The Jakarta Post
Gloria Putri Tirta (left) and Lusia Hadiwinata (right) in their restaurant, Kedai Inge, at Jl. Kayu Manis Barat, Matraman, East Jakarta. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)
The place never seemed to be without cacophonous street noise coming from the tiny road in front: Honks from public minivans and cars, motorcycle engines revving by, the occasional food sellers bellowing out their dishes and people’s chatter came from all directions. The icing on top was the constant rumble of trains coming and going, plus the railway crossing bell.
Jl. Kayu Manis Barat in Matraman, East Jakarta, is home to the Pondok Jati train station. It is also home to Kedai Inge (Inge's Stall), situated right in front of the station. Once packed with customers, the humble place, which still sells classic Chinese food, now hardly sees any customers dining in. These days, the noise mostly come from outside the restaurant, as most orders are made through phone calls. The food is then delivered to the comfort of a customer’s home by ojek (motorcycle taxi).
"It's different from what it used to be, but we actually get by," said Gloria Putri Tirta, granddaughter of Fung Sin Moy, who founded the restaurant in 1968. Fung Sin Moy’s son and Gloria’s uncle, Ho Kwet Tjau, was the original chef. He passed his skills down to the restaurant’s busboys, who in turn became the restaurant’s chefs. In 2005, Ho Kwet Tjau passed away because of diabetes. He was in his 50s. Heartbroken, his mother died two months later.
“I believe my uncle got his cooking skills from his grandmother, who could whip up all sorts of food from any ingredients. My grandmother loved trade, so she opened this restaurant, but it was my uncle who did all the cooking and wrote the menu,” said Gloria, sitting on one of the plastic chairs in the restaurant in late January.
The lively and chirpy 37-year-old now helps with the business, alongside her aunts and mother, Lusia Hadiwinata – Ho Kwet Tjau’s younger sister. The restaurant is still in the front part of their house, where Gloria lives with her mother, aunts, uncle and other relatives.
Lusia was 10 years old when she began to receive assignments for the restaurant.
“I went to the market to shop for groceries, cooked the rice and washed all the dishes. I was exhausted all the time,” she said. However, on another hand: “I understood great-tasting food ever since I could remember. It was all I knew in our household. It’s no wonder I became chubby,” she said with a laugh.
At the time, the restaurant was named after Lusia’s grandmother, Bunga Cahaya. It was the only foodery in the neighborhood, so people would come from all sorts of places. Lusia remembered the popular menu item was mie bakso (noodles with meatballs), along with the Chinese food staples such as fried rice, fried noodle and capcay (stir-fried vegetables).
“Do you know that at 11 in the evening we couldn’t even go to sleep? When it rained, people would go to our restaurant and order mie bakso! During the Lebaran holiday, people would pound the front door in the morning, already asking us to open. They said they were bored of the Lebaran food and they craved Chinese food. Oh my, we didn’t even get the chance to eat during the Lebaran holiday,” Lusia recalled.
In the mid-1980s, she noticed that the restaurant’s sales were declining. Restaurants selling similar menu items were popping up in the area, while streetside food stalls began to appear. They did nothing out of the ordinary. They kept doing what they had always done, which was keeping the restaurant up and running.
“The competitors were many but none sold well. They eventually closed down,” said Lusia. “My mother always said, ‘Our fate is in the hands of God. He has arranged everything, so don’t worry’.”
Along the way, the restaurant has seen many changes. When the family saw that people had stopped coming in, they transformed some of the space into a minimarket. It never took off and so they decided to shut it down. Now another part of the restaurant is rented out for a shop. The place also became known as Kedai Inge, taking the name of one of Lusia’s sisters.
When Gloria grew up, Lusia noticed that she had a knack for cooking.
“I never taught her, but off she went making croquette, nastar (pineapple tart), kaastengels (cheese cookie sticks) or rolade (a meat dish),” she said.
Gloria said she began to learn cooking in fifth grade. In those days, the restaurant was so busy that she and her cousins who lived in the same house had to take care of themselves. “We were expected to feed ourselves and if we could not cook, we’d have been bored to death if we had to eat instant noodles every day. So we started to learn how to fry eggs and then we upped our skills little by little,” she said.
After 50 years, the restaurant is still up and running. Orders came and went as I sat with Gloria and Lusia.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t keep this running. After all, people would always need to eat, wouldn’t they?” asked Lusia. “The most important thing is to know Jesus Christ and to pray to him. If we’re close to him, blessings would come.”
Likewise, Gloria said she found she was no different than her mother.
“It has come to the third generation, which is myself. I would want to continue the business. It would be such a shame not to,” she said, taking another look at the place she knows so well.