Jun Njan

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I can summarize Jakarta’s culinary landscape in two words: Western and Cafe. In the past few years, Jakarta has become the new home for international coffee outlets, brewing tons of caffeine and dominating local magazines with their newest creations. Along with the rise of coffee makers, Western foods are also slowly gaining back their popularities. Mostly because they offer not only glorious melting cheese and smoking beef pastries, but also trendy places with plenty of natural lightings for selfie lovers.

The competition is getting harder day-by-day, and it seems the favor is not in authentic traditional family restaurant like Jun Njan. Jun Njan is more than an old player in Jakarta’s culinary world. Established in 1950s, the restaurant has been serving seafood dishes with classic Chinese touches for at least two generations. Unfortunately, just like many other historical restaurant, it suffers from globalization and trend changes. Though local customers are still ready to order at any time, the younger ones go right across the street ordering coffee to go and beef lasagna. The question that lingers in everyone’s head is; is there really no place at all for restaurants like Jun Njan?

When I go there for early lunch with my friends, the restaurant pretty much says no. The place is still empty with no reservations and the waitresses are still busy prepping up for the day. Actually, it’s not a big deal since we are not fans of waiting list either.

Stepping into Jun Njan Central Park branch is like entering a serene oasis. Jun Njan has done a gracious job keeping the atmosphere peaceful and family friendly. Instead of bright lights and loud dance music, the room feels strangely quiet with gloomy lightning that comes from a bunch of colorful Chinese lanterns above our heads, and modern pop-acoustic music to keep our ears relaxed.

As I’ve said before, Jun Njan specializes in Chinese seafood dishes. Prawns, squids, and steamed fishes dominate our three pages menu books. Chicken and beef are present, but limited to grilled or fried. Another interesting, if not tricky, thing is Jun Njan let you choose the portion of each dish you ordered. Small, medium or large, the choice is in your own hands. I have to admit, it’s nice to know there are small portions available for those who like to dine alone.

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Fried Squid with Jun Njan Sauce (Medium)

Eagerly recommended by my friends, Jun Njan’s fried squids strangely look like it has been grilled instead of fried. Colored like burned cooper and soaked in wet sauce, the squids are perfectly cooked and taste fresh inside my mouth. The thick brown sauce feels smooth combined with warm rice and chewy squids. Still, I expect something more kicking than this. At some point, I feel like the sauce is getting too salty and monotonous. This dish is a must try though, if you can ignore the lack of surprise.

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Fried Prawn with Mayo (Small)

Five fried prawns sadly siting in a plate accompanied with two thin slices of cucumber. I know Jun Njan is not a fine dining restaurant, but the presentation is so weak and laughable, I feel bad for the chefs. Apart from that, I quickly adore this dish. The prawns are still maintain their original flavors and don’t turn into dry fried flour, a major point that deserves a genuine praise. The mayo is a tad too much, but with the help of white rice (again!) I can ignore the flaw and enjoy this dish entirely.

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Braised Tofu with Oyster Sauce (Small)

Jun Njan braised tofu is delicious, but same with their fried/grilled squids it lacks of surprises and presentation. The dish is simply forgettable. I like the tofu texture though, soft and has a milky taste in it. The oyster sauce is thick and sticky with tiny mushrooms as complement, a good companion for whatever left in my rice bowl. However, after bombarded with prawns and squids, the tofu seems like an unimportant extra in our table. If Jun Njan can present this dish in more glamorous way, I am pretty confident it can compete with other (more expensive) seafood dishes.

After paying our bill and leaving the restaurant, I have a hard time remembering my own dining experience at Jun Njan. There’s nothing wrong with the dish. Everything is enjoyable; even though not necessarily mind blowing. It’s not the service either, our waitress is kind and polite without making us feel like loud misplaced teens.

I think I have to blame it on the presentation. Why? As a conservative restaurant, Jun Njan doesn’t offer anything interesting or experimental in their menu, the only way they can keep the customers interested is by presenting their dishes in beautiful, elegant ways. For example, the fried prawns can be put in nice wooden basket with small red tomatoes as garnish. And the braised tofu will look way nicer in clay pot with small candles underneath to keep it warm. Well, small things like that.

I feel like Jun Njan is getting way too conservative and strict; it’s like having a meal with the president of whatever state. Time for Jun Njan to relax a little bit, get more experimental without neglecting their Chinese roots and finally open up to new strange ideas. So, the answer to my previous question is; Yes, there is definitely a place for Jun Njan in today’s culinary landscape, but they really need to loosen up a bit and get a little younger.

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