Crying over East Javanese chilli chicken

My lips are numb and tears are running down my burning cheeks. I can’t help it. I’ve belatedly discovered I’m a chilli wimp. My fellow travellers haven’t even worked up a sweat. We’re having lunch at one of Jakarta’s best traditional eateries, MjS at 11 Setiabudi Tengah Street.

The fiery chicken dish on the never-ending buffet

Mbah Jingrak Setiabudi is open every day from 11am-11pm and there’s no quiet time to go. It’s always busy. Diners choose a plethora of dishes from the never-ending buffet. Most choose to eat in the courtyard out the back which has a long, shallow tiled pool and a decorative wooden bridge to cross to smaller dining areas shaded by trees and cooled by whirring fans.

The decorative wooden bridge in the lovely courtyard at MjS

Although located in the commercial district of Setiabudi, the restaurant feels like it’s an oasis. The owner is an avid collector of vintage knick-knacks and odd collectibles such as miniature bicycles and soy sauce bottles.

A wall of collectibles, one of many which decorate the quirky interior
Collection of hundreds of soya sauce bottles at MjS

As for the food, I know next to nothing about Eastern Javanese cooking, so everything is a novelty. We choose a variety of and dig in. The dish which brings me to tears is a chicken dish bright with whole orange chillies. East Javanese chilli chicken. Others which I can handle include: tempe goreng (soybean in a cake form potato, red chilies, small red onions, lime, sugar); osend buncis (stir fried snake beans with tempe and chilli); sambal manis and sambal bawang (fiery condiments of which the chief ingredient is, surprise, surprise, chilli); ayam bumbu rujak (a chicken dish which includes tumeric, candlenuts, coconut milk and, um, chilli).

The dish full of orange chillies demands big icy drinks to accompany it

The restaurant isn’t licensed, but after downing more iced water than could fill the swimming pool, we manage to get some beers smuggled in and served in pitchers with ice and straws, so it looks like iced tea. Sort of.

My verdict: Next time I’m in Jakarta, I’m going for a revisit. It’s lively, atmospheric and the food is wonderful.¬†It’s also phenomenally cheap. But I’ll give those bright orange chillies a big fat miss. OK, so I’m a wimp. Got a problem with that?


  • MjS at 11 Setiabudi Tengah Street (021 5252605)
  • Dishes start at 3,500 rupiah (about 50c)
  • Open 11am-11pm
  • Not licensed
  • Authentic Eastern Javanese cuisine

I flew to Jakarta courtesy of Qantas, which flies daily to the Indonesian capital (and has a much better movie selection than Garuda).


4 thoughts on “Crying over East Javanese chilli chicken

  1. Many dishes served in restaurants come from Java and Sumatra. The coastal areas traditionally use a wider range of spices and flavourings. Sumatran cooking blends fresh and dry spices to produce hot and spicy dishes served with plenty of rice to tone down the spices. The Javanese use a more subtle blend of fresh spices, together with chilli mellowed by the addition of sugar.


  2. Talking from one wimp to another! I cannot tolerate anything so spicy either. You reminded me of myself when I first visited a mexican restaurant. I swear I avoided anything orangie, reddish or even pinkish and would swear that the green dip on the side looked so refreshing!!I thought it was a cucucmber mixture or guacamole.Well, that green thing almost cost my life!! I went from blue to all the colours of the rainbow! Ran out of the place begging for help. The owner came with a cold glass of milk and forced me to drink it up to soothe the burning inferno. It was the hottest green mexican chilli pepper dip I ever had in my enitire life!


  3. Mexicans are tough people! I’m sure I would be running in the same direction, Georgia. I actually thought I could handle a bit of chilli, but not this volcano! I challenge Anthony Bourdain to try and eat this dish.


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