The best places to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in Jakarta: Food writer Eleanor Ford

 

JAKARTA, INDONESIA

THE EXPERT

Eleanor Ford is a London-based food writer whose work draws on exotic, far-flung destinations for inspiration. She is the author of Fire Islands ((Murdoch Books, $49.99), which charts the fresh, vibrant food of Indonesia, a country in which she has spent much time since childhood. See murdochbooks.com.au

MORNING SNACK

People in West Java have a proclivity for sour foods such as the pickled vegetable salad called asinan. The base has similarities to Korean kimchi, but this is lighter and fresher with the crackle of raw bean sprouts and fried peanuts. Its addictive peanut butter dressing has a tangy kiss of tamarind balanced with palm sugar sweetness. Head to a warung (small family-owned restaurant) to find it. I recommend Gado-Gado Bon-Bin which has been turning out  asinan and the national salad favourite, gado gado, to devotees since 1960. (Jalan Cikini Number 5 Jakarta Pusat [Central Jakarta])

LUNCH

Soto is sometimes earmarked as Indonesia's national dish as there are variations of this meaty soup on every island from Sumatra to Papua. In Jakarta it is soto Betawi you should seek out, a complex spiced beef broth enriched with coconut cream. With each mouthful you'll pick out a new note: ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, star anise, clove. They come together in a symphony of flavour. The canteen-like Soto Betawi H. Ma'ruf pulls in a crowd of professionals at lunchtime for heartwarming bowls of their signature soto. (Jalan Pramuka Number 64, Jakarta Pusat)

KOPI AND CAKES

Bakoel Koffie is a legendary coffee shop run by fourth generation coffee roasters. Occupying an old Dutch colonial shop, the vibe is very old Jakarta, or Batavia as it once was. Of course Java coffee (kopi as it is known in Indonesia) is famous the world over and here is as good as it gets. Alongside your brew choose a selection of miniature technicolour cakes. Maybe one in tapioca stripes where you peel off the layers as you eat, or perhaps a steamed cassava cake in shocking pink. I always go for pancakes, jade-green from delicately scented pandan leaves, stuffed with a treacly coconut filling. See bakoelkoffie.com

DRINK

There is a folk tale that Javanese princesses would drink jamu to sustain eternal youth and beauty in order to serve their kings. Certainly these herbal tonics seem to have originated in the royal courts more than a thousand years ago and are still drunk widely today. A favourite is a vivid-yellow turmeric and lime jamu that you can feel doing you good. If you want a more modern kick, Kaum serves cocktails influenced by traditional herbal combinations. Make mine a martini infused with lemongrass and torch ginger. See kaum.com

DINNER

Even after a full day of snacking, locals would claim a meal is not a meal in Indonesia unless it contains rice. Head to the nearest night market or a street food stall to find umami-packed nasi goreng (fried rice). Nasi gila (crazy rice) is a Jakartan take, souped-up with extras like meatballs, sausages, prawns and punchy spices. One of the most famous versions is Obama nasi gila, so named as it comes from the street where the US president went to school. (Jalan Besuki Number 1, Jakarta Pusat)

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