Jakarta: Kafe Betawi | Grand Indonesia

Return to Grand Indonesia.

After a long consultation with the school representative – sardine-packed with information and the possibilities that lay ahead, I’d hav to contemplate my next steps back in Singapore – it was now time to do some sightseeing. I thought it’d be a great idea to explore Jakarta’s colonial past, and what better place to start than Jakarta’s old district, Kota.

Colonized by the Dutch, and christened the capital of the East Indies, Jakarta is a vision of Dutch urban planning. While the characteristic Dutch mastery of colonial architecture are still apparent and reminiscent of Holland, particularly in the old town, the city adopts what the Dutch call the “Indische”, or Oriental style. Whereas in Amsterdam where the land scarcity is reflected in the high-density, tall and narrow houses we’ve come to associate Dutch architecture with, in Jakarta, there’s a certain grandeur and extravagance; the types of houses, the wide, tree-lined streets, spacious gardens, large city squares and broad boulevards. However, like many European cities today, the imperial planners never foresaw that the cities of tomorrow would be crippled by gridlock.

The incessant honking, the pollution from these perpetual standstills and the tropical monsoonal climate can make Jakarta a very difficult place to sightsee. Kota, a derelict, decomposing relic of the yesteryears, had several museums that were allegedly worth seeing, not for the collections, but for the fact that these are supernatural hotspots. While the allure of meeting a spirit seemed enticing (to my mom at least, who displayed a restrained excitement in visiting after I told her about the ghosts), the “whatever” was getting to me. I can’t say it’s the heat because it was honestly, not warm, nor was the humidity very high, either. I just wasn’t very willing to step in, for some reason.

With that, we took the TransJakarta bus rapid transit line 1 towards Grand Indonesia, where my mom was all too trigger happy to spend our money on souvenir snacks. But first, lunch.

Still in the sightseeing zone, we lunched at Kafe Betawi, a chain restaurant that’s actually good. The word, “Betawi” is a nod to “Batavia”, the former name of Jakarta, so you know you’re gonna get some authentic Jakartan delights here. After all, if you’ve got American Airlines and Wall Street Journal praising you to the skies, you know you’ve come to the right place. As the latter puts it, “[Kafe Betawi]… actually has become one of the few places in the city to try such classic street foods in Jakarta”.

Once again, Kafe Betawi’s menu is a testament to just how dynamic and varied Indonesian cuisine really is. From the somewhat familiar nasi goreng and sate – which look and taste different from their Malaysian counterparts – it rolls into the plain unfamiliar, like nasi pindang bandeng, laksa betawi and lontong cap gomeh.

We decided we’d keep it simple first (because my mom wanted to try the cakes here), so I ordered a very simplistic Soto Mie, which is chicken broth noodles served with vegetables and generous servings of rambak, or fried cow skin. Rambak is a pretty common Javanese snack, served as an appetizer (in Javanese restaurants,
there are snacks on the table which you can pick, and charged accordingly). It’s also particularly appetizing in broths, especially when doused with a generous portion of Indonesian chili sauce. It’s simple and deliciously hearty.

My mom on the other hand, ordered the Burbur Ayam, or chicken porridge. What we really enjoy about Indonesian-style porridge is that it’s not meant to be a gastronomic snooze fest. Instead, it’s a kaleidoscope of textures and flavors. You’ve got the mushy risotto in an ultra-rich chicken concentrate, and the condiments of
parsley, fried onion, shallots, as well as crackers of various flavors and textures which when mixed together, produces a real wholesome treat, perfect for a cold, rainy day.

To pair our mains, we ordered some side dishes, which we didn’t quite realize would feature so strongly or be so comprehensive in Indonesian cuisine. They’re almost like Korean banchan or Spanish tapas, but they’re more often a little more dynamic in flavor, and aren’t complimentary but no matter, they cost very little, anyway. What we ordered, I should mention, is not representative of what’s generally available. It’s merely because my mom loves paru (fried lung), and I’ve been dying to eat tripe since, forever.

So yes, Kafe Betawi is pretty commercialized, but it offers the best of both worlds, the air-conditioned comfort and hygiene of a chain, and the authenticity of Jakartan street food. It’s probably not the best, but for a tourist, it’s pretty close if you wanna take the safe route.

Kafe Betawi
Opens: 1000h to 2200h
Outlets: 28 stores nationwide, 22 in Jakarta
Grand Indonesia, Level LG

Directions:
TransJakarta bus rapid transit line 1 to Bundaran HI halt, or Tosari ICBC halt. Alternatively, take a taxi.

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