Saturday, July 5, 2014

Travel Report : Jakarta Weekend Getaway

I went to Jakarta for a short getaway last April and had a very lovely, relaxing time there. I've been wanting to share it ever since so this post is very much long overdue.

So...Jakarta. This capital city of Indonesia is often overlooked in the tourism game. It doesn't offer scenic vistas, it's not a shopping mecca (despite what the tourism board has been trying to tell you), and outside the many newly-minted mega shopping malls and the extravagant and towering buildings in the CBD, the people speak poor to downright non-existent English. I don't blame potential tourists for giving it a pass in favor for Bali or....okay, just Bali.

Established in the 4th century (yes, that is not a typo, 4th, single digit!), it has gone several transformations and endured so many regime changes and as a result, becomes so richly steeped in history. (Fun fact: Do you know that Audrey Hepburn's parents got married in Jakarta? Her mother even lived there for some time during her first marriage, she had her first two sons there.) But that's a topic for another post.

So, back to my weekend getaway last April, my intention was to just relax. I got my ticket from Air Asia and booked a room at Hotel Ciputra. I chose this hotel because it's fairly close to the airport and has a mall attached to it. This mall (and the hotel) was once one of the most popular hangouts in Jakarta. It's lost its charm for some people and as a result, is not as crowded as some of the new places. You wouldn't typically find pretentious upper class youngsters there which is quite simply the basis of its appeal. Instead, you'll more likely to come across middle to lower working class taking their dates or families for dinner. It's a slice of life, no gimmicks or the latest and greatest. It's really nice to just enjoy your time and blend in the background as life goes by around you.

I honestly forgot how much I paid for the room, maybe around $200 for 2 nights? This hotel and the mall attached to it have been around for quite some time so you shouldn't expect something exceedingly grand. I arrived at around 11am (check in time 2pm) but I was allowed to check in right away. I read somewhere that some of the room had just been renovated. Here's my room:

I loved it. My favorite part must be the full-height glass window overlooking the vast horizon of Jakarta's residential neighborhoods. Not many tall buildings in sight, no claustrophobic feeling! These are some photos of the view taken from my room. Isn't the sky so upliftingly vast and blue? On our second day, there were even fluffy white clouds floating in the air.

Here's the view at night. I've always loved looking at city lights, especially well past midnight when most people are sleeping. I really can't help it, it's like clockwork. I'd find myself up at 2 am, clicking away with my camera.

Once I got settled in, the only thing I did was eat, eat, and eat some more! I just popped in to the mall which was connected to the hotel and had a truckload of food there. Here's what I got:
Bakso Sapi Kuah : Beef Meatball Soup with some greens

Ayam Goreng Mentega : Fried chicken in sweet and tangy butter sauce

Mie Ayam Jamur : Dry chicken noodle with Mushroom

Mie Yamin Manis : Dry chicken noodle in sweet sauce

Bakso Malang Komplit : Mixed Meatball Soup

Es Teler: Dessert made of ice, young coconut strips, avocado, jackfruit, and sweet condensed milk

There's also a supermarket so you can stock up your hotel room with snacks and drinks minus the exorbitant price. (Warning though, the door connecting the hotel to the mall will be locked after 10pm or something and you'll have to go out of the mall and climb an external staircase to get back to the hotel. This is crazy, I don't see why they can't station a guard there instead of locking it, tourists who don't speak Indonesian may freak out!)

The room fare included a daily breakfast buffet which is held in Hotel Ciputra's restaurant called "The Gallery". Again, no crazy huge selections but the ones that they did offer, I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Fluffy and moist scrambled eggs

Look at the fluffy and moist scrambled eggs. Do not underestimate the ability of cooks in third world countries to whip you up some mean eggs dishes. I've had some of the best eggs I've ever had in various hotels in South East Asia. I once ordered poached egg in Surabaya, expecting to be served just a solitary poached egg when the cook delivered two perfectly poached eggs served on a bed of English muffin to my table yet a cook manning the eggs station in Swissotel Singapore overcooked my scrambled eggs to the point where smoke was fuming out of the skillet like crazy while I looked in horror (Granted, he could've been a trainee, but still?!)

Eggs station is usually the highlight of my breakfast but not this time. You see, I was craving some chicken porridge, which is one of the traditional breakfast food in Indonesia. In residential neighborhoods this is not something that's hard to come by but when you're staying in a rather upscale area, it's usually quite hard to get some. Luckily Hotel Ciputra serves two local food items everyday and they had chicken porridge that day.

Delicious traditional Indonesian chicken porridge

Funny story, I can't count how many times I came across chicken porridge or other local food items served as part of the breakfast buffet when I stayed in a hotel during vacation when I was younger, and I never once regarded them as legitimate. I'd usually dismiss them for being too 'clean' and soul-less, and therefore not as tasty as their sold-on-the-street counterpart. Yet there I was, gobbling up every last morsel of the chicken porridge with my spoon, bowl after bowl like a woman possessed. I can't help but wonder, though, was it really that good or has my taste changed so much that chicken porridge in a fancy hotel could taste so good?

