Street Talking - Jakarta's hawker food is out of this world


Words: Laksmi Pamuntjak    Photography: Martin Westlake


On the streets of Jakarta, small stalls and counters welcome visitors to foodie heaven

It is no secret that when we speak of “Indonesian food”, we are actually referring to the traditional delights of home-cooking and the great variety of regional cuisines found at casual eateries and street vendors.

“Proper” restaurants have begun to catch on, offering well-plated, authentic flavours in upscale settings from our nation of 17,000 islands, while carefully dialling down the price tags. However, the general consensus remains the same: it’s always more satisfying to go to a trusty roadside vendor for bubur ayam (chicken porridge) or bakso (meatball soup) because it is almost always more tasty. There is quite a variety to the street food experience. True-blue foodies and flavour-hunters wouldn’t be caught dead dining in fancy restaurants and can be counted on to produce “favourite street food” lists at the drop of a hat.

So here is my pick of what to eat, and where, on Jakarta’s streets.



JL Pengukiran III,
RT 06/RW 04
Jakarta Barat
Tel: 62 21 691 4356

The one thing Jakarta does not lack is goodnasi uduk – Betawi-style rice cooked in coconut milk, served with fried chicken, tofu and tempeh. But Ibu Amah’s version rises a few notches above the fray; in fact, it is sheer poetry.

And this is to say nothing about the poetry of the place itself, which is so small and obscure you need to dump your vehicle quite a good distance away and walk the narrow passageways to get there. Aromatic doesn’t even begin to describe the scent, which is a gorgeous blend of the thick, creamy goodness of coconut milk and the animating effect of lemongrass and bay leaves, or the perfection of the texture –pulen, we call it, to refer to rice cooked to proper softness. Nor could it adequately describe the loveliness of theayam goreng (fried chicken) – it is proudly blackened, with a whiff ofNonya (marinated in garlic, shallots, palm sugar and coriander).


Left to right:sizzling rice at Ibu Amah; chicken satay at Kadir’s food cart; fried chicken is a succulent delight at Ibu Amah


Pusat Kuliner,
Menteng Plaza
Jl HOS Cokroaminoto
Tel: 62 81 3159 3712

At first glance, there is nothing special about the sight of a food cart in a sea of food carts in arguably one of the nicer open food courts in Central Jakarta. But picking out a gem is only half the fun. Everyone has his or her favourite type of sateayam – chicken satay – and there’s no point in foisting your favourites on each another. I happen to prefer my chicken cubes small but fleshy, preferably with a sliver of fat, but not too much, loaded down with shallots and peanut sauce that is full-flavoured but not too cloying. And this is precisely what Sate Kadir offers.


Left to right:crabmeat and noodles at A Yau; Ibu Mar’s gado-gado; fried chicken with shallots from Sate Kadir


Jl Manga
Besar 8 no78
E Kota
Tel: 62 21 9296 6810

This West Jakarta joint may just be the best purveyor ofkwetiau kepiting – fried wide noodles with crabmeat – in the capital. This dish is one of my all-time favourites.

As befits the genre, the eatery is your run-of-the-mill, unfussy Chinatown-style diner. Every now and then, peddlers of pirated DVDs may interrupt your meal. But pay them no mind, for all the action is on the plate. The deliciously garlicky crabmeat noodle soup proves a worthy contrast, while the crabmeat fried rice really packs a punch.


Jl H Jian
Belakang Brawijaya Women’s Hospital
Jakarta Selatan
Tel: 62 21 3171 4281

How is it thatgado-gado (blanched mixed vegetables served with peanut sauce), the most ubiquitous dish in the average Indonesian kitchen, manages to inspire queues a mile long?

The answer is Ibu Mar, the force behind this neighbourhood supremo. Hers is the ultimate gado-gado: fresh, almost dew-dappled, generous to a fault, with the most finely cut vegetables I’ve ever seen on any plate of casual-dining offered in town, accompanied by a peanut sauce at once lush and refined. The bright fuchsia prawn crackers scattered over it lend not just a welcome crunch to the dish, but also a visual counterpoint that is gourmet in its sensibility. The same combination of panache and meticulousness can also be found in herrujak (fruit salad with sweet spicy dip).


Jl Pintu Besar Selatan
Samping Gloria, Pancoran Kota
Jakarta Pusat
Tel: 62 81 194 7909

It’s impossible to taste Koh Abun’s Chinese-style roast duck without waxing lyrical about it for days afterwards – and this doesn’t even have to do with its initial rise to fame: namely a cameo appearance in the critically acclaimed Indonesian filmBerbagi Suami.

Like many successful ventures, Koh Abun’s wares have long graduated from its near-folkloric location, a culinary hub in the Old Chinatown, to several requisite outlets in strategic North Jakarta malls, and yet the magic of his roast duck never lets up: moist and juicy without the aftertaste of fat, the skin crisp and lacquered to the perfect glaze.

Left to right:the Koh Abun duck restaurant; its moist and juicy, Chinese-style roast duck; lontong sayur at RM Sinar Pagi


Jl Muara Karang Blok T-IV
Selatan no 14B
Pasar Muara Karang
Jakarta Utara
Tel: 62 81 9321 78989

Hands down the best Medan-stylelontong sayur in town. The location, in the bowels of a particularly busy market in the old harbour area, requires some effort to reach and the best time to go is on a Sunday morning, preferably before 9am, or chances are the fabled dish will be sold out.

The basic, run-of-the-mill tile and laminate surrounds do nothing to distract you from the singularity of the main attraction: a sublime dish of fragrant rice cakes doused in spicy vegetable curry adorned with spiced boiled egg, tofu, ebi (dried shrimp) and sautéed grated coconut.


Jl Muara Karang Raya no 181
Muara Karang
Jakarta Utara
Tel: 62 21 669 7670

Bihun Bebek – a combination of duck and vermicelli – might not be your first idea of bliss, but the good people at Aeng have certainly elevated it to minor artwork. As with Bu Amah’snasi uduk, there is poetry also to the delicate white strings of carbs that form a bowlful of duck vermicelli soup in this North Jakarta casual eatery – one of so many dotting the main street of Muara Karang. While the impeccably poached duck meat is a study in succulence, the true revelation is the broth, which is pure ambrosia.

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