Eat your way through Chinatown, Jakarta, from morning until night – steamed chicken noodles, iced coffee, beef soup, tea, Hainan chicken rice, and fish congee

Published : 16 October 2019 (South China Morning Post)

It’s not hard to eat well in Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown and one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the bustling Indonesian capital. Designated as an enclave for Chinese residents by the Dutch East India Company in 1740, these days Glodok offers visitors a variety of Chinese, Indonesian and fusion dishes.

For a Chinese noodle breakfast, head to Gloria Alley – known as Gang Gloria in Indonesian – near the Pancoran Chinatown Point shopping mall as a starting point.

A foodie could spend a whole day – from breakfast to supper – eating and drinking to their heart’s content in the area. Here’s one possible itinerary:

7am: Bakmi Ahong

For a Chinese noodle breakfast, head to Gloria Alley – known as Gang Gloria in Indonesian – near the Pancoran Chinatown Point shopping mall as a starting point.

Diners at Bakmi Ahong, where noodles topped with steamed chicken is a popular breakfast dish. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Away from the alley, walk about 350 metres to Bakmi Ahong (Ahong Noodles), a hugely popular morning spot. Beside a canal, this humble noodle shop is crowded at breakfast time and hungry customers often share tables. The shop offers a variety of noodles, wheat or rice, which can be topped with steamed chicken (20,000 rupiah/US$1.40).

Some enthusiasts prefer pek cam kee – chicken that has been steamed for an hour with garlic and seasoned with shallots, pepper and salt, then garnished with sesame oil and salty soy sauce (90,000 rupiah).

Pek cam kee, chicken steamed with garlic and seasoned with shallots, pepper and salt, at Bakmi Ahong Restaurant in Glodok. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Bakmi Ahong also serves fried pork meatballs, fried wontons, wonton soup and beef meatball soup.

“The chicken’s very tender,” says regular Anton Wijaya, who has breakfast at Bakmi Ahong twice a week. “It tastes much better here, more savoury.”

10am: Kopi Es Tak Kie

Nearby in Gloria Alley, Kopi Es Tak Kie (Tak Kie Iced Coffee) has been serving iced milk coffee drinks (22,000 rupiah), using coffee made from arabica beans, since 1927. Open from 6.30am, the coffee shop is run by founder Liong Kwie Tjong’s grandson, Latif “Ayauw” Yunus.

Customers enjoy iced coffees at Kopi Es Tak Kie in Glodok. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Now 70 years old, he began helping his parents in the coffee shop when he was just nine, and took over in 1976. His brothers and sisters still help him with the day-to-day operations, from the procurement of raw materials to business expansion.

Tak Kie Iced Coffee has attracted customers young and old from all walks of life, including current Indonesian president Joko Widodo, who dropped by for an iced coffee when he was the governor of Jakarta in 2013.

The appeal of his coffee, Yunus says, is in the taste rather than the strength of the brew. “Sometimes when you drink coffee, you want it strong. I don’t offer that,” he says. “Why? If it’s strong, people can’t drink it.”

A dish of soto Betawi soup, or Betawi beef, at Soto Betawi Nyonya Afung in Glodok – a good place for a lunch. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

12pm: Soto Betawi Nyonya Afung

The beef soup made at Soto Betawi Nyonya Afung is a local dish of the native Orang Betawi, or “people of Batavia”, which was the original name of Jakarta.

Also in Gloria Alley, the cafe is open from 6am to 4pm daily and has been serving soto Betawi, or Betawi beef soup, since 1982. Influenced by Chinese, Arabic and European cuisines, Betawi soup is thickened with milk and coconut milk.

Made with beef marrow, beef shank and spices including bay leaves, lemongrass and galangal, the soup can also include potatoes, tomatoes, spring onions, and Indonesian crackers made of melinjo nuts.

Lunchtime diners can opt for cow’s lung, beef tongue, beef vein or a combination of all three in their soup, which is served with rice or a choice of noodles. A bowl with rice costs 45,000 rupiah, while soto Betawi with yellow noodles or rice noodles costs 48,000 rupiah.

“Everyone can eat Betawi soup,” says the cafe owner’s husband, who does not want to be named. “Muslims can eat it; Chinese also can have it.”

