Semarang, Central Java – Back to This Old City (2) - Indohoy

Semarang, Central Java – Back to This Old City (2)

Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 4 July 2010   •  Itinerary

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Another side of Semarang beside of its history is city of the Tionghoa (term for the Indonesian Chinese) ethnicity and a city full of delicious dishes, infamously the Lunpia (read Loonpia) Semarang or Semarang spring roll. And considering it was 2 weeks after the Chinese New Year, I thought I’d check out the ambience of Cap Gomeh in the highly dominated Tionghoa people. This is the second part of my trp to Semarang. I’ve also separated some ‘eats’ that was related to the Tionghoa community. Another side of Semarang besides the old city and it’s flood.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Previous : Semarang, Central Java – Back to This Old City

Sam Poo Kong Temple

In the spirit of the Chinese New Year and the great history of the place even alluring Jet Lee to come see, we visited the this Chinese temple.

 Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Once you step in to the temple you can see that it’s influenced by Islam. How can you tell? Look closely and I’ll give you time to guess…

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Yep! It’s the color green that decorates the temple. Chinese do not use green in their temples, and green is the color favorite to Moslem. Strangely main temple also is not aligned with the other temples. This was because it was designed to face Mecca, a sign of holy house for the Moslem. Yes Zheng He prayed in the main temple.

The details of the temple are scrumptious! It’s well preserved and you can see how much effort was put to it. One of my favorite items were the little animal statues on the roof’s edges. They were guardians of the temple looking out at every direction. It was made in to detail even though located in a remote spot. I now also can identify which dragons in front of temples are male and female… I’m sure you can too. I always thought they were the same. I’m not giving this answer out, you just have to find out for yourself.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Another impressive thing is the stone mural depicting Zheng He’s history with Indonesia. It is a beautiful work of art and well made indeed. Underneath the pictures is the story, which I’ll leave you to read while enjoying the marvelous carvings. It’s not something old or new, but still well made art.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

This place is a very spiritual place indeed. Another feature of the temple is the well located underneath the main temple. This well is said to be where Zhang Ze did is super trips to China. Went through the porthole and in a second he was in China, believe it or not?! Peaking in, there are a lot of offerings including money which I don’t know how it got there. The area was locked so the offerings probably were from special occasions. Nonetheless, people also gave offerings at the gate. This must be some General.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Entering the temple will cost you IDR 5,000 / person, and will cost you another IDR 20,000 / person to enter the inner parts which is actually what you really want to see.

Sam Poo Kong Temple

Jl. Simongan No. 129, Semarang

+62 24 7605 277

And “Favorite Crew” Falls to…

There are 6 main temples. One main temple, and another 5 that are dedicated to General Zheng He’s trusted crew, such as the captain of the boat who he sailed to Indonesia, and my favorite, the cook Kyai Tumpeng. And FYI, Tumpeng is the type of rice that is cooked and stacked like an upside down cone for celebrations. Do you think there is a correlation? The cook’s temple is the most humble of all. There is no fancy architecture, it’s wall-less, rugged and stored way in the back. I asked the Juru Kunci, which is what you call the guardian of the grave, why it was never rehabilitated. His answer: ‘Mbah (Mister) doesn’t want it’. Ha?

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Yes, he asks the cook’s spirit through the throwing of 2 special woods and it always comes out no. Out of the possibilities, it never comes out yes. So they left it as it is. What a humble spirit, and I mean that in the utmost respectful way! He was so important, taking care of the General’s food, yet he never wants a glamorous grave. I’m a fan!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

These useful info are from the local tour guide which you pay with a voluntarily amount and from the temple guardians (usually dressed in black). Tours and guides are always available on site, just ask around. It would be a shamed not to understand the whole history.

