How to eat your way around Ben Hil
A mere hop, skip, and jump from Jalan Sudirman, Bendungan Hilir is a dynamic culinary hub right in the heart of Jakarta. Better known as Ben Hil, this eclectic patchwork of kaki limas (mobile food carts), warungs, and restaurants presents a perfect opportunity to try a mix of Indonesian delicacies. Below are just a few of the area’s mouth-watering snack, lunch and dinner options.
Eat on the street
Ben Hil is one of the best areas in Jakarta to experience the city’s diverse street-food culture. Cheap and flavoursome, the delicacies dished out by the ubiquitous kaki limas that line the sidewalks of Jalan Ben Hil Raya, the neighbourhood’s main drag, come from all around the archipelago. Kaki lima translates to “five legs” in Indonesian, and some say that the name references the carts’ two wheels and three support stands.
The best spot to start your culinary adventure is opposite Rumah Sakit Tni Al Dr. Mintohardjo (Tni Al Dr. Mintohardjo Hospital) on Jalan Ben Hil Raya. While the street offerings can change from day to day, the range of treats here is so wide that even the fussiest are guaranteed to find nosh that delights their taste buds.
Aside for kaki limas that serve a myriad variants of the ubiquitous nasi goreng (friend rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles), there are dozens of others dedicated to lesser known fare including: martabak (sweet or savoury stuffed pancakes), sate kambing (grilled goat skewers), bubur ayam (chicken porridge), tahu pedas jenglot (tofu with a spicy-vegetable-and-meat filling), bakso (meatball soup), nasi uduk (rice cooked in coconut milk and served with meat and an assortment of vegetables), siomay (steamed dumplings), and gorengan (deep-fried fritters that could contain pretty much anything).
When it comes to Acehnese specialities you would be hard pressed to find a better spot to sample the fiery cuisine than Ruman Makan Swulawah (opposite the Tni Al Dr. Mintohardjo Hospital). Influenced by Arab and Indian cuisines, some of the not to be missed dishes here include mie Aceh (thick yellow noodles with beef or seafood served in a spicy curry sauce) or roti canai (flat bread accompanied by curry). And if you are game, try asking for the sambal ganja (chilli sauce made from pounded shrimp, lemongrass, shallots, and possibly ganja).
Those hankering for a dose of delicious Padang should make a beeline for Rumah Makan Surya. Also on Jalan Ben Hil Raya, this eatery features the typical Padang warung setup where the hungry punters can pick their meal from the dishes on display. Some of the not-to-be-missed fare here includes rendang (tender pieces of beef stewed in a rich gravy), gulai ayam (chicken in a curry sauce) or perkadel (potato croquettes).
Rumah Makan Santika Baru
Bridging the gap between street food and restaurant dining, Santika Baru is a buzzing, open-air restaurant – think tarpaulin thrown over steel poles – that springs up along Jalan Ben Hil Raya each evening at about 6pm. Despite its makeshift nature, there is definitely nothing left to chance when it comes to the restaurant’s dishes. Specializing in fresh seafood, the restaurant is always stocked with such favourites as mussels, shrimp, squid, crab, and a wide variety of fish. The seafood comes either grilled or fried, and the hungry can select from a number of delicious sauces depending on preference.
Bringing a slice of the Netherlands to Jalan Ben Hil Raya, Goedkoop is a popular Dutch café that serves all the classic coffee variants, plus some more unusual choices for those bored with the average Jakarta café repertoire. One of Goedkoop’s more eye-opening offerings is Café Bon-Bon. Not for the faint hearted, this strong brew comes topped with a layer of delicious coffee-flavored froth.
The cozy café also serves Dutch treats including poffertjes (small, spongy pancakes served with ice cream) and bitter ballen (savory meat-based snack), alongside other better-known western dishes like fish and chips and spaghetti aglio olio. In keeping with the theme, the bill is presented to guests in a cute Dutch clog!
Ganesha ek Sanskriti
Ganesha’s mood-setting décor stands in stark contrast to its location on the 9th floor of Ben Hil’s BRI 2 building. Evoking a traditional Indian fort, this fine-dining restaurant oozes classic aesthetic and period charm (the decorative pillars and opulent ornaments were brought by the owner from India).
Standing the test of time, Ganesha has been dishing out authentic North and South Indian specialities in the capital for over a decade. The restaurant’s huge menu is divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, all of which can be prepared with olive oil upon request. Some of Ganesha’s not-to-be-missed dishes include tandoori jhingha (prawn kebab), rogan josh (spicy mutton curry) and chicken tikka (boneless pieces of grilled chicken).
Images by Gabriela Bhaskar.