I noticed something, though. Chicken porridge is something you have to put together yourself because otherwise the ingredients would become soggy, so the hotel will usually just prepare all the ingredients on the table and guests are left to their own devices to concoct the porridge as they desire. This might not be an issue if the guests are familiar with the dish but how about foreign tourists who may not know what to do with those things? They might miss the chance to sample this delicious dish!

I think it would be good if hotels could put up some kind of explanation about the dish and all the ingredients to educate clueless guests on how to whip themselves up some mean traditional Indonesian chicken porridge. Until then, I took the liberty to do the educating by putting up a crash course:


What it is: Indonesian chicken porridge is one of the most popular breakfast food in Indonesia. It is typically sold in the morning by street vendors in residential neighborhood.

The ingredients: The dish consists of a base, which is rice porridge that has been cooked with chicken bones to add some flavor to it and may be lightly salted, and the toppings, which are to be added into the individual bowl right before serving.
Flavorsome porridge
How to make: Simply drop a blob of porridge using a ladle and then put all the toppings and condiments on top. There are no specific sequence for adding the toppings and condiments in which to follow but general rule of thumb is, items with softer texture go first and slowly work your way to the crunchiest, for obvious reason. For example, here's how I made mine:
Array of Toppings & Condiments

1. Drop a blob of porridge about 1/3 of your bowl.
2. Add drizzle of salty soy sauce (there will be usually two types of soy sauce provided - the sweet and the salty one - look for one with thinner consistency between the two. It is concentrated so don't use too much, 1 tsp is about enough.
3. Add about 1/2 - 1 tsp of chili sauce for some kick followed by chopped parsley
4. Add 1 tsp spring onion
5. Add 1 tsp chopped Chinese-style preserved radish (this has texture and taste similiar to pickles only not as wet)
6. Add about 1 tbsp (heaped) sliced cakwe (pronounced chuck-weh, a Chinese fried dough)
7. Add the shredded chicken
8. Add quail eggs (you can have up to 3 pcs)
9. Add 1 tsp fried soy nuts
10. Add 1 tsp fried wonton skin (Note: Although there are some vendors that include fried wonton skin in their toppings, it is not really a common ingredient in this chicken porridge)
11. Add 1/2 tsp fried shallots
12. Lightly drizzle some sweet soy sauce on top of all the toppings as if you're marrying all the ingredients together. The sweetness of the soy sauce will also help counteract the heat from the chili
13. Put some melinjo crackers (you can crack them lightly into smaller pieces if you like) as the final touch
14. Start eating!

How to eat: Again, there are no hard and fast rules to eating chicken porridge but people would usually mix all the ingredients together lightly before eating. Some people mix the whole bowl together at once, other people mix only a mouthful for each spoon. You'll get an explosion of flavor and texture in every spoonful: salty, sweet, hot, chewy, smooth, herby, crunchy; you name it, it got it!

Mix 'em before you eat 'em

I also took the time to go to Bekasi, a town in the outskirt of Jakarta about 45 minutes by car if traffic is good. I grew up in this town and my family still lives there. They took me to see this new mixed property development on the other part of town that we seldom visit. I thought I barely knew the area but then things suddenly looked familiar and I just realized I spent quite a lot of time there when I was in high school for tutoring and extracurricular activities. Funny how I had never thought about those times in 10 years and it all came rushing down on me within seconds and suddenly, it's like I never left.

The development of course had a mall. It is unbelievable and quite eerie how glam the new mall is considering how quite Bekasi was when I grew up. Naturally, we went to the food court. They had this food court where they literally gathered various street food vendors with their original carts to sell the food on the premises. So many food, so little time. Here's what I got:
Mie Kocok (Noodle with Beef Cartilage in Clear Broth) and White Kerupuk
Mie Kocok: A Sundanese (an ethnic group in West Java) specialty, literally means Shaken Noodle

Cireng: Fried Glutinous Flour

Kerak Telor: Some kind of omelet with crunchy rice and sweet shredded coconut topping

Nasi Uduk: fragrant rice with fried tempe, tofu, chicken intestines, and 'Kampung' chicken

On my way back to Singapore, I managed to sneak in time to eat one last bowl of Indonesian meatball soup. I don't know why but these lately I find myself to be quite crazy about meatballs every time I'm back in Indonesia.
Bakso Malang Campur : Mixed meatball soup

Bakso Malang Campur

So there you have it, a weekend in Jakarta done the nice, easy, and slow way with nothing but good food, people-watching, and a whole lotta relaxing. If you're the type that doesn't care about impressing your gazillian Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and you're a respectful tourist who just wants to go low-pro and soak up various cultures, and if you appreciate good food and accommodation in a bargain, then Jakarta could be the place for you. If you need some pointers or recommendations, please feel free to email me or drop them in the comment section, I'll do my best to answer your queries ;-)