM. Plaza Senayan, Senayan City. Grand Indonesia is a huge, confusing maze, but has a few good dining spots. Pacific Place’s drawcard is high-end designer shops and GROM, a gelateria from Italy that’s slowly taking over the world.
Get A Massage
Cheap, cheerful, good. I highly recommend getting an Indonesian massage. A full body massage is always good, but a special foot massage, reflexology (or refleksi in Indonesian) where pressure points on your foot are supposedly linked to your body organs and systems. I’m often skeptical but at one reflexology parlor in Jakarta, which has since closed, the masseuse knew exactly what was messed up in my body just by massaging my feet. The craziest part was that she was accurate. Go figure.
Or head to a hair salon and try a creambath, a hair treatment and head massage combined, which is unique to Indonesia.
Yes, so it’s a cafe, but it’s not so much for the food that I recommend you visit Cafe Batavia. It’s for the fact that it’s inside a 200-year-old building at Fatahillah Square. The old-school atmosphere is worth the traffic-laden trip there.
I hate to say it, but there’s not much to do in Jakarta other than go to the mall and eat delicious food. So I always recommend day trips. Bandung is technically about two hours away, but depending on traffic can take far longer (this applies to anything and everything in Jakarta actually – always schedule extra time for traffic). We booked a shuttle bus (Cititrans), which was very convenient and easy. If you do venture out to Bandung, it’s all outlet shopping and awesome Sundanese food. Check out Kampung Daun, a restaurant set in a rainforest style setting, where you sit in your own huts. It’s albeit very touristy. For some authentic noodles, head to Bakmi Naripan.
Bogor is another option, which is about an hour south of Jakarta. Head there if you’re keen to see the Botanical Gardens. The specialty dish to eat in Bogor is asinan, a spicy pickled fruit dish.
If you like the mountainside, Puncak is the spot for you. A cooler climate, tea plantations, plus nature-y things like waterfalls and lakes.
But if you’re more into the island life, seek refuge on one of the Thousand Islands, which are just off the coast. Don’t expect luxury and resort life though. I’ve been to Putri Island, which has an aquarium and a good snorkeling spot. You could also extend it over a few days if you’re so inclined. From what I’ve heard, Pulau Macan is meant to be the nicest (and probably the most expensive) of the islands – though I haven’t personally been there yet.
Side note: if you’re flying out of the international terminal in Jakarta, find 1A Crispy Puffs. Turn left after you’ve gone through immigration. The best curry puffs!