Glodok – Chinatown: Jakarta, West Java

glodok.jpgBeing married to an Indonesian-born Chinese Bhuddist it’s only natural that I have a deep interest in Chinese culture and those parts of Indonesia where the persons of Chinese descent reside. In every major city in the Archipelago there is a Chinatown (pecinan) and one of my favourites is in Semarang even though I am entranced by the Chinatown in Yogyakarta where I lived. But it is in Jakarta where there s probably the most interesting of these areas – Glodok in West Jakarta.

Actually, Glodok refers to an area outside the city walls in Jakarta where the Chinese community restricted themselves to ghettos after the bloody massacre of 1740.

However, Glodok today is a bustling area of trade and has emerged as one of the most widely popular sight seeing destinations and is one of the most crowded sections of the city.

It’s a colourful area of shop houses, traditional markets, hawker stalls and temples that dot the area, retaining a familiar Chinese atmosphere.

The greatest attraction in Glodok is that it is not only cheap but it also provides a great variety of products especially electronic goods and Glodok is known as the centre of electronics in Jakarta. In fact, Glodok the wholesale and retail center of the capital, accounts for almost 70 per cent of all financial transactions in Indonesia.

There is a shopping bridge linking Jalan Hayam Wuruk and Jalan Gajah which is of extreme interest but it is the Chinese Temples of Vihara Dharma Bhakti and Da Shi Miao on Jalan Kemenangan. However, there is much more to Glodok than shopping and sightseeing. It is also an area rich in warungs and restoran that is a haven for food lovers.

Here is a relevant article by Evi Mariani on the delicacies available in Glodok:

It is a dense residential area that dates back to colonial times, when it was transformed into a Chinese enclave by the Dutch administration. Since its earliest days it has been the home of many of the city’s peranakan, or acculturated, Chinese Indonesians.

While many of the area’s original residents have moved on, others have chosen to stay in Glodok, passing down stories from generation to generation. To the joy of Indonesians and foreigners alike, some of the area’s peranakan Chinese continue to use grandma’s old recipes today.

Ko Anyan is just one of area’s residents keeping traditions alive. The cakes and cookies he produces in his small bakery are based on recipes that have been passed down for generations. The most famous cakes he produces are bolu gulung (roll cakes), kue lapis (layered cakes) and kue kering (cookies).

He sells his products in a glass cabinet on the sidewalk in front of his house on Jl. Petak Sembilan. He makes cakes and cookies when he has time, depending on his personal schedule. However, he encourages his long-term customers to place orders.

“There is no kue lapis today. You can order one though. I receive orders from long-time customers.

“Some of them live abroad and they place orders when they visit Jakarta,” he said.

He said he had only ever marketed his goods through word of mouth.

Several of Anyan’s neighbors also sell cakes. One of them sells kue mangkok, or cup cakes. In the past the main ingredients used to make kue mangkok were rice flour and palm sugar, although some vendors have changed the recipe slightly.

“My kue mangkok are still made from palm sugar and rice flour. These days a lot of people make kue mangkok with wheat flour,” the seller said while removing cakes from the bowls they were molded in.

“These bowls are old. We have had them for two generations. They were made in China.

“I still have about 100 bowls. I broke some bowls and it is impossible to find the same kind now,” she said.

Many residents in Glodok sell their wares out the front of their homes. Some open permanent food stalls, while others set up makeshift stalls. In the small alleyway in which Anyan lives, many types of food can be found.

One vendor in the street sells traditional desserts, including ketan hitam, or sticky rice served with coconut milk and palm sugar. Despite the variety of tastes Anyan’s street caters to, the most popular culinary neighborhood in Jakarta’s Chinatown is some distance away. Behind Jl. Pancoran in Glodok, many vendors selling Chinese and peranakan Chinese food gather.

The area is sometimes described as “belakang Gloria” or behind Gloria, which was the name of the first modern supermarket in Jakarta in the 1970s.

Specialties of the area include Pioh and sekba, which are certainly not for the faint at heart. Pioh is a type of soup made from freshwater turtles, while sekba is made from the internal organs of pigs. Standard Indonesian fare, including gado-gado (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce), sup buntut (oxtail soup) and nasi campur (rice served with assorted meat), is also available in the area.

Glodok’s food stalls and vendors are not fancy. Some may even question their standards of hygiene, like other food stalls in the capital.

However, people continue to flock to the area from outside Jakarta to sample its specialties. Some people even say standard Indonesian food in Glodok has something special about it.

“Gado-gado here is different. The sauce is different. My favorite gado-gado is from Glodok,” Ella Ubaidi, a regular visitor to the area, said.

“You should come here again if you want to find hidden treasures. There is a lot to explore in the area,” she said.