Heralding the classic genre of Chinese foods for almost five decades, Mandala is one of the restaurants in Jakarta that survives and without fear competing with budding new restaurants, franchised or not, with all its authenticity and proud recipes of old. Yet it flourish, though not in quantity, but most certainly through quality, reputation, and loyalty.
First of all, if you happen to visit around the neighborhood of Santa, Mandala can be very inconspicuous within a strip of commercial buildings around it. The fact that there’s a famous old Chinese restaurant around Southern Jakarta can be unimaginable since Chinese restaurants like Mandala are usually found in Northern Jakarta area which notably is Jakarta’s Chinatown.
So all you have to do is find the signboard. Wolter Monginsidi street is a one way road and it’s on your left. Heed that Mandala doesn’t look like an eatery, it’s more like an office and made me wondering how come a restaurant with such long history appears only under the radar. Its appearance also resembles an office. My curiosity arises as I was entering the place.
Once you’re inside, it’s a whole different world. The interior might look a bit rustic but it’s clean and lively. You’ll feel the busyness with the waiters’ hustle and bustle; everybody’s chattering and loud laughs; a place where friends, colleagues, and families gather for good food. Always remember that Mandala can only hold a small capacity, approximately 30-40 people tops during the rush hour so it’s best to book first. Or at any rate, you’ll be seated on this long communal table where you’d be ‘forced’ to sit with strangers.
The atmosphere, though lacking in Chinese music or even any kind of tunes, feels like in Hong Kong, a friend of mine said. Everywhere is decorated with Chinese stuffs and trinkets. Though not that shabby but I just don’t know how in the earth that even superhero action figures found scattered all over the place, even some glued to the fly captor lamps. It’s funny nevertheless to see fusions of eclectic ideas inside a Chinese restaurant. The manager said that the credit goes to the owner for that.
Speaking of which, Mandala owns the owner’s expertise since the 50s. Starting with opening a Chinese food hawker around Sabang area in Central Jakarta, Mandala’s owner Mr. Samuel Darius‘ career rose steadily and he finally opened this permanent establishment in Jalan Wolter Monginsidi around the 80s. To date, currently there are around 200 dishes available with the initial dishes only starting from chicken congee, stir-fried noodles, nasi tim ayam and tofu soup!
Without further ado, I was starting with the tofusoup. When it comes, instantly you will fall in love with the dish. It’s served on a hotpot, fragrant and inviting. Owing my thanks to the rich chicken broth infused with juhi or dried squids that added the sea flavor, the tofu soup was indeed intense and tasty. With years of experience, such broth was indeed qualified as a masterpiece. The soup itself filled with generous amount of tofuand oyong (silk squash). The silk squash is perhaps not too familiar in other countries aside from Indonesia and several Asian countries but proves to be the best partner for the broth itself.
This feeling of home longing suddenly stroke me as I taste the soup. That reminds me of my aunt’s delicious misua (thin noodles made from wheat flour) that also uses silk squash.
The tofu soup was also enriched with seafood such as snapper, prawn, fish balls, and also hai som (sea cucumber) that in all created a perfect fusion with the very concept of the soup itself. A prime selection for your appetizer indeed!
The next dish would be the stir-fried noodles with chicken. This might be your usual kind of dishes but then another sense of home longing came again which reminds me of a time when I was enjoying the pretty similar taste when I was little. That convinced me of what a real fried noodles a la Chinese cuisine should taste! It was savory but also sweet from the soy sauce. How nostalgic!
As for the noodles, it’s not the thick and in fact it was similar with spaghetti but of course it’s different. Cooked like what Italians said as al dente. Mandala proudly admits that their noodles are different, custom-made, and supplied exclusively for them. Everything mixed together with vegetables, eggs, and sliced meatballs of beef and fish with shredded chicken, all producing a solid, appetizing teamwork. The one thing everybody loves about good Chinese food is that they use so many combinations of meat, vegetables, and sauce on certain dishes like this stir-fried noodles for instance, but it rarely goes wrong, it feels right on the other hand!
The final dish, not actually final since it was served altogether, was the Bistik Kakap or Chinese style snapper steak. It’s actually a fusion dish which you’ll find ubiquitous in many Chinese food hawkers or restaurants all over Indonesia. They usually use beef, chicken, prawns, and here in Mandala, also using snapper as the fundamental part of the dish. The fish battered with flour and fried. Afterwards the meat will be cut in squares, served with French fries, not too many mind you, and ready to be poured by butter sauce dressing. This butter sauce dressing is also used in other dishes such as butter fried chicken, prawns, and also pigeons. It’s pretty similar with Western style steak but there goes the difference.
It went so well for me. The warm sauce really brings out the spirit of the dish. The first would be the impeccable snapper, fried just right, generous and fulfilling. The savory taste was unimaginably good. I kept on digging in but also with the feeling of ‘saving the best for later’ by taking turns tasting the other dishes also sparing some cuts to be savored later. You might experience the same thing for anything right. When it feels good, you’d want to linger longer and that way, you’d be most likely appreciate the good thing about it. In food, it’s more than good, it’s heavenly!
The ending of a good, solid story was the melancholy of my younger day nostalgia, though I did come out elated and fully satisfied. It was a pleasant afternoon where I was welcomed with good hospitality, a cool place, and definitely, great dishes. With such extensive menu, I’ll be sure to come by again to try something new one by one and perhaps the mission will be over in another five decades, just as old as the restaurant right now! Truly, the return value is high. At the very least, just order the takeaway and share the joy with your loved ones at home.
I think that’s the affirmation of the first three keys why Mandala succeeds. Quality, reputation, and loyalty! Even though Mandala is a solitary, a lone gun envoy of Chinese cuisine in Southern Jakarta but it was proven that Mandala stood the test of time and without doubt, definitely far from waning fame.
Jalan Wolter Monginsidi no. 80, Jakarta – Indonesia
RSVP : 021 – 9389 9597, 0813 1077 4281
Delivery Availability: No, takeaways only.
Halal Meter:No pork and no lard, all meats are local and if you don’t question about it, frog dishes are available.
Vegetarian Friendly:Yes. Wide selections of dishes starting from variety sauteed vegetables, tofusoup, asparagus soup, fried rice, noodles, and porridge. All is customizable.
Ambience & Interior:Not too spacious. Expect to feel the busyness of this place at any time when people converse and laugh in high pitch with no background music at all to challenge them. With such a small space, it’s amazing that they employ so many waiters at one time. The interior is eclectic and designed by fusing bizarre diversity theme of Chinese, Muslim, Indonesian and superhero action figures touch.
Service:Old school style local restaurants where the waiters just leave the menu and let you write down what you wanted. Make sure you confirm what you order before giving it a go.
Pricing: Noodles, Vermicelli, Chickens, Shrimps, Crabs, Snappers, Pigeons, Asparagus, Rice Noodles, Rice Dishes, Frogs, Beefs, Cuttlefishes, Congees, Eels, and many kinds of Vegetable dishes all starting from IDR 20,000s.
Recommended Dishes: Sop Tahu (Tofu Soup), Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles), Bistik Kakap (Chinese style snapper steak with butter sauce), Bubur Ayam (Chicken congee), Nasi Tim Ayam (Chicken Steamed Rice).
Reservation:Highly recommended for dining hours and weekends.
Operating Hours:Closed every Tuesday only, daily opens from 8.00 AM to 10.00 PM.
Payment Methods:BCA Debit Card only to 4 PM or cash only. No credit cards accepted.
-As seen in Aquila Asia Nov-Dec 2010 Edition (unedited)-
-Photos courtesy of Saesarez Novandito and Aquila Asia Magazine-