My eyes also caught the fortune teller. At one certain temple I got to see this master do his work. You know that Chinese way of putting a lot of bamboo with writing on them in a cup kinda thing, and you shake it until one falls out and shows you your destiny. Well that’s exactly how this is done. You know that we do it really sloppy and sometimes forces one bamboo out? Doesn’t apply to the keepers of the temple. When they do it, only one bamboo sticks out perfectly, and if it’s not the right one, then that bamboo will head back in and another will slide out perfectly without force. For me, somehow, it was amazing to see and I’m a believer!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the festival. We had to see other places. But for me, the history was the best part of it all. Knowing about the place and what it’s truly about is what matters. Maybe next year…

Tay Kak Sie Temple

We got almost lost one night, looking for food at Gang Warung with our becak. We thought we were supposed to look for Gang Lombok for the food fiesta. But our lost adventured us to see this temple instead. Like most Chinese temples, this one is also rich in detail. It was built in the late 18th century and it was a substitute Sam Poo Kong temple that was too far to head in those days.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

In front of it stood humongous candles. I think they were record breaking! It can lit for months. These candles are supposed to bring many blessings to those that bought them. The longer it burns, the longer your blessings would come through. And it’s not cheap! A candle the size of me, being 155 cm in height, would cost about millions and millions. I can’t imagine how much this candle costs.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

There were two temples here. I’m not sure which is which but I do like the door on the older and smaller one. It’s antique I say.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Semawis Alley

This alley is well known as the night market of the town. It has all sorts of food, drinks and desserts for you to enjoy. But you’ll have to drool about it in the ‘eat’ section.

What I wanted to highlight in this section is the two things I saw that were cute and heartwarming. And no, it’s not a bunch of kitten in a basket covered with a fluffy blanket although I would faint just at the bear sight of it.


Try to mix karaoke with a street vendor, Chinese language and a bunch of old people… What do you get? Exactly… a Chinese on-the-street sing off! These Tionghoa dudes and dudettes know how to boogie on the street hahahaha… I’m not sure if you have to pay or not. I would love to participate but I don’t know any Chinese language songs… sorry! And seems like only the elderly had the guts to actually grab the mike and do it!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang


Meeting some of the elderly in places like this is what I describe as heartwarming. I happen to meet the fastest painter in Indonesia, as the paper that this man had shown us featuring himself, laminated for people to see. True enough, me, Rani, and his two granddaughters watched him paint, he was pretty fast. He claimed to be able to pain a shrimp under 60 second. I timed him, and out his failure he said, well he’s not in the mood of such a race. I won’t sue him anyways.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

He charges people for paintings. A small saying and a simple picture would at least cost Rp 25,000. I got myself a picture since I thought it would be a great thing to remind me that I was in Semarang and not China (D’oh!). And out of accidental request, I got a special picture for a special price. The dude was so nice.

Banarian Coffee Plantation

Rani and I are coffee drinkers. I personally can drink both instant and non instant coffee, but we both prefer the later than the previous. It’s been a whole day with out a good cup, and we need our caffeine dose. We heard that not far from Semarang, good coffee was presented. So, no discussion! That has to be one destination.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

 The Banarian Coffee Plantation is located about 2 hours from the city, up in the chilly hills. It’s located amongst tea plantation and on the intercity road. We didn’t realize that it was about 2 hours ride outside of the city, so unfortunately we ended up there a little late in the afternoon since we headed out a bit late in the day. Amongst the sweaty passengers of public transport, luckily we saw the venue. The café opened up to 8 pm, but the coffee plantation ride was closing at 5 pm. It was 10 past 4 so we better get a move on.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

The cart is like a golf cart, which can bring about 5 adults. It seemed that it can fill much more, but I get why they limit the amount of passengers after we hit the road. The terrain was quite steep and that mini golf cart was a heavy duty cart. It was like riding a 4WD golf cart. It tore the plantation with ease with the help of the drivers maneuvers skills. It takes you up in the hills where you can see all the coffee growing. You can choose to walk the trail or even bike through it. In about August, the coffee is then picked, and you can join in the picking process. It was a 4 km ride and enjoyable.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

 You can also see Rawa Pening or Pening Swamp from the trail and it was pretty extensive and beautiful to add that. Wanna take a sip? Check out how to get there in ‘how to get there’.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

When writing about Semarang, I just realized how much I’d seen and learned about the city. Going through it was moderately relaxing but turns out that I gained more than I thought. I would definitely go back to Semarang… for one reason left… Lunpia Semarang in Gang Lombok. Well isn’t good food worth any trip?

