Jakarta Restaurants: Why Are They So Bad?

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars)
I may have tried about 400 restaurants in Jakarta, and I would say only 25% of them taste good enough. Restaurants with Asian food are usually better, especially Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese ones.

For Western food, it is very rare to find a restaurant that serves good food unless a westerner is involved at some point (as a manager, chef, owner or consultant). My most common criticisms: Low-quality ingredients, over use of industrial cheese, sauces too salty or too greasy, no real butter, too much sugar, absence of taste, over or undercooking, etc...

Only when eating in the most expensive places (usually in 5-star hotels or reputed chains), the standards are satisfactory, though fast to deteriorate. Very few venues in Jakarta, to my knowledge, offer constant good western food at reasonable prices.

For Asian food, I consider that most restaurants serve street food quality at best. If you do not mind the hygiene and hot weather, you'll eat better sitting on a bench in Mangga Besar than in most restaurants in malls.
I believe the reasons for this problem comes from the following issues:

- Difficulty to hire trained staff and to maintain this staff within a restaurant on the long term

There are some fine schools to learn cooking in Indonesia (all the STPs, Sekolah Tinggi Pariwisata), but they produce few graduates. Basically almost 100% of a class will be hired by 5-star hotels or by the biggest restaurants chains. Most of them are also still young and it will take them many years to grow into fully developed chefs. Among those who reach a certain level, very few are opening their own restaurants.

Since the good staff is on such a high demand, the turnover for each places is quite high. New restaurants open weekly in Jakarta, so there is nothing easier than getting a higher salary for anyone a little ambitious. The lack of stability of the teams plus their relative lack of experience is the number one problem for restaurants in Jakarta.
- Difficulty to get a regular supply of quality ingredients at a reasonable price

The second problem is the quality of ingredients coming from Indonesia. I don't mean to offend anybody but until now, the agro-industrial companies in Indonesia fail to manufacture or produce quality products.

Take chocolate for instance. Indonesia is one of the largest producer of cacao beans in the world. And yet, chocolate made in Indonesian is low standard and any restaurant/bakery who wants to have a decent dessert with chocolate must import.

Fruits and vegetables also are rather disappointing, especially when you know how they taste in neighboring countries. Compare a mango from Indonesia and a mango from Thailand and you'll understand what I am talking about.

The same goes with dairy and meat products (especially cheese, yoghurt, beef, lamb and of course pork).

The Indonesian government is protecting local industries by imposing high tariffs on most imported food, but unfortunately this has not led to an improvement of the quality of locally-sourced ingredients.  I think it creates just the opposite: Producers feel protected and they do not invest to improve their methods and processes.

- Few independent restaurants

Restaurants owners in Jakarta are rarely chefs themselves. Most often, restaurants are owned by business people with a training in finance, accounting, marketing, public relation. They know how to make the place busy and profitable, but the food comes last. Spending millions of rupiah for the design and marketing of a place while buying the poorest quality ingredients in the kitchen is the norm. If restaurants where opened by chefs or by people with a real interest in food, I am sure that the quality of restaurants in Jakarta would improve dramatically. Unfortunately, the access to financing or the right connection needed to open a restaurant in the city makes it very difficult for anybody who does not belong to a certain elite.


There is also a bunch of smaller issues who contribute to the problem also:

- The price of kitchen equipment is usually imported and expensive. Smaller restaurants do not have the possibilities to buy the necessary tools for cooking properly.

- The menus tend to be extensive with many favorites from different countries. Keeping the menu short to a few well-mastered items could certainly help.

- Lack of control from authorities regarding the hygiene and the standards. I imagine that you can put a sign saying your food is organic with no MSGs, and no one will really check.

If so many bad restaurants in Jakarta continue to exist, it is because people still go there. Hopefully the public will become more demanding with time and put more pressure on restaurateurs to improve their quality. Changes can only come from them.

10 comments to '' Jakarta Restaurants: Why Are They So Bad? "

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  1. I totally agree. It becomes a usual thing for me to say every time "tidak pakai dressing , tidak pakai gula, dressing terpisah" and often the waitress give confused impression like that is not a usual request.
    I think oily and sugery food is part of indo culture . From many indo I know I never seen anyone complaining about excessive oil or suger when we eat.

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  2. "habis" or "kosong" are the first words you learn in an Indonesian Restaurant, when you arrive in Jakarta... Basically, they never have what you order...

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  3. indonesians do not complain that much to the owners but go spit their anger on social media, the blogger sphere only showes nice colorful pictures of food that is made with some fantasy of japan thai burgers.

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  4. This is very true. Even the top restaurants are mediocre, at best. After 6 years in this country, i can only count 3-5 good restaurants. All of them owned by a foreigner or wuth a foreign chef.

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  5. Yes its true. But i think the other factor come from indo people itself. Many of Indonesian prefer to go to top styles resto with nice decor/ambiance and put aside the quality of the food as their second priority. In simple word: They prefer to go to a fancy, sosialite and trendy resto eventhough they serve mediocre quality food

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  6. Do u know why..because u havent visited medan yet...all the best food in indonesia period

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  7. what is really Indonesian food? there are some self proclaimed chefs who promote the food but fail miserably..indonesian food in Europe is unheard of ...only Holland has a reasonable amount of good restaurants, sadly to say i have not met their standard in Jakarta..

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  8. While I understand that food in Medan might be the best, food in Indonesia in general is just not good at all. I tried hundreds of things and lived there for a while -- access to good food is just not a thing. And I'm not someone who considers western food to be superior at all, but even as I try to be as objective as I can, there are just certain benchmarks when it comes to good flavor and quality ingredients that were just not there in this place.

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  9. I feel the chinese food here compared to Singapore and Penang Island (Malaysia) is really... Meh.
    Also the pork is somehow less tasty.

    The sambal and curries here rock. My tolerance for chilli is at an all time high!

    I avoid western food here. Its either cheap McDs or expensive steaks. Nothing in between.

    Note: im looking for good pizza, any suggestions?

    Zav

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    Replies
    1. Affordable pizzas with decent taste: Trattoria, Toscana, Pepenero... a bit more expensive, Luna Negra and Scusa...

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