Gado-Gado Taman Sari

11th July 2024
Established in the 1960s, crowds loyally turn up at Gado-Gado Taman Sari in Mangga Besar for the classic Indonesian salad dish with cashew sauce.

Trying to get a seat during peak hours at Gado Gado Taman Sari in Mangga Besar is like participating in a game of musical chairs. And good luck if you have the misfortune to go up against a grandma—there’s a high likelihood she has been a regular longer than you have been alive, with the eatery having been around since the 1960s.

It’s a remarkable achievement for a dining establishment so understated in its appearance. Set in the gated front yard of an old house, the eatery doesn’t even have a sign to announce its presence, and is only identifiable from the house’s vintage façade. The next indicator would be the street food vendors set up front, offering treats like es cincau (grass jelly drink) and kue ape (a traditional pancake-and-crepe hybrid) to calm guests’ rumbling stomachs while they wait for the main course to arrive.

A highlight is, of course, the namesake gado-gado. It looks and tastes as what one would expect of the Indonesian salad dish, but to those who frequent the space, the balance of freshness, sweetness and nuttiness from the jumble of lettuce, yardlong beans, beansprouts, chayote, corn and—most notably—cashew sauce hits just the right spot. Enough to carve into their minds that this is precisely the gado-gado that they like and would happily get into queue for. 

Alternatively, other items on the menu are worth trying as well, particularly the ayam goreng, where the chicken is braised before frying and served with a sweet and spicy peanut sambal sauce.

Gado-Gado Taman Sari’s popularity and stickler to the old ways (they still only accept cash) means that it may take more than an hour for these dishes to arrive at one’s table. And yet, other than a few oddities, regulars wait with admirable patience. Some busy themselves with snacks, while others peek over the counter to watch the crew mix up vegetables and cashew sauce with two massive mortars and pestles.

It’s almost hard to reason such a display of loyalty, especially when there is a flurry of gado-gado options spread around the city today. But looking at the white-haired diners, which make up the majority here, maybe there’s a touch of ‘magic’ in simply being a reliable presence over the years; where one can return and take comfort in the idea that amidst a tide of changes, some things do stay the same.