Walking Through Jakarta’s Chinatown

There is one building I saw that hosts a tea house  in the Glodok district of Jakarta that caught my interest.  I  see the building every time I go to Kota Tua (Old City) in Indonesia’s capital.  I planned to visit the place for quite some time until I finally decided last Tuesday to give it a go as it was a holiday.  And since I was in the area, I decided to take a walk and see for myself one of the historical places in Jakarta I haven’t explored yet — Chinatown.

One of the smaller temples in Jin De Yuan Temple

Glodok  district is Jakarta’s Chinatown.  It played an important part in the history of the city and the country.  The Chinatown was the southern gateway to Batavia, the old city of Jakarta.  It served as the quarters of the Chinese community during the Dutch occupation of Java.  It was (is) located just outside the walls of Batavia, much like Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown, the oldest in the world) is to Intramuros.  The Chinese were the traders, shopkeepers, and artisans that contributed to the growth of the Batavian economy.  Up to this day, Glodok is a dynamic commercial and trading center. The district is also a mute witness to the triumphs and challenges of the Indonesian-Chinese, in particular, and the Indonesians, in general.

Pantjoran Tea House

Pantjoran Tea House

My first stop was the Pantjoran Tea House, the building I was referring to. It was constructed in 1928 and used to be the Apotek Chung Hwa (Chung Hwa Pharmacy), the first edifice one can see at the entrance to Chinatown and Batavia. After years of neglect, the heritage site was rehabilitated and reconstructed to its original form as part of Jakarta’s effort to gain a UNESCO world heritage site status for Kota Tua.  A tea house serving Indonesian, Chinese, and Peranakan cuisine opened on the site in 2015. 

Patekoan: eight teapots

One of the things that caught my attention and curiosity at Pantjoran Tea House was the eight tin teapots and several tin cups on a long table with a red sign inviting passersby to have a cup of tea for free.  It is not a marketing tactic of the tea shop but it is a continuation of the centuries-old tradition started in the late 17th century by a certain Captain Gan Jie, leader of the Chinese community that time, and his wife who, out of their generosity, provided tea for people passing by the captain’s office building to ease their weariness from the day’s hard work.  The couple provided eight pots of tea in front of the office, as Pantjoran Tea House continues to do today. The place was called Patekoan (pa/ba = eight; teh = tea; koan = pot). However, if you are wondering, the building wasn’t the captains office; the tea house just continued the tradition.

Bubur Pantjoran

I intentionally made Pantjoran as the starting point of my Chinatown walk so I can fuel up for the morning’s walkathon.  I ordered a meal of bubur Pantjoran — chicken porridge topped with fried shallots and crispy cakue (Chinese deep fried bread) with sides of pickled cucumber, omelet with caipo, and peanuts — and Gaiwan tea for IDR 45,000 (USD 3/PHP 161). The porridge was unique in the sense that it was the only bubur I have had in Indonesia that contained minced chicken meat as shredded chicken is the norm. It was filling; it was not the best but it was delicious. Pantjoran Tea House is also known for its dumplings, Chinese dishes, and Peranakan cuisine but I will have to try them on my next visit.

Pantjoran Tea House’s second floor dining area

Pantjoran Tea House is located at the corner of Jalan Gaja Madah and Jalan Pancoran Raya No. 4-6, Glodok District, Jakarta and is open daily from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm.

Jalan Pancoran

Food market at an alley in Pancoran

Walking through Pancoran street earIy in the morning allows one to have a glimpse of the goings-on in the community — shopkeepers opening their stores, old people cleaning the front of their shophouses, people feeding cats, birds and other pets.

Sweets and snacks in Chinatown

The day in Pancoran starts in its narrow alleys. One alley caters to early risers and bikers looking for breakfast.  There are stores and carts offering sekba (pork belly and innards), noodles from bakmi to kwetiau to mie hoon, kuotie (gyoza or dumplings), Indonesian fares like gorengan (fried snacks), traditional cakes, and Padang food, among others.  In another alley across the river/canal are shops selling fresh tropical fruits, more Indonesian snacks and street food, and jewelries and fashion accessories. Pancoran gets crowded from mid-morning.

