Jayakarta – A Culinary Adventure with Manju and Ethan
Jayakarta: 2026 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Overall Rating: 9/10
It was a Wednesday afternoon and track practice had just ended. We were both starving. “Wanna get Indonesian food?” Armed with Google Docs to write a review, we went to Jayakarta, a seemingly unimpressive, run-down restaurant in Berkeley that was highly recommended on Yelp. It was 5:30 pm, too late for lunch but also a little too early for dinner. The tables were empty, but within an hour, people began trickling in. The place had a nice authentic energy; it didn’t try too hard to be “exotic” like some other restaurants do. Traditional Indonesian Wyang, or shadow puppets, hung above us. The energy was high, making up for the bare design of the restaurant. All this came together to deliver an experience that was simply and purely focused on the quality and taste of the food.
We looked at the menu and realized that we didn’t understand the words in front of us. Ethan, who is half-Indonesian, called his mother in a rush to ask what the best Indonesian dish is. Manju called a family friend whose favorite restaurant is Jayakarta to ask for her recommendations. The waitress looked at us humorously, a smile creeping up on her face as she listened to our conversations. We finally ordered three dishes shared between us both: Krupuk Udang, Mie Goreng, and Rendang.
Krupuk Udang are prawn crackers served with a peanut sauce for dipping. This light, yet tasty, appetizer was delightfully crunchy. Krupuk is also very commonly eaten alongside rice; the fried flavors very nicely complementing the absorbent quality of the asian staple.
Next up, the waitress brought a steaming plate of Rendang, a tender beef dish. This is a specialty dish that is traditionally cooked in large batches for whole villages to enjoy. The beef is stewed in a secret combination of spices and coconut milk for hours, and sometimes even days, to allow for the flavors to properly infuse and give the meat a wonderful texture. The tenderness allowed us to pull away at the beef with ease. There was resistance in the chewy meat and the sauce had an addictive quality that left us scraping every last drop. It started off with a subtle sweet taste, leaving a sharp zing on our tongues from the spice. Along with the beef came a side of Jasmine rice which beautifully complemented the dominant flavors of the rich, deep sauce.
Lastly, the waitress brought out a dish of Mie Goreng, a spicy fried noodle dish with prawns. It was a great mix of sweet and savory flavors, the noodles providing an eggy taste, and the sauce a tangy, sweet quality. We flavored our dishes with additional spices and sauces that sat at the table. Our mouths were burning. Nothing about Indonesian food is gentle. The flavors were strong, blunt, sweet, and spicy.
Our experience at Jayakarta was a very pleasant one. The three dishes we ordered were just the right amount to split between us. If you are comfortable with the “hole-in-the-wall” appearance and not quite attentive service, the food alone is worth a visit. It’s well priced with large portion sizes (plenty to take home and share with family!) We highly recommend if you would like to experience authentic Indonesian cuisine. If you are sensitive to spice make sure to choose a lower spice level!
Rendang – Tastes much much better than it looks. This photo doesn’t really do the dish justice.