Jakarta is a melting pot of Indonesian cuisine from around the country.
But one of the regional cuisines that seems to be underrepresented is food from the Betawi people, who are the original inhabitants of the present day area of Jakarta.
So when I was in Jakarta, along with having a stunning bowl of Soto Betawi, I didn’t want to leave without a full Betawi meal.
In this blog post I’ll share with you about an amazing meal at Warung Mak Dower.
Watch the video
If you have a few minutes, first watch the video of this extraordinary Betawi meal in Jakarta:
(If you can’t see the video, watch it on YouTube here.)
Betawi Food in Jakarta
In Jakarta you’ll find some extremely common Betawi dishes like gado-gado and nasi uduk just about everywhere you look.
But what I mean by underrepresented is that if you’re looking to sit down for a full meal and spread of a variety of different dishes, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of Betawi restaurants in Jakarta in comparison to other regional cuisines.
While doing research for where and what to eat in Jakarta, I became interested in Betawi food, which eventually led me to making the trek across Jakarta to a restaurant called Warung Mak Dower.
[It was well worth the effort to get there.]
Warung Mak Dower
As soon as I saw the photos on the menu, and the abundance of both stink beans and jengkol used in the cooking, I knew it was going to be a meal to cherish.
The owner of the restaurant, who was by the way extremely friendly, explained to me the meaning of “Mak Dower.”
“If you stick your lip out,” that’s the meaning of Mak Dower, he told me. And him and his family named their restaurant that because, he said, “the food is so flavorful, it will make your lower lip stick out!”
That’s one of the coolest names for a restaurant I’ve ever heard of.
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And let tell you, my lip did stick out after eating this meal, because it was so tasty.
Sayur asem (vegetable tamarind soup)
One of the most famous Betawi dishes, also common as a Sundanese dish, is sayur asem, a sour tamarind soup. At Warung Mak Dower it’s one of their signature dishes, and something that you shouldn’t miss.
The soup, reminded me quite a bit of Filipino sinigang.
The broth was a wonderful sharp and crisp sourness, and I could taste the flavor of the herbs and all the vegetables included. I fully enjoyed it.
Another great thing about Warung Mak Dower is that you can get free refills of your bowl of sayur asem, and the kind Aunty kept reminding Ying and I that we could get refills.
It was very addictive, soothingly sour.
Cumi asin lenong (salted squid dish)
At the time of eating this dish, I didn’t know that it was made with salted squid. So I did think that it was a little overly salty.
But after researching exactly what was included in it, I understand the salted cured squid is the reason it was so salty and that’s the way it was meant to be.
Nevertheless, despite being salty, the cumi asin lenong included squid in a thick gravy that was well flavored with shallots, lots of garlic, and I think possibly both lemongrass and galangal.
With rice, it was fantastic, but you really do need to eat it with a lot of rice due to the saltiness.
Petai bawang (stink beans and fried shallots)
One of the ingredients I noticed used extremely commonly in Betawi cuisine are fried shallots, known as goreng bawang.
I consider fried shallots to be one of the most fragrant additions to anything – they are like extra flavorful fried onions.
Usually fried shallots are sprinkled in moderation over a bowl of soup or in Indonesia over a plate of rice to give it some fragrance. But when I saw an entire plate of just fried shallots and some stink beans mixed in, I knew I needed to order it.
It was as amazingly good as it sounds. Just a pure plate of crispy shallots, nicely salted, with fried stink beans mixed evenly throughout.
I could snack on petai bawang all day long.
Ikan cue goreng bawang (fried fish with shallots)
The crispy fried shallots were not over yet.
I also ordered ikan cue goreng bawang (a type of fish similar to sardines, not sure of the English name?), which again came submerged in deep fried crispy shallots.
Again, it was every bit as delicious as it looked. It was similar to one of my favorite southern Thai fried fish dishes.
The fish itself was a little on the dry side due to the variety of fish I believe, and then all that flavor of the salty oniony shallots just took over the flavor and made it fantastic.
Petai goreng (fried stink beans)
When I saw the entire pod of stink beans (known in Indonesia at petai or pete) on the menu at Warung Mak Dower, again, there was nothing I could do to help myself from ordering one.
I went with petai goreng, which was an entire stink bean twisted pod, tossed in oil and deep fried for a few minutes.
When I’m at home in Thailand, I often eat stink beans raw as a garnish with my meals.
But in Thailand, they aren’t usually deep fried like this. Deep frying the entire pod of stink beans, just slightly cooked the stink beans, and took the edge of rawness away, but they were still at least 90% raw.
They were absolutely sensational, just as stink beans always are. I really do consider stink beans to be one of my favorite natural ingredients in the world.
Jengkol nampol (dogfruit chili)
I saved the undisputed best dish at Warung Mak Dower for last: jengkol nampol, or in English, dogfruit with chili.
Again, in Thailand I frequently eat jengkol (dogfruit), but in most of Thailand they are almost exclusively eaten raw.
In Indonesia, they are common not only raw, but also cooked, which gives them a totally different taste and texture.
Epic is not a word I use very often or too lightly, but there’s no other way to describe how beyond delicious this dish was.
It’s actually almost impossible for me to describe the joy I experienced with every bite of the jengkol nampol.
Jengkol (dogfruit) when they are raw are crisp and hard, but when they are cooked they become soft and gummy.
The jengkol were cooked in a sensational blend of sambal, including copious amounts of ground chilies and garlic and some kaffir lime leaves for fragrance.
All the Betawi dishes at Warung Mak Dower were delicious, but nothing blew me away like the jengkol nampol.
The total price for everything my wife and I ate came to 140,800 IDR ($10.43). I think the prices are quite reasonable for what we got and the lip smacking flavors.
Warung Mak Dower is a friendly family run restaurant in Jakarta that specializes in home-cooked Betawi food.
All the dishes I tried at Warung Mak Dower were good, but the stink beans with fried shallots and the jengkol (dogfruit) in a thick puree of chilies and garlic, really blew me away.
While Jakarta has an abundance of restaurants serving Nasi Padang (which I love dearly), you also don’t want to miss a meal of Betawi food when you’re in Jakarta. Warung Mak Dower delivers an overload of delicious flavor!
Warung Mak Dower
Address: Jl. Pemuda No. 72, Rawamangun, Jakarta
Open hours: 9 am – 9 pm daily
Total price: 140,800 IDR ($10.33)
How to get there: Warung Mak Dower is a little bit off the beaten path, in eastern Jakarta. I think the only real way to get there is by taxi. My wife and I took an UberX (use this link to get a free ride), which was hassle free and took about 30 minutes to get there from central Jakarta.
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