Retracing the City’s Culinary History Through ‘Semarak Jakarta’

by Hilda Nathalia Raina
20th June 2023
Together with The Dharmawangsa Jakarta, food writer and author Kevindra Soemantri translates his book, ‘Jakarta: A Dining History’, to a series of dining experiences, workshops and walking tour, held at the hotel from 9 to 25 June.

“At some point in history, Jakarta was the best, a world-class city that evolved into a melting pot of international and local cuisines with the potential to become the dining capital in Asia,” shared Kevindra Soemantri in an interview with MANUAL two years ago following the launch of his book, ‘Jakarta: A Dining History’.

Inside, the food writer packs a collection of dynamic yet almost-forgotten accounts of the city’s culinary landscape and its development, which spans 200 years from the colonial era up to the ‘90s. In celebration of Jakarta’s 496th anniversary, the author translates these pages into a “living, breathing and edible experience” with Semarak Jakarta, a two-week event held at The Dharmawangsa Jakarta.

As guests trickle through the iconic jasmine-scented The Dharmawangsa lobby, they are escorted into The Gallery, where the city’s illustrious history is depicted through archival photographs, prints and books collected from Bartele Gallery, Jakarta Archive Department and The City Library. 

The highlight goes to the narrative degustation dinner, which takes diners through the progression of the city’s culinary traditions and influences, drawing from French, Dutch and Chinese cuisines to finally reflecting Jakarta as the multicultural capital it is today. Representing different time periods, Kevindra narrates the menu as it journeys from blinis pancakes with caviar and salmon roe (1860-1930), ifumie and butter fried chicken (1940-1950), duck a l’orange (1960-1970), sweet and sour beef (1980-1990) to modern interpretations of Indonesian dessert (2000). 

Meanwhile, the Rijsttafel dinner reimagines the parade-style dining service that once defined the dining experience within elite European hotels in 1900s Batavia, designed to showcase a medley of regional specialities served and anchored with the quintessential rijst, or rice. 

Dressed in traditional Betawi attire with rattan baskets or plates in hand, servers go around the tables in a procession, offering side dishes from the sweet soy-glazed Javanese satays, Sumatran chicken curry, gado-gado or mixed vegetable salad drenched in peanut sauce and an assortment of vegetable fritters and traditional desserts. While theatrical in presentation, the experience is also rooted in the simplicity of familiar flavours reminiscent of home-cooked meals. 

The string of activities also includes a walking tour around Kebayoran Baru with architect Abimantra Pradhana of AGo Architects, a bean-to-bar chocolate-making workshop with Pipiltin Cocoa, as well as a cooking demonstration slash book club with Chef Ragil Imam Wibowo, bringing the recipes from his cookbook ‘Dandang Betawi’ to a live audience.

“Although it is written from the lens of restaurants in Jakarta, [the book] is all about the city’s transformation, architecture development and the people’s evolution,” Kevindra shared. Through ‘Semarak Jakarta’, he hopes to ignite a deeper appreciation of the city that extends far beyond its culinary offerings. He added, “Sometimes we tend to take Jakarta for granted because of the many bad stigmas surrounding the city. But perhaps if we are willing to see our city deeper, Jakarta has many wonderful things to embrace and celebrate, both in its past and present.”


‘Semarak Jakarta: The City of Multicultural Gastronomy’ is running until 25 June at The Dharmawangsa Jakarta. For more details and booking information, click here