As with any small town in Java, hole-in-the wall warungs dominate the food scene, and one dish Jepara is most known for is pindang serani, a sour, clear broth fish soup, typically made with turmeric, starfruit, lemongrass, ginger, and more. Variations can be spicy or sweet.
At the end of the esplanade at Pantai Kartini beyond the giant cement turtle, you’ll find elbow to elbow fish warungs, and as a well as the usual grilled and fried offerings, pindang serani features heavily on the menus here. Most are open daytime only, but Warung Makan Mak’e Bu Marini tends to stay open a little later to cater to the straggling tourists. Check the icebox for the freshest fish and make your choice—prices are by weight.
The town centre offers a handful of decent eateries: New on the scene, Djago had not long opened when we visited in mid 2017, and the owner was excited to have a foreign tourist drop by so gave us a quick tour and explained a little about the menu. Set in a renovated colonial building that’s been given the hipster treatment, large pop art Andy Warhol-style soup cans line the fence and funky artworks grace the walls—note the image of Jepara’s homegrown hero, Kartini as a multi-coloured pop art piece. The menu offers several local specialities, too may for us to try all—someone please try the horog horog pecel (18,000 rupiah) and report back, apparently horog horog is only found in Jepara, a starchy substance made from palm flour. We read a description that reported it as like chewy, salty styrofoam (mmmm), but it must be more palatable. However we did have time to try the excellent coffee (25,000 rupiah). If local tastes don’t appeal, but the pleasant surroundings do, you can try from a selection of other Indonesian, Asian and Western dishes. Service was a little on the slow side, but they are aware of this and warn patrons, so sit back and relax.
Fun and funky Sriya Cafe & Homestay opposite a patch of sawah (rice fields) seats punters under a mis-mash of shady thatch pavilions in a garden filled with an eclectic collection bric-a-brac—Chinese lanterns, plastic flowers, stuffed toys, carved wooden birds and more. Fancy (non-alcoholic) drinks are their speciality, and the drinks menu goes for pages. We tried a rainbow hued concoction of es tea buah (15,000 rupiah) which appeared much more fake and fluorescent in real life than the picture in the menu, however tasted surprisingly healthy. Plenty of interesting local dishes are on offer (with pictures in the menu to help you choose) along with a handful of Western options. We enjoyed sego wewit (25,000 rupiah), a classily simple Central Javanese dish of rice, vegetables with coconut and spices, tofu tempeh and egg. Several evening a week Sriya Cafe & Homestay plays hosts to live music. If you like the food and the atmosphere, you can spend a night in the attached guesthouse.
Anglo House and Kitchen was packed to the rafters when we stopped by the modern barn-like restaurant. The menu is predominantly Indonesian, with some Chinese and Western options. The hordes all seemed to be tucking into the special ayam betutu (28,000 rupiah), a Balinese chicken dish slow cooked in banana leaves, and it looked delicious.
If you’re wandering over near the traditional harbour or Dutch fort, stop by the long running Pondok Rasa where you can eat lesehan style (sitting on the floor or a low platform) in small huts surrounding a leafy garden. They offer an extensive menu of Indonesian dishes with most mains rang from 11,000 rupiah to around 35,000 rupiah although fish by weight can be up to 85,000 rupiah.
Missing home and feel like fish and chips (65,000 rupiah) or a steak (125,000 rupiah)? Head to The Gecho Lounge Cafe with the ambience of a British pub. There’s a pool table and a bar with a selection of beers too. They sell homemade brown bread (45,000 rupiah)—grab a loaf to takeaway and break up the monotonous plastic white bread offerings of homestay breakfasts. Their attached guesthouse, The Gecho Inn Town is one of the sweetest places to stay in town.
If you’re heading on an excursion to Kudus for the day (really, you should) don’t miss the opportunity to eat at Rumah Makan Gasasa (Garang Asem Sari Rasa) and try their speciality dish, Garang Asem Ayam a fragrant slow cooked chicken dish with green tomatoes and tamarind presented in a steaming banana leaf box—fall-off-the-bone delicious. Get there early (they start selling it from 09:00), it’s very popular and they sell out by mid-afternoon.
Anglo House and Kitchen 15 Jalan Hos Cokrominoto; T: (0823) 2828 6767; Mo–Su: 11:00–21:00.
Djago 15 Jalan Dr. Sutomo; T: (0815) 6780 5588, (0823) 3748 2666; https://www.facebook.com/djagoresto/ Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Omah Mode 38 Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani, Kudus; T: (0812) 3045 9976, (0877) 3379 6277, (0856) 0030 8113; Mo–Su: 09:00–22:00 Swimming pool open daily: 06:00–20:00.
Pondok Rasa 2 Jalan Pahlawan; T: (0291) 591 025; Sa–Th: 09:00–21:00.
RM Gasasa 20 Jalan Agil Kusumadya, Kudus; T: (0291) 442 218; Mo–Su: 08:00–21:00.
Sriya Cafe & Homestay Jalan Kusomo Utoyo; T: (0291) 7519 979, (0813) 2500 7000; https://www.facebook.com/sriyajepara/ Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
The Gecho Lounge Cafe 49 Jalan AR Hakim; T: (0291) 595 220, (0813) 2911 7434; http://thegechoinn.com Mo–Su: 10:00–23:00.
Warung Makan Mak’e Bu Marini Pantai Kartini; Mo–Su: 07:00–21:00.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.