The light still shines on bright and beautiful for Jakarta’s premiere classic Chinese restaurant, Cahaya Kota. Soaking rich with its history of good food and its contribution for the country, here is the story.
There is something in common shared among several subjects of this rubric since the beginning of The Foodie Magazine. All this time, we have covered a lot of grounds – from classic pastry and coffee shops, ice cream parlor, restaurants, and down to the street food.
The similarity, which we somehow discovered, is that many of them were founded traditionally or continued from previous European owners by these Chinese descendants. These businesses thrive for generations until now and they retain the authenticity unseen in other places.
Speaking about Chinese restaurants, it will not be fair to say that Jakarta can only be represented by one iconic place only. As we all know, big cities all over Indonesia has their share of old Chinese restaurants and here, it is quite ubiquitous.
Cahaya Kota as the star of this issue is an important example of how a restaurant can bland its long standing existence with tales behind the independence of Indonesia as well as contributing to Jakarta’s diverse culinary scene and great food in-between.
This is partly because Cahaya Kota’s history is among the best documented in Jakarta. Usually it is up to the elderly owner or someone who is well-versed about the history and that they would verbally pass the knowledge. On the contrary, Cahaya Kota preserves its history by documenting references from old newspapers clippings, letters, photographs, and remarkably – through published diaries of notable people in the past.
The story starts in the year 1943. Cahaya Kota was known as Toeng-Kong back then and its original location was still on Jalan Menteng Raya. During this era, the late Indonesian historian Des Alwi recounted the moment when he was tasked to buy some food from Toeng-Kong by Sutan Sjahrir – Indonesian first prime minister later in 1945.
“It was 12 o’clock in the afternoon and I remember clearly that I paid for the fried rice and ifumie each for 25 cents”, he said. It was not known to him yet that the food was for the lunch of Indonesia’s important figures such as Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Ali Budiardjo, and Amir Hamzah who will attend this secret meeting. They were discussing the issues of politics and the future independence of Indonesia.
The experience was vividly written by Des Alwi in a letter designated for the restaurant, giving credit for its indirect role. Through the letter, he urged the readers to not only respect the history but also to help preserve the legacy that Cahaya Kota safeguards until this day.
Not more than two decades later, Toeng-Kong had to move out of its original location because of the Monumen Nasional’s construction. But there’s a certain perk that Toeng-Kong has to make it easier. The restaurant was previously appointed as the caterer for police and military forces in Jakarta and that means Toeng-Kong had that special privilege to be assisted by the local municipality for the relocation.
When the relocation was completed, Tjahaja Kota was chosen as the new name to replace Toeng-Kong. The use of old Bahasa spelling was used at least for the next ten years before a fire incident happens and the rebuilding process finally completed.
The seventies and the eighties were the golden years as Cahaya Kota won competitions and awards from the government. Until today, the restaurant has always been the darling of Indonesia’s notables. Memoirs written by closest confidantes showed that both Soekarno and Soeharto were huge fans of the restaurant. Almost every year now the restaurant has been participating to cater the banquets on Indonesia’s Independence Day celebrations at Istana Negara.
Specializing in Cantonese cuisine and as expected from a high caliber restaurant, the menu is rich with adventure. From the classic rice and noodles, crabs, fish, prawns, beef, chicken or steamboat dishes; Cahaya Kota boasts the lineup for exquisite ingredients such as sea cucumber, shark fins, and abalones. With a total of hundreds of recipe variations among these ingredients, each visit will constitute as a moment of discovery, even for the most avid foodies.
Other than that, its attentive service makes it a memorable experience for many, its sheer capacity and the Lazy Susans are what that makes it beautifully orthodox. The old vibe lingers still, although the atmosphere is increasingly modern.
Now on its seventh decade and moving forward; Cahaya Kota remains as a classic choice for families and officials, for lunches and celebrations, for elders and their grandchildren. Not without crediting its famous offerings from kitchen, the restaurant also serves as a remembrance of its contribution in Indonesia’s culinary and political history.
Some dishes are suitable for vegetarians
Jalan KH Wahid Hasyim no. 9, Jakarta – Indonesia
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE Nov 2015 edition
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