Pecenongan, Central Jakarta, has long been heralded as an area for culinary tourism, or as the locals like to call it “wisata kuliner.” It looks just like any other busy streets in Jakarta at daytime, but just as the dusk starts to fall and the businesses close for the day, you will notice mobile carts and all their attributes (stoves, pans, tables and chairs, etc) start to settle themselves at each designated spots.
The “tenda” or stall is a very casual place, you can come in slippers or homey dress, no one would bother you. Being in outdoor setting, the mosquitos are probably your biggest threat, so either wear long-pants or apply some mosquito repellent. Temperature wise, it was pretty comfortable; so T-shirts are most recommended when you come to eat here.
Street food experience in Jakarta, such as in Pecenongan, is nothing like anywhere else. You will be constantly annoyed by the mosquitoes, the noise from the street and cars and motorbikes ploughing through the jam-packed street, and of course, not to forget the “free” entertainment – the perpetual and persistent street buskers. While eating at any of these stalls, don’t be surprised if you are suddenly approached by kids, singing out-of-tune at the clap of their fragile hands or at times, more seasoned adults who come with mobile speaker, even mic and guitar. When you choose to just ignore them, they’ll stay rooted in the spot even longer. Either to wait for you to open your wallets or simply to annoy the hell out of you, so you’ll give your money to shoo them away.
And of course, Jakarta is not Jakarta without the rampant sights of vagrants on the streets. On the 2 nights I came to Pecenongan, I crossed paths with the same pair of an old disabled woman sitting on a self-made wooden cart and one person who pushes her around from stalls to stalls. Am I heartless if I feel no inclination to make any donations?
You may occasionally feel your goosebumps raised when something smooth bristles past between your legs. No, it is not a supernatural apparition, it’s just nonchalant city cats that thrive at places like this. They could care less if you’re 10 times their size, as these cats will walk through your “territory” and brush against your skin, sometimes I think, are done on purpose. I almost jumped in my seat had I not seen the cat a few seconds before it reached my legs. You never know what clings onto its fur.
That said, here are the top picks:
Sop Kaki & Sate Kambing “Krekot”
The “soto Betawi” effortlessly won my taste buds over. I love the milky broth that tasted umami and still light despite the milkiness. Honestly, I could easily finish a plate of plain rice with just the milky broth, because it was really tasty. It tasted even better with generous addition of fried shallots. And the mutton satay was well processed; no stink nor weird flavor that I always associated mutton with.
Martabak Pecenongan 43
A trip to Pecenongan is never complete without having the martabak (Indonesian pancake) for takeaway. 43′s sweet pancake is not very sweet, because they pack less volume of fillings, hence you won’t feel sick quickly from eating more than a few slices. Plus, I personally believe that 43′s is more doughy & tender. Whereas its savory pancake is thick, fluffy and not too salty, so you can eat more of it without the need to guzzle lots of water to neutralize the salt in your mouth.
Kedai Sate Babi Krekot (non-halal)
Kedai Sate Babi Krekot was particularly packed. I noticed that most of the customers were Chinese, but there were non-Chinese as well. The price is quite steep for street food standard. It costs Rp 50,000 for 10 skewers of pork. Good thing is that the pork is lean. This version of pork satay doesn’t use peanut sauce like most satays do. Instead, the seasoning uses mainly sweet soya sauce and a sort of light brown flakes that is actually galanger seasonings, or “lengkuas.” Add more zest in the satay, by squeezing a dash of lime that comes served with it.
Nasi Uduk Ayam Goreng Sri Rostika
Nasi Uduk Sri Rostika is the one and only stall selling nasi uduk (coconut rice) at Pecenongan. I guess that’s why it is quite popular here. I only had the rice, sans any other side dishes like roast chicken, tofu or tempe that normally accompanies nasi uduk, because the side dishes didn’t look quite appetizing to me unfortunately.
Martabak Pecenongan 65A Bandung Asli
For a stall that is 40 years old, this one is successful in keeping up with modern communication technology such as Facebook, Twitter, email, SMS line and even a scannable QR Code via which we can find its menu online. With so many permutations of fillings offered (e.g. chocolate, cheese, raisin, banana, peanut, cashew nut, sesame, etc), you’ll be spoilt for choice. Although price wise, 65A is slightly pricier than No. 43 (by only about Rp 5,000 – 10,000).
For more delicious treats, visit the author’s blog at http://culinarybonanza.blogspot.com/