There’s no better time to visit Jakarta.
Image: The Frank PR News BlogWithout an incident for a decade now, the insecurities that used to rock the city (read: domestic separatist terrorist bombings and racial riots) are now in the past. Yes, the city has preserved very little of its rich colonial heritage, but obviously with the harshness of Dutch occupation, it’s reasonable that it wouldn’t want to. Yes, although there have been efforts to improve the public transport system, getting around is still a chore, and real changes (read: subway and monorail networks) won’t come at least for a few more years. Yes, there isn’t much by way of proper tourist attractions. But these are attributes that are ubiquitous to many of Southeast Asia’s major cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Yet, these “boring” metropolises are among some of the most visited cities on the planet.
What you’ll find in Jakarta are malls, an endless sea of malls. In fact, at last count, Jakarta reportedly had 92 shopping centres, the most of any Southeast Asian city. It isn’t that surprising however, when you consider that Jakarta is Southeast Asia’s most populous urban area, with a staggering 28 million people living in Jakarta and the surrounding suburbs, with countless commercial districts dotted across the city.
Fortunately enough, the major city centres are all located along a single thoroughfare, running north from the city’s old town at the generically named Kota (Kota means “city” in Bahasa Indonesia), to the hip nightlife district of Blok M at the periphery of the capital city’s official border. Coincidentally, Jakarta’s most reliable bus rapid transit line, the TransJakarta line 1 – it works like a tram, but uses buses – runs up and down this thoroughfare, so it’s entirely possible to avoid the capital’s notorious traffic jams.
The plan, over this weekend getaway, was to visit these major commercial centres. But I once again, miscalculated how vast each district was. To give you a sense of how big a single is: imagine Bangkok, from MBK and Siam Square, stretching to Siam Paragon and Central World Plaza, and onwards to Pratu Nam and Platinum Fashion Mall. That’s…just one of the several shopping districts in Jakarta. So, in the end, aside from a brief visit to Kuningan, an ultra-posh high-end business and shopping district, most of our time was accidentally spent in the vicinity of Grand Indonesia. Seriously, you’ll need a few days to window-shop JUST to walk past every single store. If you factor in the occasional browsing, it’s quite possible to be stuck here for an entire week.
As I mentioned, there was no better time to visit Jakarta. The economy appears to have likely deduced that the weakness in the rupiah against major currencies is a short-term event, and therefore haven’t reflected that weakness in retail pricing thus far. Better yet, there was a national sale going on. Therefore, prices were about a third to half that of Singapore! You’d think that we’d go crazy, and we did, but we were also mindful that we didn’t want to spend too much money. So, you might imagine that we wanted to buy the entire stock of the likes of H&M, Zara and Uniqlo, just because.
After spending a whole lot of money on lunch this afternoon (even though lunch was just SGD 40, the big numbers of the rupiah stressed her into thinking we had spent a lot more than that), my mom was keen a dinner that was, I quote, “not Indonesian”. We had walked past an Italian place, and when she took a look at the menu, she was once again, not keen, until I reassured her that it was PastaMania prices. This “Italian place” is Pizza Marzano.
Pizza Marzano is the Indonesian subsidiary of British-based PizzaExpress, a restaurant chains with outlets across the UK, Europe, Hong Kong and Indonesia. If you’re wondering why the name change, it’s due to trademarking issues. In Ireland, the brand is known as Milano while Marzano is used where the brand name PizzaExpress isn’t available. PizzaExpress has come into its own, for its food, introducing the ‘Leggera’ range of pizzas containing only 500 calories, and guest chef series where the chain invites chefs to develop exclusive dishes. All this seems to have paid off, with a random review check on PizzaExpress and Pizza Marzano receiving high acclaims.
PizzaExpress, I just found this out, has also influenced the music industry. Its jazz clubs have played hosts to Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, and supported Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum in their earlier days.
Man, I wish I had known all this when I was eating there.
But yes, even without the knowledge of the British connection, and its role in jazz music, the food was good. Unlike fellow chain Jamie’s Italian, which like PizzaExpress, is founded by sound principals and supports worthy causes, and has an impressive looking array of dishes, PizzaExpress is backed up by great food and great staff (Indonesians always are, aren’t they?). The simple aglio olio was as simple as simple goes, but still, it was pleasantly done, homely and just the way aglio olio should be.
The American Hot, spiced with spicy jalepenos, was the epitome of “shiok”, the thinness of the pizza, the sweetness of the tomato against the savory salami and peperoni, with the adrenaline rush of the chilis makes you wanna go on and on. Why can’t we have simple priced, great food in Singapore? Why do we always adopt the “you pay for what you get” kind of mantra? That’s unhealthy. What happened to creating brands that last forever? What happened to paying it forward, underpromising and over delivering?
PizzaExpress/ Pizza Marzano
11 outlets across Jakarta
Currently undergoing name change to PizzaExpress
Grand Indonesia West Mall Level LG, FoodHall
Opens: 1100h to 2200h
TransJakarta Line 1 stop at Bundaran HI halt or if closed, Tosari ICBC halt (walk towards UOB [the blue glass building], and along the road towards the big roundabout to the nearest big building, follow the crowd). Alternatively, take a taxi.