Semawis alley

NIGHT MARKETS YAY! They’re great I tell you. Just love them! Semawis alley is located in Gang Warung, parallel to Gang Lombok. It provides almost anything edible. Ok guys, don’t go nuts on me and say leaches and such! Just the usual chicken, meat, fish, and pork and some additional frogs I guess. It is served as soups, grilled, fried, and baked, they have it all.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Oh my God! It was so hard to choose, but since I’m a sucker for shellfish satay combined with potato perkedel (which is mashed potato made in to balls), and the chicken soup, then it’s Pak Bambang’s lucky night to have me buying. Of course, I chose this venue because you get to eat at the seller’s wagon. And if you pay attention really closely, you might see his thumb dive in your soup before he gives you the bowl he’s holding on hahahahaha… I love Indonesian food!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

The soup itself consists of shredded chicken, rice noodles, rice, bean sprouts, and other bits of goodies boiled in broth. The side dishes you choose straight from whatever is on the table, adding to what I already mentioned is marinated tofu satay and the chicken intestine on a stick, hmmm… sounds yummy, hey? And to your own liking, there are lime, chilly paste, vinegar, and salt for you to add in your soup as pleased. I recommend the lime and chilly paste. You can never go wrong with that!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

One portion of this soup with its additional dishes cost IDR 10,000

Rani, on the other hand, tried a Chinese dish. Hainan Chicken rice. It was very nice, very rich in taste and texture since they give you a bowl of broth just to help the rice and chicken down to your tum tum.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Washing it down is another thing! Semawis has also countless snacks and deserts. All different kind and the best part of them all, is that they’re all traditional or modified from traditional recipes. I also tried the pressed banana with no toppings. I like it just pressed, please. I tried a stall that claims to be since 1960. But when it comes to pressed banana, it doesn’t really matter!! Chump down, guys!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Not to mention the different juices and drinks. Tropical fruit just a blend away! And of course you got to have the dragon fruit juice!

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

You can enjoy your meals on the tables that are laid out for you right across this small street. There are a lot of choices of places where you can eat. Some shops are even real shops so you can eat in them as in any restaurants.

Semawis is opened from Friday to Sunday nights. It usually gets crowded the later it gets. Apparently all of Semarang was there, but it was really nice too see these people rather than having them eat at a fast food joint in the mall.

Semawis Alley

Gang Warung, Pecinaan  

If I lived in Semarang, I would try everything there excluding the pork. Just to kill my curiosity and my love of Indonesian food and night markets.

Lunpia Lombok

This the one thing that will drag me back to Semarang. I didn’t have the privilege to try one of the oldest and most local dish of them all, Lunpia Semarang. On Gang Lombok, just beside the Tay Kak Sie temple, there is a stall that sells this famous Lunpia. It is said to be the original taste and the best tasting also. It’s been open for a long time, and the place was never changed. The recipe has been passed on for a few generations and is very well known especially amongst the Tionghoa people. We were darn unlucky since it was closed I think due to Cap Gomeh. Oh how I dream of eating it one day!

Lunpia Mataram Street

As a consolation of our dissapointment not able to have Lunpia Lombok, we tried the second best thing. Lunpia Mataram street. There are so many vendors on the streets it’s a pain to even decide which one is the best. And apparently the people don’t really know either.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

The name sold on the streets is Lunpia Mataram beside the bakery. So we tried to find the bakery and what was beside it :D. Surprisingly it wasn’t bad! I certainly enjoyed it 😀

Sate Ayam Kapuran

We met up with Ninin, one of my girlfriends in stripes, and her friend Komeng, to have lunch together. They lived here once upon a time and recommended us this place. They were pretty surprised since the place was just a shack back then and now it’s this big building and all established… but we eventually got our satay after Komeng bit their heads off…

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Yes, there is no meat on a stick thing, they serve it differently, just saving time and cheeks with sauce stain by taking the stick out for you. How generous! Wait! Don’t forget the chilly, soy sauce, tomato, lime, and shallots to go with it!

