The clever cooks really know how to grill a fish to perfection, no overcooking here (which is an unfortunate crime that continues in many parts of Indonesia). However, a true crime that does raise its ugly head here is the selection of undersized and endangered sealife on offer which should never be on your dinner plate. Educate yourself a little, and make wise choices, or the next time you go snorkelling, the’ll be nothing to see. Here is a printable chart in Indonesian. Of particular note, don’t eat the parrot fish—they clean the coral of algae, and make sure the lobsters are a decent size (that goes for all fish too).
It’s better to grab a group and share a large fish than eat several small ones. If seafood is not to your taste (or we’ve turned you off with our rant!), there’s plenty of other options at the stalls here. Ask the prices so there’s no surprise (it’s all very reasonable) then place your order, take off your shoes and find a spot around one of the low tables on the square. You can order a lovely fresh juice or unofficially on sale, but available, a beer. Just ask the chef who will usually offer Prost (but sometimes Bintang) for 50,000—60,000 rupiah. It may not be cold, but hey, beer with ice is not a bad thing on a warm night.
Just a note on alcohol: this is a conservative Muslim community, and at the time of our research, there was talk of an alcohol ban. With the growing tourism on the islands, this is probably unlikely, but at times they do run out. Mostly beer is the only option available, and the prices are double what you would expect to pay in other parts of Indonesia.
On your way home from the market, stop by the Matabak stall set up nightly near Srikandi Homestay for a sweet and decedent pancake dessert. Try “with everything” — chocolate, peanuts, banana and cheese (warning to folks with heart problems: Don’t do it, this is an instant artery hardening indulgence).
To quell your midday hunger (or anytime, really), our first choice is to head to Warung Bu Ester in the large open pavilion in-between the seafront and the alun-alun. This self service local joint offers a different array of dishes every day from 06:00 to around 21:00 at very local prices. There’s usually a few fish dishes in the glass cabinet, but you’ll also find chicken, tempe, tofu and veggies too. Be sure to check out the cooking pots at the side for some soupier options and sambals. Wash it down with an es jeruk (homemade lemon/orangeade) or es kepalpa muda (fresh coconut — but ask them to hold the red syrup, unless you like that kind of thing). Krupuk (crackers) and bananas are on the tables to help yourself. When you’re done, head to the cashier and mention what you ate (including the crackers and bananas!). Our substantial meals with a drink came to around 25,000 rupiah.
Warung Mekar Sari Bu Asfi’ah next door to The Happinezz guesthouse is another local establishment for a quick lunch if you’d prefer a hot meal. We tried Lontong Krubyuk, a soupy sweet chicken and rice cake dish for 10,000 rupiah, but she dishes up standards such as soto (chicken soup), nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie ayam (chicken noodles) too, all under 12,000 rupiah.
Karimunjawa’s most stylish restaurant, is the oceanfront Amore Cafe & Resto set in two beautiful restored joglos in a breezy coconut palm dotted lawn. The menu offers Western and Indonesian choices from steak (40,000+ rupiah) and “spaghetty” (35,000+ rupiah) to Pindang Serani (35,000+ rupiah), a local clear fish soup flavoured with starfruit and turmeric. Kick back and watch the boats on one of the comfy couches with a cappuccino (15,000+ rupiah) or cold beer (45,000+ rupiah).
For Western fare, head to Eat & Meet opposite The Coconut House (evenings only) for wood fire pizza (from 65,000++ rupiah), pasta (from 50,000++ rupiah), salads (from 38,000++ rupiah), and burgers (from 60,000++ rupiah), plus a homemade icecream bar (from 15,000 rupiah). They also severe cold beer and Mix Max (an alcopop).
Some of Karimunjawa’s guesthouses and hotels harbour some decent food options too.
The Happinezz guesthouse’s attached cafe serves a highly recommended Dutch-style apple pie (25,000 rupiah). Sign up for their weekly fish barbecue for 50,000 rupiah per person, it’s a fun social event and a good way to meet some locals and fellow travellers. Their sister property, The Panorama is preparing to open a seaside rooftop bar/cafe overlooking the harbour, we had a sticky at the planned site, and it’s a beaut spot.
Karimunjannah House is famous for their sate (50,000 rupiah with rice), made with plump and succulent chicken breast. The peanut sauce is thick and rich, but the spiciness is very much toned down for Western taste. If you prefer it spicy, don’t forget to ask.
For a little indulgence, Cumibar Restaurant & Bar at Breve Azurine Lagoon Retreat is a great way to get a taste of this lovely private resort without breaking the bank. The menu offers Indonesian and European fusion cuisine as well as cocktails and wine in a casual hilltop open pavilion overlooking the stunning bay below. Make the most of the day and sign up for their beach package for 100,000 rupiah which includes a soft drink, use of kayaks and snorkelling equipment and a beach mat and towel to lie on their “private” beach.
Ada Rasa Matabak (kaki lima — food cart) Near the corner of Jalan Slamet Riyadi and Jalan Dr. Sutomo, Karimunjawa; Mo–Su: from 17:00.
Alun-Alun Night Market Alun-Alun; Mo–Su: 17:00–22:00.
Amore Cafe & Resto Jalan Slamet Riyadi; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Cumibar Restaurant & Bar Breve Azurine Lagoon Retreat; Jalan Danang Jaya; T: (0297) 319 1059; https://www.breveazurine.com/restaurant Mo–Su: 11:30–15:00, 18:00–late.
Eat & Meet Jalan Dr. Sutomo; T: (0297) 319 1103, (0813) 2653 3543; http://eatmeet.weebly.com Mo–Su: 16:00–22:00.
Karimunjannah House Jalan IJ Kasimo; T: (0812) 1283 7324, (0822) 2758 8961; Mo–Su: 12:00–15:00, 18:00–21:00.
The Happinezz Jalan Jendral Sudirman; T: (0852) 9014 4638, (0297) 319 1120; http://www.thehappinezz.com Mo–Su: 07:30–14:00, 18:00–22:00.
Warung Bu Ester Alun-Alun; Mo–Su: 17:00–22:00.
Warung Mekar Sari Bu Asfi’ah Jalan Jendral Sudirman; Mo–Sa: 10:00–22:00.
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.