21 Sep Chasing Chinese Roots in Glodok, Jakarta’s Biggest Chinatown
Welcome to Glodok, Indonesia’s biggest and brightest Chinatown! Some say that the name Glodok comes from the sound of the water-carrying carts (glodok-glodok) that used to drive and down the road of Jl. Pancoran—or Molenvliet—to the fountains at Taman Fatahillah.
The history of Jakarta’s Chinatown goes back a long time. Back in the colonial days, the Dutch relied on Chinese chieftains and 17th century Batavia had a large Chinese population. However, in the 18th century, the Dutch decided to ship many Chinese from Glodok to Ceylon—modern-day Sri Lanka—to help save its sugarcane production. This did not go down well with the local Chinese population, to say the very least, and riots broke out. On 9 October 1740, fights and fires took an estimated 5,000 lives and destroyed countless buildings.
Nowadays, very little is left of the original architecture of Jakarta’s Chinatown. Most of it was demolished in the anti-communist turmoil following the military coup of 1965 when the new nationalist government prohibited the Chinese from openly displaying their culture. Chinese schools and newspapers closed down, and festivals and processions were forbidden. The bright, buzzing neon signs, carved woodwork and anything else that looked distinctly Chinese was removed from Jakarta’s streetscape.
In 1998, during the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, it was again the Chinese population that took a blow, and Chinese stores and houses in Glodok were burned to the ground. Only recently, after the ban on Chinese cultural elements was lifted, Jakarta’s Chinese roots have slowly but surely started to regrow.
Below, we highlight some of the most interesting and authentic places in Glodok—from the restaurant with delicious, homemade dumplings to the most beautifully decorated temples around town—for you to visit.
A quaint tea house in an old Chinese pharmacy
Legend has it that Glodok’s Kapitein der Chinezen—’Captain of he Chinese’, a high-ranking government position in colonial Indonesia—and his wife welcomed weary travellers and merchants with a cup of tea and much-welcomed shade right here, on the front porch on the corner of a busy street in Jakarta’s Chinatown.
This beautiful building with its fresh white walls and traditional feel has recently been renovated by the Konsorsium Kota Tua organization, a program responsible for the revitalisation of several historic properties in Jakarta’s old town. Boasting characteristically Chinese wooden windows and doors, as well as a collection of contemporary artworks from the owner’s private collection, the building is an artwork in itself.
Today, this white-walled oasis is still the perfect place to unwind while enjoying a cup of one of the many different Indonesian and Chinese teas that are on offer here. Try the healthy chrysanthemum tea (Rp. 30.000), a flower-based infusion well-known in East Asia to work as a medicinal tea against respiratory problems, high blood pressure and inflammation.
Don’t forget to visit the small gift shop to get yourself some easy-to-carry souvenirs before you leave.
2. Glodok Market
A traditional market in the pulsating heart of Chinatown
Every morning at 5 am sharp, this street comes alive with merchants fighting for a place on the ever-busy Glodok market to sell their goods. From live crabs, frogs and sea cucumbers to Chinese medicine, mooncakes and dumplings, you’ll find it all right here. Even if you don’t need anything, it’s a small adventure to take in all the different colours, smells and sounds of this bustling market.
3. Tjang Thjang Sen
A 4th generation popular Chinese grocery store
Much-loved among locals, this is where you’ll find all the ingredients you’ll ever need to cook your favourite Chinese-Indonesian dishes. Located right in the middle of Glodok market, Tjang Thjang Sen has been around for over a century.
In 1993, owner Tjang Sung Thao took over from his father; he is the fourth generation to carry forward the family business. Not much has changed over the years. Tjang still uses an abacus to calculate his transactions, and most of the store’s staff have been working there for more than forty years. Tjang runs his family’s historic store with pride: he keeps a small archive of newspaper clippings and old photographs in his back office.
Customers come from far and wide to stock up on pork here. Pork sausages are a rarity in Indonesia, where most food is halal. So be sure to pay Tjang’s shop a visit early in the day if you want to try the pork sausages!
4. Jin De Yuan Temple
The mother of all Chinese temples in Java
Dating back to the mid-17th century and boasting over 3,000 square meters, this is the oldest and grandest temple of the more than 140 klentengs (Chinese temples) in Jakarta. The temple’s entrance is lined with giant candles weighing around 300 kg that can burn up to six (!) months.
