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Charm of night in Semawis stalls (the Semarang Chinatown)


Semarang, like almost every large city in Indonesia, has its pecinan (Chinatown). In all my years living in the city I had never visited this section of town, which is known for the ethnic Chinese community’s efforts to preserve and revitalize their culture. After the repression of Chinese-Indonesians during the New Order regime through draconian regulations, in 2003 the chinese community set up the Semarang Chinese Community for Tourism, popularly known as Semawis. In the beginning it was proclaimed as a Chinese New Year Market where people could purchase food and worship items such as candles, flowers and fragrance. Klenteng (Chinese temples) are in every corner and deliver magical ambience through their bright red and gold decorations. The area has since emerged as a place to visit during a trip to Semarang.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, Pasar Semawis becomes a lively, exciting nightspot. Red lanterns, karaoke joints playing Mandarin songs, fortune tellers and stalls offering jade accesories stalls are part of the fun. Some of the Chinese dishes include sate babi (pork satay) and swikee ( frog soup) are at every corner, and Muslims like me seeking halal food (permissible) also will not go hungry because there is a whole smorgasbord of delicious food to be found. My favorites include nasi ayam, rice with chicken meat and egg in coconut milk soup( Rp 7.000) and Es Cong Lik; ice cream-like, served with jelly, shredded coconut and ripe durian (Rp 7.500). Mouth-watering! The food price range in the area is about Rp 2.000 – Rp 25.000, which is a steal for the taste.

How to get there: Semawis is located at Gang Pinggir, about 10-15 minutes by becak (Rp 10.000) from Simpang Lima or Pemuda street.

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