How to Find an Authentic Experience in Jakarta

How to Find an Authentic Experience in Jakarta

*This post is contributed by Ellie Jo for Blissful Snapshots. 

So many cities are influenced by tourists and, while lots of tourist destinations are full of family fun, they could really be anywhere. Theme parks and water sports can be found in any warm climate, so what can you look for to get a more authentic experience of a city? What does authentic even mean in a multicultural world?

Jakarta is a brilliant place to explore this idea. Indonesia is home to a wide range of nationalities and the culture is a mixture of different ideas. When the Dutch India Trading Company arrived here, they didn’t just bring commerce, they also helped to introduce the cultures of India and China, as well as their own European culture. Indonesia has embraced these cultures and they, along with its colonial past, can still be found everywhere.

The Big Durian, as some call it, referring to the famous durian fruit from the region which smells terrible but tastes sweet is vast in comparison to the rest of the archipelago. Nearly 9 million people live here and a further 2 million commute into the city for work every day. It’s even bigger than Singapore! In such a metropolis it is easy to be drawn to the tourist destinations and parks, but there is still an authentic Jakarta to be found here - if you know where to look, that is. 

So what does authentic mean?

In this case, authentic is about living, however briefly, like a local. Rather than going to hotels and exclusively trying things that are aimed directly at tourists, go off the beaten track and find out what really makes a city tick. You can start by renting a house or an apartment like the ones you can find on These apartments are also great for placing you in the heart of  the city and are ideal for a longer stay.

What to Eat

As a capital city, Jakarta is a melting pot for all sorts of traditional cuisines from around the world. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from as well as bars and pubs. You can find Italian, Japanese and Steakhouses as well as the more common Chinese, Indian and Indonesian restaurants. But with all this on offer, you might actually find that streetfood is a much better choice for getting a real taste of Jakarta. 

Though streetfood may often come with a reputation for being cheap and causing stomach upsets, in many cities it is what also keeps the locals going throughout their busy days. Certainly be cautious and watch out for any places that might not be the cleanest, but otherwise be adventurous and try as many new flavours as you can. There are so many things to tempt you that to ignore them would be a real loss. 

The street food stalls in Jakarta are often piled high with beautiful bounty with everything from seraba, flying saucer-like pancakes to martabak telor, a deep fried omelette made with ground beef and shredded vegetables. Be wary when trying something you are unfamiliar with, though, with Indian and Chinese influences combined with Indonesia’s own love for chilli, the food can be quite rich and take you by surprise - especially if you generally eat milder foods! 

What to See

Some of the best places you find on holiday are the ones you stumble across by accident when you are lost. In fact, the best way to discover any city is to wander aimlessly, or at least, relatively aimlessly through the streets around your hotel or apartment to get used to where things are in relation to each other. 

Pasar Baru is an ideal place for such wandering. It is a market home to Little India and has been here since 1820. Though its name means New Market, it is actually the oldest market in Jakarta. As with much of the city, your senses will be overwhelmed here with fabrics from around the world as well as religious study groups and healers who use traditional Indian methods to cure pain as well as modern medicine. You cannot visit Little India without tasting at least some of the food here. It is simply breathtaking! 

What to Do

If you have ever been to India you will be familiar with the tuk-tuks they use there to wind in and out of the crowds. These tuk-tuks arrived in Indonesia and in 2005, there were around 20,000 of these bright orange vehicles were on the streets with a new name, Bajaj. They might not be the comfiest ride, and with only natural air conditioning available, they are also hot. And yet, however uncomfortable you are as you bump along, you won’t be able to stop smiling. 

The Taman Mini Indonesia Park may be a tourist destination but the site is ideal for getting a taste of Indonesia and a better understanding of how the archipelago of 17,000 small islands work together. This is also the home of Museum Indonesia which has a range of permanent exhibits. There are lots of museums around Jakarta to keep you busy with the culture and history of Indonesia as well as a brand new contemporary art gallery.

The culture here is a fantastic mix of influences from around Southeast Asia, India and around the rest of the world. You can find this unique combination only here. It is written in the architecture around the city and in the food on every street stall. You really do have to come here and experience it for yourself to understand its true complexity. 

Jakarta is an amazing city with so much to see and do, you don’t even need to fall into the tourist traps to have a good time. Discovering a new culture is always a pleasure and Indonesia is a real delight. With so many different cultures combining here in a riot of colour, smell and flavour, Jakarta is the best place to find something new and unique. 

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