Chinese tea served at Pantjoran Tea House – a good place to quench your thirst after lunch. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

2pm: Pantjoran Tea House

A cup of Chinese tea can be a delicious and thirst-quenching post-lunch beverage. About 300 metres from Soto Betawi Nyonya Afung is the Pantjoran Tea House at the historic south gate of Jakarta’s Old Town and Chinatown.

Built in 1900 to house a shop, it became a pharmacy in 1928 when Indonesia was still under Dutch colonial rule. In 2015, and it reopened as a teahouse after the Jakarta Old Town Revitalisation Corp renovated the attractive, historic building.

A passer-by drinks a cup of hot tea that is provided free of charge to the public by Pantjoran Tea House. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Pantjoran Tea House serves various kinds of tea, including lapsang souchong (50,000 rupiah), the smoky black tea from China’s Fujian province, first traded during the Dutch East Indies era; seasonal varieties such as white tea (baihao yinzhen – 75,000 rupiah), also from Fujian; and rare beverages such as the delicate green tea known as taiping houkui (75,000 rupiah), grown at the foot of Mount Huang (Huangshan) in China’s Anhui province.

Open from 11am to 8pm during the week and from 7am to 9pm on weekends, the teahouse has become a popular sightseeing destination in Glodok.

AR Sukmana Hendra, the teahouse’s operations manager, claims it is the only place in Jakarta that still follows the Fujian-style tea ceremony that is becoming rare even in China.

AR Sukmana Hendra, the teahouse’s operations manager. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

“We’re encouraging or promoting it to make Indonesian people enjoy drinking tea,” he says, “because we know, in Jakarta, coffee shops are booming and mushrooming.”

6pm: Nasi Ayam Hainam Apollo

About 250 metres from Pantjoran Tea House, Nasi Ayam Hainam Apollo (Apollo Hainanese Chicken Rice) – established in 1971 – offers the traditional Chinese chicken dish that has also become hugely popular among Chinese Malaysians, Singaporeans and Thais.

Hainan chicken with rice at Nasi Ayam Hainam Apollo, Gajah Mada Street, in Glodok – perfect for a light, early dinner. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Open from 7am until 9.30pm daily, the restaurant has a dedicated following among residents of Jakarta, who flock there for its Hainan chicken rice (58,000 rupiah).

The rice served here is soaked in chicken broth before being cooked over a charcoal fire for about an hour. Pandan leaves and salt are added during the cooking process to make the grains more fragrant.

Diners can enjoy the chicken-flavoured rice with a plate of assorted vegetables and meat including steamed chicken breast, but also char siu (barbecued pork), siobak (crispy pork belly), chicken liver and gizzard, boiled egg and sliced cucumber.

A market in Gloria Alley, Jakarta’s Chinatown. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

Second-generation owner Anton Gotama took over the restaurant in 2010, after his parents had run it for nearly 40 years. “They asked me to continue it,” Gotama says, “so that it could be passed on to the next generation.”

9pm: Bubur Ayam Mangga Besar I

Late evening hunger pangs can be sated at Bubur Ayam Mangga Besar I (Big Mango Chicken Porridge I; Mangga Besar, which means Big Mango, is an urban village adjacent to Glodok).

Chicken congee at Bubur Ayam Mangga Besa in Glodok – a good place for a late supper. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

This place is behind the Lindeteves Trade Centre (LTC) shopping mall, and 700 metres from Nasi Ayam Hainam Apollo.

Serving Chinese congee or rice porridge with assorted meats, it has become a local favourite for supper. Always crowded with couples, families and groups of friends, it’s open from 10.30am until 2.30pm, and reopens from 5.30pm to 12.30am for either dinner or a late supper.

Diners can order a bowl of Chinese congee with chicken or snapper and Chinese cruller (youtiao). This comes with an assortment of extras including barbecued chicken, pek cam kee poached chicken, century egg, duck egg, chicken liver, chicken gizzard and/or fermented Chinese greens.

Kitchen staff prepare chicken congee at Bubur Ayam Mangga Besa. Photo: Agoes Rudianto

A bowl of chicken or fish congee costs 38,000 rupiah; a half portion of chicken costs 110,000 rupiah; chicken liver or gizzard costs 5,000 rupiah.

Diner Devi Farrah Diah says the porridge is savoury and the saltiness is just right. “The porridge’s texture is rougher,” she adds. “It’s still tasty, and the meats are delicious, too.”