The city’s alleyways are often packed with unexpected charms, whether it’s a community garden filled with hydroponics produce or a maze of murals, revealed once during a bike tour through a tight-knit neighbourhood in Gandaria. The same surprising appeal could also be found in an alley across Pasar Pagi Lama flea market in West Jakarta, where Masakan 19 has transformed a short, dead-end pathway—and part of a family home—into an eatery where neighbours would gather over classic, homestyle Chinese Indonesian fares.
“Some of the regulars here have known me since I was just a little girl. Most are merchants from the nearby market taking their lunch breaks. They’re already like family to me,” shared owner Julia, who is third on the Lie family line to manage operations at the number 19 house on Gang Caiho—also known as “Chapkaw” to its frequent diners, Hokkian for nineteen.
Out of affection for her regulars, Julia keeps many things unchanged. The curious placement of the kitchen (a lot of “excuse me” and “sorry” are involved as diners have to pass through the narrow hall to find their tables) has been in place since her grandparents’ time, while the inexhaustible and pocket-friendly menu was an inheritance from her late father, Lie Jin Joe. In the main dining area, which is also where the family hosts their house guests, more marks of the family’s history make themselves known as photographs taken throughout the decades dot the simple white walls.
Providing consistency in terms of flavour, Lie Jin Joe’s disciple Darwin now leads the kitchen as head cook with his wife Soimah. Every day, the duo make sure that the crew and ingredients are ready for the 204 items on the menu and more—taking into consideration that longtime regulars would often request customised or off-the-menu dishes for variety.
For most diners, however, the options available are already more than enough. The Hakka dish Lindung Cah Fumak is a staple, combining succulent, deep-fried eels with sauteed greens and a douse of sweet and sour sauce. For sides, the shrimp-filled spring rolls Lumpia Shanghai and the generously-portioned Fuyunghai omelette are popular picks to share with the table. And as an alternative to a simple bowl of rice, many go with the Nasi Goreng Pete Ikan Asin, a savoury and fragrant fried rice dish.
Some days, the eatery would be endlessly packed with diners coming from all over the city, having gained a surge of interest from social media. But on lucky days, one would discover Masakan 19 in its original form, when diners are fewer in number and the chirping of the family’s birds, the occasional passing neighbours (whose house is at the other end of the alley), the intermittent clanging of woks and the regulars’ lively chatter infuse the place with a sense of cosy serenity. And in those moments, it’s easy to feel at home inside the alleyway.