Before entering the temple, don’t forget to look up. On top of the roof are two mythical Hindu dragons (nagas) that you won’t find in any other Chinese temple around the world. The unicorn creatures in the temple’s windows are special Hindu symbols for prosperity and protection.
For an even more memorable experience, visit the Jin De Yuan temple during imlek (Chinese New Year). Chinese from all over town will come here to pray, exchange gifts and celebrate. Fun fact: during Chinese New Year, the giant candles at the entrance will be replaced by red ones, the colour for Chinese celebrations and festivals.
Jl. Kemenangan III
5. Toko Ting Ting
Paper offerings for the afterlife
Don’t mistake this colourful shop for a toy shop; it’s paper funeral offerings you’re looking at. Taoists believe the dead carry on their lives in another world, so no efforts are spared to make sure their new life is a comfortable one. By burning the funeral offerings, the deceased can enjoy them in their new world.
In the old days, the most common item to be burnt was paper money. Nowadays, there is a vast selection of goods to make the afterlife as luxurious as possible: think Mercedes Benz cars, iPads, Versace sandals and Louis Vuitton handbags!
Funerals are not the only occasion to look after the spirits of the dead. Every year, the Chinese celebrate two festivals to make sure their loved ones’ afterlife inventory is up-to-date: Qing Ming (Mid-Spring Festival) and Chong Yan (Mid-Autumn Festival).
Jl. Kemenangan III
6. Santa Maria
A Catholic church in Chinese style
At first glance, you might think this is a temple, but if you look closely, the Maria statue might give it away. Yes, it’s actually a Catholic church! More notably, it’s the only church in Indonesia decked out in Chinese architecture.
Santa Maria was originally built as the family residence of the Tjoe family. This devout Catholic family was originally from Fujian, South China, and lived in Jakarta for generations. In 1955, the local Catholic community needed a new church building, and the Tjoe family kindly offered their mansion to be used as a church.
The church is open to visitors every day. If you want to attend a mass, it may not come as a surprise that the best time to visit the church is on Sundays, when masses are held six times a day.
Jl. Kemenangan III
7. Bio Fat Cu Kung Temple
Tiny hidden bright blue Confucian temple
In one of the many narrow gangs (alleys) located off Kemenangan street is a bright blue Konghucu (Confucian) temple. Once inside, you are welcomed by a mesmerising display of many gods and goddesses from different religions all over the Melaka Strait. Don’t forget to greet Tjouw Kun Kong, the goddess of the kitchen; you’ll find her in the very left corner. Who knows, a little prayer might improve your cooking skills…
This temple may not be as grand as the Jin De Yuan temple, but it plays a very important role for the local community: when its 50th anniversary was celebrated in 2012, more than 100 Chinese cultural groups from all over Indonesia participated in the festivities. One of the grandest displays of barongsai (lion) and liong (dragon) dances ever witnessed in Glodok took place right here.
Jl. Kemenangan VIII
8. Chinese Apotek Seng Seng Thong
A traditional Chinese medicinal herb shop
People flock to the most famous traditional Chinese herbal medicine shop of Glodok, Seng Seng Thong, from all over Jakarta. Inside its old-school medicine cabinets, you’ll find all sorts of dried herbs, plants, bark, animal parts, and spices.
Jl. Toko Tiga Sebrang
9. Kuo Tieh Dumplings
Homemade bundles of delight
Last but not least on our list is this eatery that is very popular among the locals for its ‘homemade bundles of delight’ or dumplings. With these being made in the front of the restaurant every day, their enticing smell lures people passing by to treat themselves to a quick bite.
Don’t expect high-end bars or fancy restaurants in this corner of Glodok: this area is known for its no-nonsense Chinese eateries that serve up simple yet delicious local fare. Even though Kuo Tieh also serves traditional Indonesian dishes, their Chinese dumplings are an all-time favourite. Their signature Kuo Tieh pork dumplings can be ordered steamed (Rp. 35.000/10 pieces) or crispy fried (Rp. 37.000/10 pieces).
Wondering what else there is to see, taste or do in Glodok and beyond?
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Words by Amgeline Basuki
Photos by Rifan and Benemac of @TwoHumansTravel (Sunda Kelapa)