Picture yourself enjoying a meal or cup of tea under the comforting shade of a large trees. There are not many cafes in Jakarta that make people want to sit outside instead of in an air-conditioned room. Kedai Lentera, a cafe in Pasar Minggu that was originally established to finance LenteraTimur.com, offers a relaxing setting for those who want to eat and have discussions.
Spend a day exploring Jakarta, and you will realize that this dynamic capital is home to food establishments – big and small – offering an endless variety of dishes and atmospheres. In short, this city is a foodie’s culinary heaven, and yet not all of its inhabitants choose to eat out just to eat. There is a social aspect of enjoying a meal away from the comfort zone of one’s own kitchen or dining room that involves the human need to be a part of an unbound community that is willing to swim through congested streets and pay for even the simplest dish of fried rice. While not many restaurants and cafes are designed for strangers to interact with one another, the concept of food as a pretext for like-minded customers to share stories and ideas is brilliant, yet sadly underused.
Luckily, there is still hope. Sitting in the Pasar Minggu area of South Jakarta, not far from the famous cultural institution, Salihara, is a small cafe called Kedai Lentera. Its existence proves the common myth that all big cities have hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Established just over a year ago, the modest cafe that could easily be mistaken for a regular house if it were not for the sign displayed at its entrance and many tables and chairs assembled in the large driveway has an interesting background story.
An independent media company that focuses on matters concerning Indonesia’s cultural and national identity called LenteraTimur.com wanted to find a way to keep itself afloat without relying on advertisements and external funds. In the early stages of the website’s development, advertisements were the primary source of income, but that method was deemed unsustainable. “My friends and I had to think of another way so that when all the funding comes to an end, we won’t end with it,” explained the website’s editor-in-chief, TM. Dhani Iqbal. The answer to the problem was not free from risks. They decided to start a business, and not just any business, but one that would be capable of satisfying the media’s vision as well as this city residents’ never-ending demand for new places to eat at.
Approximately half of Kedai Lentera’s customers are readers of LenteraTimur.com, most of them being journalists, artists and university students. Judging from the cafe’s regulars, one might quickly label the place as one among a handful of niche establishments scattered across Jakarta. Though this might be the case – especially with the cafe’s frequent film screenings along with occasional poetry readings – Iqbal repeatedly emphasized the flexible nature of the place that he and his team started.
With multiculturalism being one of the primary concentrations of LenteraTimur.com, it is no surprise that Kedai Lentera, which is an extension of the media, serves as a place where people have a chance to directly engage in discourses on the subject. Indonesia is a large country that is made up of individual regions with their own history and cultures, meaning that what is taught in schools is not enough. What Jakarta needs is an alternative public space where we can gain more knowledge through discussions and debates about history, culture, politics and literature in the Indonesian and broader international context – and wouldn’t it be great if all of that could done while enjoying a warm cup of teh tarik and some noodles mixed with homegrown chili?
Kedai Lentera is, in addition to being a cafe, a “space for appreciation” (ruang apresiasi), said Iqbal. While the term itself is vague, its vagueness fully represents the openness of the cafe towards things that feed the mind. Here, one can nourish oneself with actual food as well as a generous amount of food for thought. The volumes of books, which Iqbal and the team plan to expand, that are available for purchase complete the café’s image as a place that takes knowledge and the learning experience seriously.
Jakarta is not easy to explore. In fact, doing so is actually quite a challenge that requires a lot of time and patience. But if there are more unique and homey restaurants or cafes like Kedai Lentera (and it is likely that there are many more) waiting to be stumbled upon by the most curious – and possibly hungry – inhabitants of the city, the effort will pay off. Just because a place with so much character can go undetected by the average urban dweller’s radar, it does not mean that it is not worth a visit or two. A big advantage of living in overwhelmingly chaotic city is that there is always a new layer to be peeled.
Kedai Lentera Jl. Sawo Manila No. 10
Jatipadang, Pasar Minggu