Jakarta is a fast-paced city, commanding all to conform to its modern sophistication. Many who move here shed their true identities and adopt a contemporary lifestyle that is far removed from their cultural roots. A few, however, sustain their dignity by staying true to their traditions and refusing to conform to the arrogant demands of the metropolis.
Among the buildings designed by the first Indonesian architects in the Setiabudi and Menteng areas, only a few remain. Most have been demolished to make way for glitzy office blocks or apartment buildings. One on Jalan Setiabudi Tengah is now home to the Mbah Jingkrak restaurant.
The two-story house had changed hands several times before a Javanese couple, Wimbo S Hardjito and Pujiati, bought it as their private residence last year. When Wimbo retired, the couple decided to enter the restaurant business by buying a franchise from Semarang, Central Java.
“We wanted to try something unique,” Pujiati said. Having lived in Semarang, she had noticed that the Mbah Jingkrak restaurant there was always crowded. So in November of last year, the couple converted most of their quiet retirement home into a restaurant.
The 1959 building that houses the restaurant is an Indisch design. The style refers to that of newly independent Indonesian architects who retained some Dutch architectural touches, in this case a steep-angled saddle roof.
A variation occurs in the use of shingles, rather than tiles, to cover the roof. A long stretch of yellow cross beam between the floors functions as an ingenious shade that covers the veranda on the first floor, as well as blocking heat from the tropical sun from entering the house.
By the gate is a life-sized statue of a Mbah Jingkrak (literally translated as a prancing grandmother), a jolly-looking old lady in everyday Javanese traditional clothes, who beckons passersby to enter.
From the main hall wafts a hot and tempting smell of freshly-ground chillies. A large buffet table made of teak wood offers more than 50 original Javanese dishes in humble earthenware dishes.
Among its loyal patrons and guests, Mbah Jingkrak is well-known for its extremely spicy Javanese cuisine.
“At first, they think that the food is too hot and spicy,” said chef Slamet Riyadi, with a smile. “But after a while, they get addicted to the taste.”
Adjacent to the hall are two air-conditioned VIP rooms, each with four separate table seatings of teak. Decorated farmer’s hats, polished wooden masks and hand-painted batik curtains accentuate the lime-washed walls.
In the far corner of both rooms sit old television sets and vintage wooden radios from the 1950s.
“They’re antiques from the collection of Pak Wimbo,” said Harun Rasyid, manager of the restaurant. The private dining rooms also have free Wi-Fi available.
The narrow front of the house is in contrast to its exotic leafy backyard. A terrace outside is named Ruang Topi (room of caps) and features more than a hundred caps collected by Wimbo during his extensive travels around the world.
Each corner of the room houses a luxury vehicle from the 1950s, among them a shiny black Ducati Luxor, a 49-cubic centimeter Zundapp motorbike, a DKW motorcycle from Germany and a Sepeda Onthel — an antique bicycle from the Netherlands that was used by the elite of the era.
Adjoining the terrace is Ruang Wayang, which features a series of intricately hand-crafted leather puppets and batik paintings. In one corner, local soya sauce bottles from many parts in Indonesia are displayed.
“We started the collection with soya sauce bottles from Java,” Pujiati said. “Then some of our customers contributed soya sauce bottles from their hometowns.” Now, Mbah Jingkrak has more than 150 soya sauce bottles from around the country.
“This is my favorite place in the whole restaurant,” Pujiati said. “The simple decor reminds me of a warung [roadside foodstall] and it’s so cool during the day.”
Customers tend to linger in the dimly lit room, which opens onto a luxuriant garden by a pool. Melancholic Javanese tunes play in the background and just outside, colorful paper umbrellas hanging from a rain tree seem to dance to the rhythm.
The backyard is encircled with tall bamboo plants that sway seductively. When the wind blows, chimes ring creating a harmonious melody of nature.
An arched Japanese bridge crosses the swimming pool towards an alfresco dining area. Colorful junk boats and plastic balls float in the swimming pool.
“We want to make it fun for the entire family to dine here,” Harun said. “Couples can enjoy a romantic dinner and the children can play by the pool.”
“This place reminds me of my late grandma’s house on the outskirts of Yogyakarta,” said Sukana Jaya, a customer. “For me, it’s like coming home.”
Jl. Setiabudi Tengah No.11
Tel. 021 5252605