Best Seafood in Jakarta – Muara Kerang


This is my favourite dining experience when I’m in Jakarta.  It may be partly because it’s so difficult to organise.  But it’s also because the fish is the freshest you can get, the way it’s cooked and even the way it’s eaten.

I’ll start with the organisation.  Whenever I’ve suggested a visit to Muara Kerang, my Indonesian friends have shown slight anxiety mixed with excitement.  I’m not sure why they’re nervous of this place, I’ve never had any problems there.  From Central Jakarta, it’s quite a hike to the North West corner of the city.  You will need to take your own transport, a taxi will not wait for you and you will find it difficult to find a cab when you’re finished.  Timing is also important, you need to be there shortly after the fish reach the market but before they’re all sold.  So get some local knowledge before you go.  The boats arrive relatively early in the evening to give the buyers from restaurants in other parts of the city a chance to sell what they buy that same night.

Once you’re there, you can choose your fish.  There’s a huge variety, exotic and plain, big and small, fish, squid, octopus, shellfish and crab, it’s all there. I found that the vendors gave me better prices than my local friend and the prices rose as I went towards one end of the market and fell when I came back again.  Indonesians prefer to eat small fish, so it’s even cheaper (per kilo) to buy larger fish.  The most popular fish is the one called gurame, it’s usually quite a small fish, maybe a foot long.  You pay more for that one, of course, but you can afford it.  The fish are so cheap you’ll be tempted to buy a lot, but that’s ok, you can takeaway what you don’t eat.

Once you’ve bought your fish, you can take it to one of the little restaurants, or ‘warung’, nearby.  They will cook the fish according to your instructions, but normally the fish are grilled over coals out the front of the warung.  If I’m well organised, I bring some boiled potato and ask them to fry it for me as Indonesians don’t seem to know about fish n chips yet.

I usually drink fresh coconut milk with my meal.  But if you want a beer, I’m guessing you’d need to bring your own.  I shouldn’t think the warung owner would have a problem with you doing that, they expect strange behaviour from bules.

While you’re waiting for your fish to cook (you will have to wait your turn with the other customers), you can take a look at what’s cooking at the other warungs, or try some otak otak (fish cakes wrapped in banana leaf), which are delicious and cheap. 

When your meal is finally ready, there are two things you will find unusual.  Firstly, these restaurants are lesehans.  That means you will be sitting on a platform at a table which is about 6 inches high.  There are no chairs, so basically, you’re lounging at the table, or you can sit cross legged or however you find most comfortable.  The second thing is there are no implements, you eat with your hands.  Most Westerners are used to eating things like burgers, chicken and sandwitches with their hands, of course.  But it seems a bit strange to do it with messy fish and rice.  It doesn’t take long to get used to it, though, and you can ask for a spoon or whatever if you really have to.  When eating with your hands, the main thing to remember is to bring the food to your mouth with your right hand (the left hand is used for ‘unclean’ things).  Also, don’t put your fingers in your mouth, remember that you’re sharing the dish with other people.

I guess a trip to Muara Karang will take at least a few hours.  If you wanted to kick on afterwards, you would probably want to go back home to change and shower first.  Even if you do nothing more that night, you can rest assured that very few Western tourists have done what you have.

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