No visit to the pleasant Dutch-colonial highland town of Malang (Indonesia) would be complete without a peep into Toko Oen, the town's iconic cafe. 81-years-old and still going strong, the retro-looking cafe was filled with mainly foreign/Western tourists when I was there - quite a few old Dutchmen re-living the ghosts of the town's old colonial past in the languid atmosphere which seemed to pervade every corner of this cafe. Low-slung rattan chairs, glass-topped tables, high-ceilings with lazy fans and a 50s-style cake display cum counter provided the backdrop. Waiters wore starched white uniforms reminiscent of those worn by civil servants during the Dutch colonial administrative era. If anything, Toko Oen succeeded (by simply remaining unchanged) where Singapore's Raffles Hotel's failed to do despite spending millions - transport the visitor into another time era lock, stock & barrel.
Alas, Toko Oen had managed to retain the 50s spirit and feel perhaps too perfectly - case in point, their food offerings did taste like they'd not kept in tandem with culinary developments in the past half-century. Toko Oen's famous selection of ice-cream, for example, all tasted pretty inferior to the creamy Magnum or Walls available in Indomaret or Alphamart convenience stores round the corner. Toko Oen's ice-cream (which also came in local flavors like durian & corn) had hard, crystal-like shards in their texture as the cream/milk content was much lower than what a 21st-century ice-cream lover would be used to - so a vanilla-flavored ice-cream tasted more like a popsicle made using diluted 4 parts water/1 part milk. The sundaes come in serving vessels which would not look out of place in an episode of "Mad Men" or "Boardwalk Empire" - little scoops of ice-cream topped with whipped cream, wafers, cherries - abso-bloody-lutely charming! They have options like the classic Peach Melba; a Chef's Special (?!); and even a Sparkling Delight - where your sundae actually came with a lit sparkler on top!!
Even Toko Oen's cakes tasted drier and less rich than those from other places like the popular Holland Bakery chain. Their Dutch-inspired spekkoek (pronounced "spiku") layer cake tasted rather dry & tasteless. A touch more butter & eggs would have done wonders for their baked goods.
By virtue of its iconic monumental status, one simply can't write-off Toko Oen from one's must-visit list - but just don't come with high expectations food-wise.
Restaurant-Ice Cream Palace-Patiissier-Juice
Jl Jend. Basuki Rakhmad 5
Malang, East Jave
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