Everyone knows about the dim sum of Hong Kong, the soup in the bun dish (xiang long bau) in Shanghai, ramen of Tokyo and pad thai of Bangkok, but for years Jakarta’s food scene has been overlooked.
Even I was clueless when I arrived. My trip to Jakarta included venturing to the local restaurants, many of which are known only to the locals and long-term expats. I also spent some time checking out coffee shops, experiencing a premier movie theater, visiting a golf and country club and walking in the many air-conditioned modern shopping malls around this megalopolis.
I’ll show you four places to dine and seven other things to do in Jakarta:
1. Makasar Food in Pondok Ikan Bakar Ujung Pandang
If you like spicy seafood you must visit this seafood restaurant in Jakarta. Makasar cuisine, originated from Makasar in South Sulawesi, is known as one of the best in Indonesia.
Makasar food consists of mainly fresh seafood and beef. The food is a lot spicier than the Sundanese of West Java. At the restaurant, we picked and placed a fresh kudu-kudu, a type of box fish or puffer fish and a kaneke (another famous Makasar fish) on a weighing machine.
Box fish, native to Sulawesi, has very thick skin and the skin is not meant to be eaten. The chef took the meat out of the fish, fried the meat, fried the outer skin and placed the cooked fish on a banana leaf as shown above. The box fish skin was just for decoration.
Must try dishes include udang goreng telur asin (fried large shrimp with salted egg paste), terong beladon (eggplant cooked in chili paste), cumi bakar (grilled octopus) and kangkung cah terasi (a type of vegetable stir-fried with shrimp paste).
Location: Jalan Gandaria 1, No. 5, Kebayoran, South Jakarta.
2. Sundanese Food at IBR
Through local food, we can learn more about the history, geography and culture of a country. Jakarta’s population consists of two main groups of people – the Sundanese and Javanese.
To be honest, I enjoyed Jakarta’s food more than Shanghai's. Sundanese foods consist of fried beancurd, salted fish, fried fish, lots of vegetables, chili and rice.
3. The ‘out of this world’ dinner buffet at The Café in Hotel Mulia Senayan
I would give this dinner buffet a 10 out of 10 because of the quality and variety. You get an array of Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western cuisines – each in separate stations. Each cuisine has over 20 dishes.
There is a separate room for seafood like steamed crabs, shrimps, clams, mussels, fish and calamari. And an entire area dedicated to dessert with flowing chocolate fondue surrounded by all types of fruits along with 30 other types of dessert and over 10 variations of flavored ice cream.
Dinner buffet in Hotel Mulia Senayan cost about $50 per person.
5. Coffee and lunch at My Kopi-O! in Living World Alam Sutera Mall
Kopi is Bahasa Indonesia for coffee. My Kopi-O! is a great place to hang out, have coffee or a quick lunch in an air-conditioned place. The coffee with condensed milk served with a piece of toast or unique fried noodles in egg and seafood sauce will satisfy anyone who loves coffee and a plate of fusion noodles.
6. Coffee at 1/15 Coffee Shop
I discovered 1/15 Coffee shop on Instagram. They capture quality photos and write interesting captions daily. 1/15 Coffee is located at Jalan Gandaria opposite Pondok Ikan Bakar Ujung Pandang.
The coffee is on par with some of the independent coffee shops in New York City, possibly one of the best in Jakarta. 1/15 is definitely the place for a good cup of espresso, cappuccino or macchiato in Jakarta. The dessert was just as good and everything comes pricier than the local coffee shops.
If you are craving for coffee made just like home, 1/15 will serve your needs.
7. Luxurious Premiere Movie Theatre experience in Jakarta
Walking into a premiere movie theater is like going to a special event. First off, at the door, a greeter in suits will greet you and take you to a concierge lounge. The lounge is open exclusively for premiere moviegoers.
Purchase your tickets and choose your seats in the concierge lounge while you sit in front of the sales agent at a desk. Tickets are at 100,000 rupiah per person (about $10), which is about 50 to 60% higher than regular movie tickets.
Premiere moviegoers wait at the quiet lounge, order food and drinks before being escorted to the movie theater. The theater seats about 30 people. The oversize reclining lazyboy chairs each comes with a side foldable table, cup holder and a clean blanket.
It has a total of five rows with six chairs on each row. The air-conditioning is usually cranked up so that it is cold enough to use the blankets and enjoy the cozy atmosphere while watching the premiere movie before everyone else.
8. Sunda Kelapa Harbor in Old Batavia
The historic Sunda Kelapa Harbor is a working harbor filled with wooden cargo and fishing ships. Sunda Kelapa was an important part during the early years. It is located close to Old Batavia, a historic port of Jakarta. In fact, Jakarta used to be called Batavia. Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch merchants from as early as the 1200s used Sunda Kelapa harbor.
Today the harbor is filled with the old ships with trucks sending loads of goods, shipward workers and crews were seen loading up the goods to the ship. These ships sail in the Indonesian archipelago distributing merchandise and carrying produce to Jakarta from other Indonesian islands.
9. Golf and Country Club
I was a golf mom when my kids were little. Both kids had golf lessons when we were living in Tampa FL. During our trip to Jakarta, the kids decided to practice their swing at the Pondok Indah Golf and Country Club’s driving range.
This three-floor driving range offers a view of a manmade lake, impeccable greens, and lush tropical trees. 100 balls cost 100,000 rupiah (about $10) and a caddy will deliver the balls to all golfers. Upon arrival at the facility, female caddies in white pants and purple shirts were waiting to serve. Most were ready to carry the golfers golf bags and clubs. The teens were not comfortable letting the lady caddy carry the golf bag borrowed from their aunt.
Going to the driving range in Jakarta was different from many driving ranges in Florida. You literally do not have to lift a finger except to swing your irons and berthas.
The first president of Indonesia, President Sukarno started building the National Monument known to the locals as MONAS in 1961. It was to commemorate the struggles from colonialism to independence. MONAS is located in Central Jakarta. The complex consist of the Freedom Square, a 450-foot monolith with an observation deck on the top floor and on the ground floor is the National History Museum.
The observation deck offers views of the city and the museum has 48 dioramas showing important Indonesian events from Stone Age to Independence.
11. Shopping Malls
Jakarta has almost 200 shopping malls. Our favorite was Pondok Indah Mall in South Jakarta. This air-conditioned family oriented mall is modern, safe and clean. You will get friendly Indonesian hospitality once you arrive. An attendant is always at hand to open the car doors and greet all guests with a smile.
Pondok Indah Mall has almost 100 restaurants and cafés. The mall has movie theaters, supermarkets and a variety of shops including foreign brands and Indonesian batik boutiques.
For batik, we went to Pasaraya Manggarai Mall on Jalan Sultan Agung that local shops. The mall’s food court – DapurRaya serves nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), Sundanese cuisine and nasi campur Bali (Balinese mix rice).
Jakarta has its own factory outlet stores too. Brasco Outlet located at Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta had a variety of undergarments and swimwear when we visited.
To many, Jakarta is just a place to catch the next flight to Bali, Borobodur or other Indonesian islands. Jakarta can’t boast about their historical or UNESCO heritage sites, to me the city’s biggest draw is the food and world-class service.
I traveled to 14 countries from February 2013 to February 2015, and Jakarta stands out when it comes to top-class service. Every person who worked in the hotels, restaurants, cafés, malls… everywhere served and gave above and beyond what I could ask for or imagine. And that’s the truth.