Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is home to over 10 million people and boasts of countless dining venues. What are the chances of a Greek restaurant winning an award from the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism?
If ‘next to none’ crossed your mind, think again!
Greek restaurant HaloNiko! recently received Indonesia’s Best Restaurant award. Established by Jakartan-based Niko Avgoustino, who immigrated for love, and his Javanese wife, Kika, the restaurant combines Greek and Javanese homemade food.
Nikos, originally from the Ionian island of Zakynthos (Zante), and Kika, shared their success story with Neos Kosmos.
‘Three Days, A Lifetime’
They met at Syntagma Square in Athens eight years ago, where Kika decided to stay and have a little break on her way to Munich, Germany.
“Niko’s restaurant was across the road from my hotel. The moment I met him, I knew he was special. Three days, a lifetime,” said Kika.
Despite not knowing the Indonesian language and culture, Niko sold his restaurant in Athens just a few months later in order to follow Kika to Jakarta. Soon after, they tied the knot at Greece’s Embassy in Jakarta, both wearing traditional Javanese costumes.
Love for the Greek cuisine and the HaloNiko concept
Life in Jakarta can be tough for someone who is not local and not an international company employee, but Niko, fought the odds.
“Knowing my passion for cooking, my wife motivated me to open a restaurant. I am not a chef, but I love to cook and I am always trying to improve my skills. Kika’s mum, taught me some local recipes, we experimented at home with friends and this is how ‘HaloNiko’ started. We wanted to familiarize locals with the Greek cuisine while offering home cooked Indonesian dishes as well,” says Niko.
“Sudah tutup araka?” (Did you turn off the pot with the Greek pea stew?), Niko asks the kitchen hand in Indonesian during the interview. He admits it took him time to acclimatize with the Indonesian language and culture and it hasn’t always been easy.
“In these eight years, I was ready to leave the country four times and go back to Greece. I wanted to quit. My wife held me back and I stayed because I love her,” Niko says, remembering the difficulties he has encountered during the years.
But hard work and patience pay off.
Eight years later, the locals are equally familiar with Greek souvlaki and moussaka, as Nikos is with their language and cuisine.
“Greek food was not as popular as French food in Jakarta when we started our business, but now more and more people want to try it. Our patrons seem to love souvlaki, pasta with greek meatballs and chicken gyros,” Kika said.
READ MORE: Greece’s latest popular wedding destination
The ‘HaloNiko!’ Australian Connection
Asking Niko if Greeks visit his restaurant to support the business he responds positively, but one understands it’s out of courtesy.
“They do come but they always compare my food with their mum’s food or with the food they’d eat in Greece. On the other hand, I have Australian and English patrons who come to the restaurant and love my food,” he said.
Plans for the future
Although excited with their recent achievement Niko and Kika haven’t stopped planning their future professional moves.
“We want to keep the quality high, improve our service and open some additional outlets. Our third one will be HaloNiko Express offering only souvlaki in Jakarta’s busy business districts. Food business is like fashion. To survive you need to be in trend,” Kika said.
However, a trip to Greece comes first and they both have another good reason for these trips.
“Andriana, my 3.5-year-old daughter, sings Vassili Papakonstantinou. She doesn’t understand the words but can you believe it? She sings Papakonstantinou,” Niko says excitedly, explaining that he wants to expose his daughter to the Greek culture as much as possible.
Is he going to stay in Indonesia for the rest of his life?
“I don’t want to die here. I will retire on a Greek island,” he said.
HaloNiko Chilli Prawn Spaghetti
• 375 grams spaghetti
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil
• 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
• 1 teaspoon Coconut Sugar
• 2 garlic cloves crushed
• 1 brown onion chopped
• ½ teaspoon dried chili flakes or chopped fresh chilli
• 650 grams prawns (preferably jumbo)
• 6 Tomatoes cubed
– Prepare pasta following packet directions
– Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chilli. Cook for 1 minute.
– Add Fish sauce and coconut sugar.
– Add prawns. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until pink and cooked through.
– Add tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes or until heated through.
– Mix with spaghetti and enjoy
You can follow HanoNiko! on Instagram or visit the website www.warunghaloniko.com