One important legacy the colonial powers left Indonesia would probably the bread baking industry. Tan Ek Tjoan is one of the oldest bakeries in Jakarta and has a very colorful story of how it all started and how they keep their legendary stature alive.
If you happen to visit some major cities in Java, you will find that each of them usually has iconic bakeries that may predate as far as the 1800s. The same goes also for Jakarta with some of its legendary bakeries but the famous one is surely Tan Ek Tjoan in Cikini.
Back in 1921, Mr Tan Ek Tjoan started his bakery in Buitenzorg or which is now known as the city of Bogor, but some three decades later, he decided to move his business to Jakarta to cater to the bigger market by choosing the strategic neighborhood of Cikini. To make it even more lucrative for the business, Tan Ek Tjoan bakery initiated the plan to spearhead the sales through bicycle cart peddlers. Nowadays we can even still see so many of them peddling the bread the traditional way.
The one and only store in Cikini is ready to serve all day only for takeaway and people do come from time to time to buy their roti gambang, roti bimbam, chocolate smeared bread, sugar-apple bread, horseshoe bread, and other classic breads that Tan Ek Tjoan bakery is known for.
The unique roti gambang and roti bimbam are creations of Mr. Tan Ek Tjoan’s successor, Mr. Tan Kim Thay. These come from the philosophical thinking of Yin and Yang. Roti gambang is a sweet, brownish bread with sesame seeds that appears hard from the outside, but when you bite into it, the bread is actually easy to chew and has a really pleasant flavor. While it describes the dark Yin side, Mr. Tan Kim Thay also derived the inspiration from gambang, a xylophone-like instrument that possesses a beautiful sound but is made from the thick 18 layers of wood, as known in the gambang kromong – the traditional orchestra of Betawi and Chinese influence. As for the Yang side, the bakery creates roti bimbam, a soft bread with mild texture that has a sweet, buttery flavor much loved by everyone.
Peeping through behind the screen of Tan Ek Tjoan bakery, we saw the bakers happily working on each of their stations – from mixing and heaving the heavy dough, kneading and putting the ingredients inside, and baking the bread on huge ovens. Thousands of breads are produced daily and distributed to around 80 bicycle cart peddlers spread all over Jakarta and its satellite cities like Bekasi and Tangerang. Additionally, Tan Ek Tjoan designed special workspace only to produce customized pastry and bread for the flagship store itself.
The three-storey building has actually a lot of potential should Tan Ek Tjoan wishes to develop into a coffee shop and even a rooftop café. During our visit, we took a small detour to the rooftop of this colonial era building and found out how nice it would be if one day Tan Ek Tjoan decides to make the flagship store bigger. Even so, the plan to open a new concept bakery is already being implemented and will soon open at Jalan Panglima Polim. As for now, it will always be a great pleasure for their regular buyers to enjoy their favorite bread from Tan Ek Tjoan accompanying us during breakfast, tea time, and even on our way back home from the office.
TAN EK TJOAN
Some menu are suitable for vegetarians
Jalan Cikini Raya no. 61, Jakarta – Indonesia
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE April 2014 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict