When it comes to finding things to do in Jakarta, this city is a tough nut to crack. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to find cool and fun things to do in Jakarta. I’ve now lived here for nine months and it still boggles my mind just how much life in the city revolves around malls – and hanging out in malls just isn’t my thing.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’m starting to figure Jakarta out…slowly but surely. Over time I’ve come to realize that whether you’re a tourist or a local, there are actually a lot of fun things to do in Jakarta and spending an evening at Pasar Santa is definitely one of them.
Located in South Jakarta, Pasar Santa is a traditional-turned-trendy indoor market filled with over 350 tiny shops and kiosks. The market first opened its doors more than four decades ago and has long been home to tailors, produce vendors and local food stalls. But all of that is changing. Fast.
In 2014, a few of Jakarta’s young entrepreneurs had the brilliant idea of renting out the market’s cheap stalls to house their fledgling businesses – from trendy restaurants to record stores to vintage clothing shops. Because it only costs a few hundred dollars per year to rent a space in Pasar Santa, young businessmen and women figured out a way to open their businesses without assuming a ton of financial risk. It really is genius.
In early 2014 the first floor of Pasar Santa only had a few of these progressive shopkeepers. But after a few short months the idea caught on so rapidly that Pasar Santa became booked to capacity. There is now a waiting list to rent a space in the marketplace. In less than a year Jakarta’s creative geniuses have managed to turn this traditional market into an oh-so-cool hangout filled with some of the hippest restaurants and shops in the city, and they’ve effectively put Pasar Santa on the map as one of Jakarta’s new hot spots.
While the basement level has still retained some of its traditional charm and longstanding businesses, the first floor has been taken over by Jakarta’s young and hip. There are dozens of small, international eateries – a Mexican cantina, a laksa shop, a Korean BBQ stand, a natural juice outlet…there’s even a vegan sandwich shop!
Numerous coffee shops are tucked away on the first floor, complete with converse and black-rimmed glasses wearing hipsters. There are even a few vinyl record stores, antique shops and a film processing booth. This place is seriously cool.
I was so excited when I heard about this place – mainly because it houses Papricano, one of the only Mexican food restaurants in Jakarta – that Aaron and I made an impromptu trip to Pasar Santa that very morning.
After being deprived of fun things to do in Jakarta, we were apparently a bit overeager. We skipped breakfast and arrived at Pasar Santa ready to stuff our faces with fresh guacamole and cheese quesadillas and peruse Pasar Santa’s offbeat stores. But when we arrived at the market at 11am, most of the shops were shuttered. Judging from the signs, most businesses don’t open until around 2pm.
With a few hours to kill, we headed into the basement, where many of Pasar Santa’s original businesses still reside. We had a look around at the traditional stores that are unfortunately being threatened to be put out of business due to Pasar Santa’s growing popularity and rising rent prices. In the basement we found elderly men tailoring clothes, women hawking household supplies and a selection of modest Indonesian restaurants.
We were starving so we grabbed a bowl of sayur lodeh – one of the many popular street foods in Indonesia – lingered over a cool, mint-infused beverage and chilled out until the crowds started rolling in.
By 2pm, most of the stores had rolled up their doors and the market quickly filled up with hordes of young Indonesians. Aaron and I spent hours walking around the narrow corridors, marveling at the ingenuity of these business owners. It was like nothing else I’ve seen in Jakarta.
There were cheap spas offering artistic pedicures, there were dessert shops selling homemade ice cream, cute cupcakes and delicious-looking waffles. We even came across a crème brûlée joint that looked more like a laboratory than a dessert shop.
There were healthy beverage stands featuring everything from herbal teas to virgin mojitos. And there were crazy black-bunned hot dogs topped with a gooey cheese sauce that looked so tempting I briefly rued the day I became a vegetarian.
And then we found it, vegan sandwich shop called Slam Dunk. This place sells things like veggie ruebens and tofu banh mis, and the second we glimpsed the menu all thoughts of Mexican food went out the window. I ordered a tofu ‘BLT’ complete with fakin’ bacon (have I mentioned how much I love mock meat?) and Aaron went for the cheeseburger.
We hunkered down with our food in the middle of the food court, calling to the cute kitties that inhabit Pasar Santa and watching the patrons mill about the market. Neither of us could believe we hadn’t found this place sooner, but we were happy to have finally found a hipster’s paradise in the middle of Jakarta.
Getting there: If you’re staying in the backpacker area of Jalan Jaksa, Pasar Santa is a cinch to get to. Like everywhere in Jakarta, you’ll have to take a cab. A Blue Bird taxi shouldn’t cost more than 50,000-70,000 rupiah and it should take 30 minutes to get there, depending on traffic. Taxi drivers should know exactly where it is.
When to go: From my experience most shops don’t open until around 2-3pm. Don’t go on Mondays, because most businesses will be closed all day.
Address: Pasar Santa, Jalan Cisanggiri II, Koperasi Pedagang Pasar Santa
Where to go: For a list of must-visit restaurants and shops, The Honeycombers created a great guide of places to visit in Pasar Santa.
Does Pasar Santa sound like a place you’d like to visit?