Located along the same street as Ragusa is Dapur Babah (Baba Kitchen), a Javanese-Peranakan restaurant that fuses Chinese and Indonesian cuisines in a homage to the cross-cultural union during the colonial era where early Chinese settlers married local Javanese women. I was surprised that Jakarta has a celebrated Baba-Nyonya culture since the Peranakans’ genesis and proliferation seem to be contained within the Straits territories of British Malaya (chiefly in Penang, Melaka, and Singapore). My world has been expanded.
But although Dapur Babah is Peranakan, its menu is different from the staple of Nyonya food popularized in Melaka. We didn’t find ayam pongteh, ayam buah keluak, or the asam dishes we are familiar with. Instead, we were introduced to a Peranakan culinary compass that pointed in all directions of the Indonesian archipelago with elements of Javanese, Sundanese and even Balinese flavours evident on our lunch table.
Converted from two adjoining shophouses constructed in 1940, Dapur Babah looks misplaced amongst the mostly aging shops along Jalan Veteran I. Effort was spent to make the restaurant’s visage stand out but it fell a few points short of being a spectacle. With the banner and overcrowding of potted greens obscuring the restaurant’s name, I didn’t figure that it was a restaurant when I passed it the first time.
Although Dapur Babah’s entrance felt rather nondescript and untidy, the interior was an absolutely gorgeous visual feast!
Antique furniture and an eclectic collection of yesteryear knick-knacks resurrected the rich colours of tradition in bygone eras. Dapur Babah has 6 distinctive dining spaces, each crafted to leave a lasting impression of this wonderland of time.
The seating décor most immediately captivating once pass the reception of Dapur Babah is Angela’s Room. Inspired and named after the 16th concubine of the immensely wealthy Chinese Indonesian sugar baron Oei Tiong Ham, Angela was his favourite. Looking at her pre-Playboy photo on the wall, it’s easy to see why Mr Oei did stiff business with his sugar cane.
The quickest way to nirvana is at the adjoining Tao Bar with Boozeddha!
My favourite venue at Dapur Babah was the semi open air terraced Babah Garden.
Deliciously decked out in jade green, chilli red and cobalt, the period movie set worthy Babah Garden is a photographic dream. We were the first patrons when the restaurant opened at 11 am and had the place all to ourselves to go shutter crazy!
One end of Babah Garden was filled with time windows that provided a glimpse of early Peranakan lifestyle of the Oei clan and other powerful Indo-Chinese families.
After good finger workout snapping with my phone cam, it was time to settle down for lunch with a cocktail menu that matches the hors d’oeuvres and main courses in exotica. For starters, we quenched with 2 cocktails from Tao Bar and whetted the appetite with Loempia Basah (Rp42,000).
The popiah-like crepe wrapped with chicken and shrimp on taoco sauce resembled the white-skinned savoury version of kueh dadar (a Peranakan dessert) oozing gula Melaka.
(Top Left) Pastel Toetoep (Rp48,000) is a Dutch-influenced potato pie with glass noodles, ear fungus, snow peas, egg and ox tongue.
(Top Right) Garang Asam Bandeng Blimbing Woeloeh (Rp48,000) is the Javanese version of asam fish but less sour.
(Bottom Left) One of the Indonesian favourites is the Oxtail Soup which was good to the last drop at Dapur Babah.
(Bottom Right) The most wayang dish goes to Nasi Tjampoer Babah (Rp68,000) with its dramatic presentation and flavoured rice wrapped in banana leaf.
Smoor Lidah Babah (Top photo: Ox Tongue Soup) didn’t sound too appetizing as we hardly eat that in Singapore but it turned out a winner with me. I rather enjoyed the ox tongue’s texture and the aroma of spices that have steeped into the organ.
Another presentation thumbs up was the Chicken Sate heated with a personal terracotta charcoal stove! It’s a photo magnet but my advice is to click quickly and eat before the meat gets too tough from being overcooked by the heat.
Dining at Dapur Babah is the equivalent of having a meal in an art and decor museum replete with authentic time forgotten paraphernalia, mementoes and thingamajigs. The atmosphere was great despite a couple of electrical blackouts while we lunched and staff were helpful but lacked warmth.
Food-wise, quality and presentation were rated high but I can’t quite distinguish traditional Indonesian palates from Indo-Peranakan cuisines. Maybe the Indonesian food I’ve been having all along in Singapore is already of the Indo-Peranakan lineage. Nonetheless, Dapur Babah is definitely worth the legwork while in Jakarta.
Address : Jalan Veteran I, No. 18-19, Central Jakarta 10110
Tel : +62 21 7060 2256