A portion would cost IDR 20,000 which already includes rice. But you better order a warm drink with that, especially if you happen to try their wonderful chilly paste.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Grilled Coffee

It was the last day in Semarang, no plans at all, and just wondering silly around the city in the becak. We were kinda hazy since we hadn’t had our dose of coffee… STOP! I screamed out ‘GRILLED COFFEE’!!! Rani and I had this happy face instantly to the idea of caffeine. We jumped of the becak and drooled over the counter for coffee.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

It was a weird coffee machine, which actually is distilled coffee extract. So it’s coffee vapor in a cup. The experience: enjoyable! First experience of this weird coffee. The taste: interestingly horrible. It was weak, like instant coffee with too much water. The talk with the owner: absolutely fabulous! He gave us the insights where to get the best food in the city. Trust the Chinese to know the great munchies of the area. And that became the day to hunt for food.

A cup cost us IDR 10,000

Bakso Bakar

Jl. Thamrin No 35, Semarang

Mie Kupat Pak Dhuwuk (Mie Kopyok)

This noodle dish was, for me, delicious and new! A great great wonderful combination making it one of my favorite surprises coming to Semarang. It’s a dish containing noodles, tofu, and ketupat or cut up rice that is cooked in palm leaves. There are 2 things I love about this food. First of all, it’s got this distinct shallots and garlic sauce in the broth. It gives that different taste compared to the usual broth and soups in the market.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

Second, the venue is so humble. Making it, friendly, cheap, and less fuss!

Banaran Coffee Plantation

Since it’s located outside of the city, I feel that I should explain how to get to this plantation in this segment. To get to Banaran, head to Cipto street and hop on any minibus that heads to Salatiga. Remember! Salatiga. If you take the wrong bus, you would end up in Surakarta a.k.a. Solo. Don’t got there for the purpose of getting lost.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

About an hour or so, the minibus would then take a left once the road splits in a bus station. Keep your eyes on the left. You would see it loud and clear!

Or simply as the driver to drop you off there. They usually know where it is.

To get there, the bus ride would cost IDR 10,000 / pax.

There were 3 important buys during this trip.


The Semarang city map, that kept on M.I.A every time we needed it. Either it’s left in bag at home, or in Rani’s bag, or in in my bag, or somewhere. It just was never there for us to see… we were meant to get lost then. But a map is really useful in this city. Trust us. It’s worth the buy.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang


Snacks for those back home. If you haven’t noticed, we like to buy things for our friends or family at home. It’s an Indonesian thing. It used to be a symbol of thinking of them when we are away because traveling was such a luxury compared to today. Now, it just brings big smiles to those back home. Anything better than that? I don’t think so.

We stopped at Juwana on the last afternoon and wanted to buy some snack. Man, was Juwana so full of rude mummy’s shopping for their family. There was no line to begin with and they still cut in the messy blob of people in front of the cashier. Thank God, the cashier has a good eye on who came first. Man it was sooo scary! I’m glad I came out alive and with snack from that place.

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

I bought sesame mochi,¸a small round snack made of starch and peanuts inside. This snack cost ?

Another snack was the Ledre, which is banana dough pressed so thin it resembles paper, and it’s crunchy so it breaks easily when you bite it.


Just to talk about the food at Banaran Coffee Plantation, the coffee was really nice. Try the first class coffee and you will taste a smooth moderately strong coffee. These beans are said to be exported. It’s a tad bit expensive than the traditional coffee but still affordable for about IDR 20,000-30,000 / cup

Travel Indonesia: Semarang

The snacks were great. Cheap but tasted really good. Eating snacks in the highlands plus coffee is the way to go. Snacks cost about IDR 5,000 – 10,000 / portion, which can consist of fried banana, fried cassava, and a few tempeh.

If you’re interested to buy local coffee or tea for yourself then get the packed version by the counter. 100 g of coffee will cost you IDR 5100.

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