There are a lot of Halal Chinese restaurants in Jakarta, but few are as legit as Restaurant Sulaiman. Most of the capital's Halal Chinese spots just cut pork from the menu and offer up Muslim diners a pretty authentic approximation of mainstream Chinese cuisine, but with chicken and beef instead of pork.
Restaurant Sulaiman is different. The eatery, located on the edge of Central Jakarta's Chinatown, sells the cuisine of Northern China's Hui people—the country's ethnically Chinese Muslims. There are two major Muslim groups in China, the Hui, who are ethnically Han, and the Uygher, Turkic people who have more in common with Central Asians than the Han Chinese.
Sulaiman Wu Di, the owner of Restaurant Sulaiman, sells a bit of both cuisines—offering diners the heartiness of Uygher food and the spiciness of the Shaanxi cuisine. There's a lot of mutton, curry, and noodles on the menu, as well as flat breads and thick stews that you wouldn't typically see in a Chinese restaurant.
Here in Muslim-majority Indonesia, most Muslims think of the country's ethnic Chinese minority as practitioners of another religion. But Islam has deep roots even in Mainland China, where the religion hit the country the same way it arrived in Indonesia: Muslim merchants from the Middle East. In Indonesia, Arab traders arrived at ports to buy and sell goods as they traveled along the sea trade routes. And in China, similar Arab traders were wandering the Silk Road, spreading their faith as they went.
The Silk Road started in the city of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, and the city is still home to the largest mosque in all of China. So when I heard that there was a restaurant offering Shaanxi cuisine right here in Jakarta, I figured it was probably the best spot to find Muslims bridging some of the cultural gaps we've recently been struggling to overcome.