Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 12 February 2014 • Destination
During my visit to Malacca a long time ago, I was obsessed to see the Babah and Nyonya Peranakan Museum. Once I did, I saw so many wonderful details of the house and had a blast just trying to imagine myself living in such a meticulous house. I eventually thought, how is it Indonesia doesn’t have one especially in Jakarta, a city once built by the Chinese? Turns out, there was something coming close to it all along, in the form of Dapur Babah, a restaurant owned by Tugu Group, dedicated to the peranakan culture.
Dapur Babah Elite Restaurant is established within a building dating back to 1940s and was originally a shop house, although missing a second floor, which is usually a sign of a shop house. This building was part of the Rodeo Drive at its time, as Veteran road was once a fashion street. Now, living up to this fabulous past, Dapur Babah is decorated with beautiful authentic antiques mostly of the peranakan line. Pak Anhar, owner of Tugu Group, is an idealistic collector that has a lot of love for the real deal. Not to mention, he has good taste.
Entering the door hidden by lush plants, the first thing that caught my eyes was the portrait of a beautiful Chinese lady, illuminated amongst the dim light, despite its location in the back room. Later on, I found out that she was Angela Oei, favorite concubine of Oey Tiong Ham, the wealthiest Chinese man from Semarang during the colonial days. The lady inspired Pak Anhar to decorate a small but beautiful dining room, which is predictably named The Angela’s Room.
However, there was something else that illuminated me. The huge temple gate right in the middle of the lobby put the stars in my eyes. I’ve admired the gates in Kunstkring before for its glamorous appeal and size, but this gate was beyond it. This gate was from the Ching dynasty dating back to 1706. It was once buried but restored by Pak Anhar. My fascination was how the universe had led him to find it, considering it could have just rot in the ground or decay in a dumpster somewhere.
Another item that I couldn’t wrap my head around was the rock VOC emblem also from the 18th century. It probably had collapsed from some building to then end in Dapur Babah. I have no idea of the fate of the building it was from but it’s relieving to have this piece saved in the company of a building vaguely from the same era. I’m sure it feels at home now.
Vira is adding more about the bar:
Within the restaurant, is also the Tao Bar with a Jainism theme, guarded by Mahakala, the ultra-powerful Tibetan God of passion. It looks scary, but it’s actually believed to protect the universe, similar to Shiva in Hinduism. The room also has a long dining table in the centre and some small ones surrounding it. A Jain statue sits right behind the bar. It is definitely a nice touch of art to the whole spiritual setting.
Another interesting thing about the bar area was the line of coconut tree stems besides the center table. Interestingly, these stems are originally from Sulawesi. Why exactly? We’ll leave that a mystery for you to ask around yourself *wink.
As I am a fan of incense, I thought the obvious smell of it was what bound the ambience of the venue all together, but turns out I kinda think it was the smell of old wood. Every time I came closer to a wooded item, it was as if I could sense the smell of old wood. The antique items in this building, and even the building itself, had that old smell and the rustic texture with history written all over it. I couldn’t keep my hands to myself and wanted to touch every single item, hoping I could touch just a tad part of history. Sure, many new establishment can concept itself to be old and antique looking, but this joint is for real. The use of these antiques as part of the interior design puts dining experience on a whole different level as visitors can be amongst the past. Yes, I’m melancholic that way.
With these items, I’ve learned that antiques are defined of its context; the historical value and its preservation. With out one or the other, it could be just crap. I admire Pak Anhar Setjadibrata for that, not only does he collect beautiful items, he also collects the past. Indonesia’s past, to be exact.
“I dress up when I go to Dapur Babah,” says Riyanni, prominent TV personality and #savesharks activist. She tells me that the food is so good and the interior is so fabulous, she dresses up to honor it. I claim her as a foodie. Doesn’t dressing up for good food categorize you as one? And for that, we also decided to look purrty, too.
That night, we dined with Mbak Sian, the PR for Tugu Group. We had the Lontong Cap Gomeh, which was in accordance to the Chinese New Year a few moments ago, rice with crab curry, ‘bandeng isi’ (stuffed milkfish), and ‘pecel pincuk’ (steamed veggies with peanut sauce). The food was delicious, living up to the rich threshold for the Indonesian tongue. Everything was cooked well, suitable for my portion, and was an overflow of yummy flavor for one sitting. Also worth mentioning, each dish was pleasantly presented that it was heart breaking (and not) to start tearing it apart. But of course I did and I was a very happy girl. Personally, the ‘bandeng isi’ had me at my first bite. This wasn’t an easy dish to prepare considering the milkfish meat had to be taken out, mixed with shredded coconut and spices, to then be placed back in the fish while maintaining the form of the fish. Tricky! I’m no food expert but I’m naming it good food with the little food tasting credentials I have.
With Tugu’s reputation of authenticity, I wondered about the creation of the cuisines. They need genuine recipes and maintain quality with the changing of chefs. This couldn’t be easy. True enough, according to Mbak Sian, the wife of Pak Anhar is as idealistic of the food as Pak Anhar is of his collection. She’s the QC of all Tugu’s cuisines. Chefs are trained at Tugu Hotel in Malang before commanding any of the group’s restaurants, such as Dapur Babah. Although living up to the reputation of original taste, the restaurants menus are open to change as long as it’s still within the core.
There are many dining experiences offered by Dapur Babah, but just in case you’re not looking for anything fancy, you can opt to dine at the remake of a peranakan kitchen, back at the Babah Garden. There are pots and pans of the old days, wooden cake moulds, and a remake of stoves. It is said that the kitchen is where the peranakan people, who would probably be the masters of the house, and the natives who would be the help, blend culture through cooking and created the peranakan food we know today. Such a lovely acculturation! But it’s nothing without blessings from the divine beings. In the middle of the kitchen is the goddess of cooking. Yes, the Chinese has a god for cooking, which probably is the reason why Chinese cooking has been pretty successful around the world. Good to know! Khihihi…
Dining in Dapur Babah is not merely about the food; it’s also about the experience. There are many venues that offer the same, but very very few that can offer something hardcore as Dapur Babah. You’ve probably guessed that I’ve become a big fan, and anyone with a liking of food or history would probably be one, too.
I must say, there was one thing that bothered our lovely time there. The mosquitoes crashed the party, causing us to rub our legs more than we would like to and not the good kind. But other than that, it was a perfect dining experience!
Jl Veteran I / 18, Jakarta Pusat 10110
Tel: +62 (21) 385 5653, Fax: +62 (21) 385 3040
We would like to thank the Tugu Group for the dinner invitation and providing an excuse to dress up for the night. Having said that, opinions are still our own.
Error: No connected account.
Please go to the Instagram Feed settings page to connect an account.