If you’re a big fan of Medanese cuisine, there’s no place to explore in Jakarta like Pluit at night, particularly in the Muara Karang area.
All you see is rows of street vendors hawking passers-by with their specialty noodle dishes, such as bee hoons (rice vermicelli), kway tiaws (ricecake strips), la mians (hand-pulled dough noodles), yifu noodles, egg noodles, and the occasional bakpaos (meat buns) and durians. Everywhere you turn, all you hear is the middle-aged and the senior citizens yelling in Hokkien (the Fujian dialect) to each other.
It’s not the prettiest scene in the world, but if there’s one thing the provincial culture is famous for, it’s their food.
In this case, we’re talking meatballs.
You may think, there are countless other places in the world to get your dose of meatballs. After all, the add-on is not limited to the Indonesian-Chinese cuisine alone. Bakso, or literally “shredded meat” in Hokkien, prevails in the Asian world, and it’s undoubtedly a Chinese food signature. You can most certainly spot some meatballs in his bowl 90% of the time when you see a Chinese guy eating noodles.
But let me tell you, you’ve never tasted anything like Akiaw’s meatballs.
While there are up to five branches of Bakso Akiaw in Jakarta alone (with its primary outlet perched at Mangga Besar), the one I’m reviewing now sits fittingly within the Muara Karang neighborhood, and if you haven’t been familiarized, the district is best known for its Indonesian-Chinese residents as well as the larger Hakka community.
Normally, and this goes for almost all major street vendors in the area, people just call delivery or order a takeout instead of dining on location, but on that night I was really hungry and I wanted to have my noodles in front of me immediately.
The place was quite tiny, as with most street-food style restaurants in Jakarta. The standard I generally use for restaurants in town, excluding the big names of the South, is that the shabbier the place, the better the food will be. Sometimes you just can’t trust the crowd, because when Indonesians talk, the talk spreads fast. Something can turn into a hype overnight and everyone would rave about it and jump onto the bandwagon right away, and so you followed, but later found there’s nothing really special about it other than famous people have been on it.
But I digress.
So you want to first start with picking your base (in order of chunkiness: bee hoon, kway tiaw, or Hokkien noodles, which is your average yellow noodles), then decide whether you want it a regular size or bigger.
I went with a regular-sized kway tiaw, which later tasted phenomenal because I put so much wan sui (Chinese parsley) and green onions into my broth.
Then, pick your choices from the vast menu of meatballs to go with your noodles. The menu is filled with every imaginable kind of meatballs.
My galore stars an extra-large tofu ball, two Fiyen balls (a type of fish), a couple of regular fish balls and another couple of beef balls. The chewy Fiyen balls were stuffed with seaweed as well, which is awesome.
The result is a super duper rich and flavorful broth, with the much-added zing from garlic and the fresh greens.
Everything just smells so fragrant. It’s the broth that makes all the difference in the world. As you can see, it’s nothing like the usual clearwater you get in your average Chinese meatball soup.
It may look like a simple dish (and my pictures don’t do its taste justice), but I dare you to spare some leftovers once you take a sip. I think it’s smart for them to excel at the fundamental prerequisite of any good dish, which, sadly, a lot of much-publicized restaurants out there don’t actually have: a well-balanced mix of all flavors. This bowl has heaps of umami, a really mild bitterness, and just enough saltiness, along with my personal preference to add just a few touches of sweet-sour from the rice vinegar bottle on our table.
Normally, I don’t enjoy the squeaky white fish balls all that much, as I like my food hard to make use of my teeth (is that weird?). Also, the more you chew, the longer you can whiff and savor the flavors of your food. But this one is so plump and bouncy and chewy, you can pretty much munch it all day to keep the tang lingering long in your mouth.
10, however, had his kway tiaw large, and his bouquet is the default you get without you handpicking your balls. That said, the standard bowl include a lavish mix of beef balls, tendon balls, generous portions of meaty shank slices plus the one extra-large tofu ball as well.
In other words, yeap, the bowl’s certainly an epitome of a manly man dish.
You guys already know I’m a herbivore about 80% of the time, so all that coarseness and umami in one bowl was quite overwhelming for my taste. But all that pungency died down a bit after 10 squeezed in a few drops of hot sauce into the broth, a must-have condiment in every good Chinese restaurant. Somehow peppers never fail to complement the smelliest meats like a match made in heaven, and I bet any manly man who gorges carnivorous dishes regularly would actually prefer their meatballs with hot sauce rather than not. Just imagine all that acidity traveling down your gut.
Best of all, you get all these sensitizing pleasures for IDR 50k per person at most, that is, if you’ve added extra toppings of beef and shank slices on top of your chunky meatballs and a bigger-sized serving of noodles. After all, what’s a Medanese food if it’s not cheap and good?
M-Sa 03:00pm – 12:00am
S 01:00pm – 12:00am