Dapur Babah: A Chinese-Indonesian Culinary Love Affair
Entertaining visiting guests can be a daunting task for others, but never for me. I always like the look of surprise whenever friends ask me why I was taking them to such-and-such place and if there were any unique historical background or exotic culinary designs prepared by the kitchen. I’d tell them, No, I just didn’t want to try it out as a loser alone so having guests would be a perfect chance to split the bill.
Clearly we can establish now that I’m not Anthony Bourdain.
But Dapur Babah Elite is different. It actually has both historical background and exotic culinary designs.
According to my research, which basically involved Google, it’s one of the first restaurants established by the Tugu Hotel Group. It specializes in, and I quote from the website: “Babah” cuisine, original recipes derived from the cross-cultural marriage of Chinese settlers and native Javanese women that emerged in the colonial area.”
So let me give it to you in a nutshell, some early Chinese tourists came to Indonesia a long time ago, got jiggy with the local Javanese women, and then experimented in combining their regular home cooking. Then many, many years later, somebody had a brilliant idea and said: “Hey, why don’t we look around for old family recipe of the “Babah”, put together a nice interior, and bada-bing-bada-boom, it’ll be a hit.”
Well of course it could be a lot more complicated than that. But they were right. Dapur Babah is a big hit, and has remained so after all these years.
On their website, it says: “Anhar Setjadibrata, owner of Tugu Hotels and a long-time collector of Indonesian antiques, with daughter Lucienne, designed the restaurant and adjoining bar to capture the rich nuances of early-20 th -century Java. The result is a menagerie of period mementoes and paraphernalia, such as reclaimed teak furniture, rustic housewares (scales, meat grinders, pestles and mortars), and the signboard advertising Hap Liong Tailor, the shophouses original tenant. Rooms are painted in bold pastel-crayon combinations of red and green, black and red, purple and blue, while stone statues of Chinese, Hindu, and Buddhist gods smile down on dinners.
“All of these aspects of the culture are celebrated at Dapur Babah, which is elegantly decorated with photos of prominent Babah families, some fabulously wealthy, such as the powerful sugar baron Oei Tiong Ham and many other artifacts of the colonial period, such as bulky VOC emblem from the 17 th century and a room separator from the Ming dynasty. At the back of the establishment is a semi-open terrace, inspired by the kitchen of the Babah Oei family, with a statue of a kitchen goddess, old Chinese glass lanterns and other kitchen utensils from the period.”
That was clearly evident inside the restaurant.
The memorabilia are also equally haunting, transporting you back in such a time as to how the people lived: of imagined discrimination, cultural differences, and the hope of integration.
The dining room inside is equally matched by the design at the back.
Next time, I’ll be sure to try more of the Dapur Babah’s section of the menu, but I’m glad I found some old pictures of the food I’ve tried in the past.
But I do hope my friends enjoyed their visit here.
I most certainly did … especially since I really needed them just to take this.
It was great to revisit the place. The last time I was here was when amiable owner and Jakarta’s most eligible bachelorette Annette graciously hosted several sit-down dinners.
Now … next batch of guests please.