Toa Se Bio Temple

Toa Se Bio temple

Tucked and hidden in the middle of a residential area in Glodok is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Jakarta, the Vihara Dharma Jaya Toasebio or the Toa Se Bio temple. Its year of establishment is blurred as no historical records can exactly say when but limited sources on the internet estimate the temple’s establishment in the late 1700s. The temple has become an integral part of the Indonesian-Chinese community and served as a spiritual haven and refuge for many of them.

Toa Se Bio

The temple, dedicated to the deity Cheng Goan Cheng Kun or Qing Yuan Qing Jun, is located at Jalan Kemenangan III No. 48, RT 11/RW 3, Glodok, Taman Sari, Jakarta Barat, Jakarta.

Our Lady of Fatima Church

Gereja Katolik Santa Maria de Fatima

A few meters away from the Tao Se Bio Temple, along Jalan Kemenangan III, is the Gereja Katolik Santa Maria de Fatima.  At first glance the church looks like an old Chinese house or temple, except that there is a crucifix jutting out of its roof that is almost invisible to the eye. This Catholic church is unique in the sense that it is housed in a Chinese structure with interiors designed with Chinese symbols and images with Chinese influence.  It also has Mandarin mass every Sunday evening.

Interior of the Our Lady of Fatima Church

Jin De Yuan Buddhist Temple

An altar in one the temples in Jin De Yuan

Vihara Dharma Bhakti or Jin De Yuan Temple is the oldest Buddhist temple in Jakarta having been built in 1650.  It is also the largest temple in the city. It is located a block away from, and behind, the Santa Maria de Fatima Church, and beside the Petak Sembilan market.  Currently, the temple is awaiting restoration and renovation after it was engulfed in fire in 2015.  In the meantime, a number of buildings within the complex serve as temples.  A bigger space behind the burnt temple is being used as the main altar.  Still, Jin De Yuan is worth a visit.

Buddhist images at the altar of the main temple in Jin De Yuan

Candra Naya Building

Interior of Candra Naya building

The last stop of my Chinatown walk is the 19th century Candra Naya building, the residence of the family of the last Major/Mayor of the Chinese Community of the Dutch Batavia, Khouw Kim An.  After the second world war, the building served as a social hall for the Chinese community, a clinic, a school, a campus of the Tarumanagara University, a wedding reception hall, and a hangout for photographers.

Facade of Candra Naya building

A heritage building, Candra Naya is currently used as a museum of sort, however, what was on display are old photos and Chinese paintings and decors. If you happen to visit, just admire the architecture and the historical value of the place.  On either side of the building are two reconstructed structures that house a number of restaurants and a prayer room/temple.  Behind the building is a pond of kois where the main building of the Khouw family’s residence used to stand.  Sadly, it was demolished by the current owner to give way for the construction of a multi-use building complex.  What remained is the building that heritage conservation advocates lobbied the government for conservation.  A strict conservation law also protected the remaining building from further demolition.  As a result, the Candra Naya building is sandwiched between the lobby of a hotel and office building, and a commercial center (Green Central City).  In my opinion, it was an ugly set-up as the building surrounding Candra Naya was (unsuccessfully) forced to blend with the historical landmark.

The koi pond that replaced the demolished main building of Candra Naya

The Candra Naya building is located along Gajah Mada Street in Glodok.  It is at the lobby area of Novotel Hotel Gajah Mada, where one can also find a Starbucks, an ICBC office, and Kopi Oey Candra Naya.

My Take

I was so glad that I decided to push myself to visit Jakata’s Chinatown. It didn’t cost me anything as the places I visited don’t charge fees.  It only cost me a breakfast and a snack, my transportation to and from my apartment. 

Entrance to Vihara Dharma Bhakti

It was also a learning experience. It made me realize how important the Chinese community have become in the social, cultural, political, and economic history and development of the city and of the Republic of Indonesia.  I just wish that there were markers that would give visitors a brief history and a description of the significance of the heritage structures.  Brochures would also do.  Thanks to Google, I was able to find information, though limited, about the places I visited.

I am also grateful that the Indonesian Chinese  can now openly practice their religion, celebrate their festivities, speak their language, and live their culture.  I also realized that from the time of colonization to the current century, the Indonesian Chinese faced and are still facing a lot of social challenges and yet they have become resilient. I hope and pray that, even slowly, the national slogan “Unity in Diversity” will be the norm in society.

Candra Naya

For further readings about Chinatown in Jakarta, please find the links I provided below.  If you have some reactions, feedback, suggestions, and recommendations, please feel free to send me a message. 



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