Semarang, capital city of Central Java Province, is a city blessed with a fantastic atmosphere of diverse cultural heritage from those who played their part in its precious history. The European touch of the Dutch colonial era are carved in the buildings in the Oudstadt (the Old City) complex, while the Middle East and Gujarat culture radiate strongly in the area of Pekojan – Kauman. In another quarter, Chinese predecessors of Semarang left some of their most beautiful oriental legacies in the alleys of Kranggan area, or better known today as Pecinan or Chinatown.
Situated in the heart of Semarang, the Chinatown area covers several alleys – or “Gang ” in Bahasa Indonesia- including Gang Pinggir, Gang Lombok, Gang Warung, and Gang Baru.
According to historical accounts, initially, Chinese pioneers who came to Semarang settled in the area of Mangkang, whose name derives from the Chinese word: Wakang Tjoen or Large Ship, located around Simongan Hill. The presence of the Chinese community in Simongan is marked by the Sam Poo Kong Temple which still stands today as the oldest Chinese Temple in Semarang. However, in 1740, when the Chinese rebellion against Dutch colonialism occurred in Batavia and spread to Semarang, this caused the Dutch colonial government in the area to relocate Chinese settlements to Kranggan.
Stepping into the Chinatown complex is literally like entering a mini version of China. Higlighted by a number of shrines, Chinese Pharmacies, fortune tellers, and distinct Chinese food stalls, the depth of Chinese culture that is so evident here is truly compelling, suggesting Semarang as the most “Chinese” City on the island of Java.
Among the 11 major temples in Semarang, locally known as “Klenteng”, 10 are located within the Chinatown area which are: the Hoo Hok Bio, Siu Hok Bio, Tay Kak Sie, Kong Tik Soe, Tong Pek Bio, Liong Tek Hay Bio, Hok Bio, See Hoo Kong, Wie Wie Kiong, and Klenteng Grajen.
Situated in Gang Lombok, the Tay Kak Sie Temple is regarded as the center of all Chinese Temples in Semarang, and also the main focus of Chinatown.
Dating back to 1746, the temple overlooks the Semarang River and is decorated with huge drums and an incense-clouded interior. According to history, the temple was built after Semarang’s Chinese communities were relocated and the Sam Poo Kong Temple came under the control of a greedy landlord named Johanes, who demanded large sums of money from those who wished to enter the temple.
The Tay Kak Sie Temple still retains its original shape and features. The thick sturdy entrance door is still decorated with distinct Chinese intricate carvings perfectly attached to it. Different from other Chinese temples and shrines that are usually dominated by the color red, the Tay Kak Sie Temple uniquely has the color blue which dominates the roofs and doors. Next to the temple is a food court offering various Chinese food, and also a community hall which is often used for Kungfu, Wushu and other martial art performances or training.
The main street in Chinatown in Gang Warung transforms into a vibrant culinary center every weekend from Friday to Sunday, and is known as Pasar Semawis. The culinary bazaar opens from 17:00 to 23:00 hrs. West Indonesia Time and features a mixture of Chinese and Javanese culinary delights such as bakcang, spring rolls, many kinds of porridges, pork satay, fried rice, soup, seafood, Javanese noodles, various snacks, and a whole lot more.
The one thing that you definitely must try in Semarang’s Chinatown is the famous Lumpia (Springroll) Semarang. A lot of people say that Gang Lombok has the best Lumpia in the entire city.
For a complete culinary experience, the Pasar Semawis Culinary Center in Gang Warung is truly a must. Most of the food here is different to what you’ll find elsewhere. Here a number of stalls sell mouthwatering dishes with pork in them – a rarity anywhere on Java.
Since Semarang is regarded as the city with the strongest Chinese Cultural Influence on Java, the Chinatown is the perfect place to see hundred years’ old cultural legacies that are still well preserved today in buildings, art performances, martial arts, foods and drinks, and more.
Those who enjoy photography will find many appealing objects in the colorful character of Chinatown.
During Chinese traditional celebrations,especially around Chinese New Year, the area is always highlighted with festivals and festivities featuring all kinds of performances and ceremonies.