While so many other Chinese restaurants battle their way for hegemony in shopping malls or exclusively around the northern part of the city, Mandala appears content and flourishes around the Jalan Wolter Monginsidi strip in-between other restaurants of so many genres in South Jakarta.
Colorful answers are what you will hear whenever you ask about Mandala. Testimonials like “Yeah, they have a really good sop tahu (tofu soup)” or wonderful descriptions for the rest of Mandala’s dishes will definitely intrigue those have only heard about their reputation.
Another noteworthy part of Mandala is that people would also talk about the restaurant’s eclectic décor and the use of practically anything kitschy they would find to decorate every conceivable angle inside the restaurant. That makes Mandala a bit out of ordinary for a Chinese restaurant.
I remember something about a Chinese restaurant back in my hometown that gave me the same impression when I first encountered Mandala. You know, an office-like exterior, with huge tinted glass doors and old style square-shaped door knobs
that feel like you’re entering Hong Kong soap opera restaurant scenes – something that I remember watching regularly when I was little.
How Mandala became successful like this was actually a long journey for the late owner, Mr. Samuel Darius, and it started during his teenage years in the 50s. Mr. Samuel started the business alongside his brother at Jalan Sabang area, which is now famed as the hawkers center in Jakarta, selling noodles from his pushcart. Aside from the fried noodles, they are also known for their delicious chicken porridge and nasi tim (Chinese-style steamed chicken rice), even until this very day!
In 1978, Mr. Samuel opened Mandala, as what we know today, and actively took care of it every day, until his last years only from home. It was said that the staff usually brought several dishes for him to sample each day as a standard measurement.
As of this day, Mandala successfully maintains around 200 dishes available every day from early morning until late night service. People will come and go in the morning for a bowl of hot porridge or nasi tim, but for lunch and dinner, you might want to arrive a tad earlier because it gets full so quickly. Alternatively though, it seems that some customers usually opt for take away or delivery instead. Even one of their loyal customers from as far as Condet in the outskirts of Jakarta chooses to have a single portion of nasi tim delivered there!
During our visit and in accordance to our seafood theme for this issue, Mandala presented us with some of the best from their frutti di mare collections – such as their savory seafood fried rice and ifumie (crispy noodles showered with seafood and vegetables). On another occasion I particularly enjoyed their unparalleled tofu soup that has a powerful flavor from salted cuttlefish and sea cucumber that blend well with the broth, as well as the use of silk squash to give it a more Chinese-style flavor.
Those dishes are simply a fraction from other abundant options that you can explore every day from Mandala and a fruit of labor from the late owner for so many decades. Even though a year has passed, Mr. Samuel’s legacy keeps going strong and Mandala will always be the dear of so many of its fans in Jakarta and far beyond.
Halal-friendly (there might still be the use of angciu)
Some menu are suitable for vegetarians
Jalan Wolter Monginsidi no. 80, Jakarta – Indonesia
Wed- Mon, 8am – 10pm (closed on Tue)
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE May 2014 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict