Semarang’s Best-Kept Culinary Secrets

If there’s one thing that a lot of Indonesians can agree on, it’s that Semarang, the capital of Central Java is home to some of Indonesia’s greatest culinary treasures. From crispy and savory lumpia to the sweet and toffee-like wingko babat, Semarang’s local dishes are undeniably some of the best tasting in Indonesia. But apart from the dishes the city’s been notoriously known for, there are also a bunch of spots in Semarang that not a lot of travelers know about and yet they serve some of Semarang’s best food.

Last August, my friend Michelle and her friend Monica – both local residents of Semarang – took me to some of their favorite dining spots in the city and let me in on some of the city’s best-kept culinary secrets. I also made some accidental discoveries of my own while exploring the city and combined with their recommendations, I managed to put together this list of where to eat in Semarang.

1. Tavern Cafe, Semarang

The place

The Tavern is a very posh, hip restaurant and bar where the young locals hang out on weekends. Located at the higher parts of Semarang, the restaurant’s outdoor seating area also serves as a lookout point to watch the city lights flicker below. And have I mentioned that The Tavern is located at the second story of a building and to get to the place, you need an elevator?

I’ve never been a huge fan of dining at posh places, but The Tavern turned out to be quite a nice place to dine. Even though the vibes remind me a lot of Jakarta’s more upscale eateries, the dishes they serve are actual gifts from heaven. Following Michelle & Monica’s recommendation, I got their beef stroganoff for IDR65.000 and it was literally the best beef stroganoff I’ve ever had.

Beef Stroganoff

The beef was very tender, the mushroom sauce made me want to cry because of how brilliant it tasted, the mashed potatoes was seasoned really well, and even the coleslaw salad was awesome. I also took a bite of Monica’s baby back ribs (IDR105.000) and it tasted brilliant too.

Baby Back Ribs

Oh my gosh, those ribs were juicy and whatever they marinated the ribs in, it sunk straight to the bones which made whichever bite you take incredibly savory. And also, these ribs were easy to slice! A lot of people serve pork ribs that give you an arm workout just to slice them, but not this one.

If you’re looking to hang out at The Tavern on weekends, make sure to get there earlier in the night (around 7 or 8 PM) or better yet, reserve a table since there are queues just for a seat.

The Tavern | Jl. Rinjani No. 1, Jl. Sumbing, Kota Semarang, Jawa Tengah | +6224 8503099 | Open: 4 PM to 12.30 AM

2. Retro Cafe Semarang

Paintings and old irons

I’ve talked about this place in my previous post, but thought I should include it in this list as well. I accidentally discovered this place in Kota Lama and I won’t talk too much about it, but if you’re someone who’s looking for great vibes and some good ol’ sincere, Semarang warmth, Retro Cafe is a place you should visit.

Contrary to The Tavern, the food served in this place is actually quite average since they serve the typical Indonesian comfort food such as nasi gorengmie rebusand banana fritters. But the cafe’s interiors and the family owning it will make you feel like you’re home, wherever you’re from in the world. The cafe also has a photo booth and unlimited karaoke which makes it a fun place to hang out in as well.

Retro Cafe | Jalan Garuda No. 24, Tanjung Mas, Semarang Utara, Tj. Mas, Semarang Utara | +6224 3543624 | Open: 11 AM to 10 PM

3. Es Puter Pak Henry

Women selling the ice

This is an absolutely hidden gem since they don’t even have a permanent address! Es Puter Pak Herry serves a local favorite shaved ice out of a barrel inside a wooden wagon towed at the back of two women’s motorcycle. These women usually sell their shaved ice from 6 to 10 PM in front of Tjiang Residence, near Semawis Market. And by 6 to 10 PM, I mean 6 to 10 PM on the dot! When Michelle, Monica and I got to their wagon, it was 9.55 PM and they served us the last of their shaved ice, cleaned up their shaved ice tub, and then drove their motorcycles off at 10 PM sharp.

Es Puter Pak Herry turned out to be an awesome dessert. For IDR10.000, you will get shaved ice with some nuts and chunks of bread. The flavor, the texture, and combination between the ice and bread were all awesome. What I really loved was that the women didn’t use artificial sweeteners for the shaved ice which a lot of street vendors in Indonesia often do. The dessert tasted sweet in the most natural way.

Es Puter

Es Puter Pak Herry | In front of Tjiang Residence, Jl. Gang Pinggir No.24, Kranggan, Semarang Tengah | Open: 6 PM to 10 PM (sharp!)

4. Bubur Ayam Ryan

The place

On a Sunday morning, Michelle and her family took me to Bubur Ayam Ryan in Simpang Lima which she said “serves some of the best porridge in town.” The stall is located in front of the sign for Ace Hardware in Simpang Lima and like most street food stalls in Indonesia, the food is served from a wagon while diners eat under a tarp with plastic seats and wooden tables. There were a lot of street vendors weaving in and out of the stall to sell magazines and matches, beggars asking for money, and street performers too. The heat under the tarp can also be sweltering at times.

It’s not the most ideal place to have breakfast, but my gosh, Bubur Ayam Ryan actually served the best porridge I’ve ever had.

The porridge

The porridge is served with shredded fried chicken, crackers, and eggs. The spices from the condiments used to flavor the porridge were really balanced and the porridge had a really nice texture. If you’re looking for some extra flavors, you should grab one of the chicken satays from the tray on each table because it adds such a nice sweet touch to the porridge.

The portion, however, is actually quite small so ordering a second bowl is perfectly fine here. Plus, their service is really quick too, so even when you’re on a time crunch, two portions wouldn’t take too long.

Bubur Ayam Ryan | In front of Ace Hardware Simpang Lima, Jl. Pahlawan No. 2-2A, Pleburan, Semarang Selatan

Semarang is a treasure trove for food lovers and this list is only a small portion of the many eateries it holds. If you’re heading to Semarang, make sure to prep yourself for a lot of dining and go off the beaten path since this small city actually has a lot of hidden culinary gems waiting to be discovered.

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