A Jackfruit Dish And Other Adventures In Jakarta

I was all agog about the upcoming trip to Jakarta. This was my first trip in memory where I had nobody to worry about left back home – our son was quite grown up and my dog daughter, Molly, had recently passed on. While she was with us, I hardly ever left her alone or even trusted her to anyone else’s care. Bali was already paradise in my mind. Thus, the association Bali –Indonesia- Jakarta assured me that I’d enjoy Jakarta.

Molly, Jalan Nyaman, Taman Gembira, July 2006
With Molly in Malaysia

Our taxi ride to the KL airport was with my partner’s favourite cabbie-who sure enough entertained us with songs (some were Hindi song tunes with Malay words) and jokes. MAS remains my pet airways (as if I have much experience of others!) and the two hour flight was bliss just drinking in the scenery –Indonesia from the air (islands, volcanoes,…) and the cloudscapes I so love now, almost a heartbeat away.

Right at the airport the feel confirmed what my partner would tell me on our drive to the hotel: you’ll be reminded of Delhi.

Signboard Jakarta
Signboard Jakarta

As our luggage and papers were being processed, I saw a couple of airport men, in some sort of uniform, obviously hassling a woman. There was a kind of mean pleasure on their faces. This was in front of all of us and that made no difference. Later I was to see more of this aspect in uniform, in the form of policemen, lurking in crowded shopping areas-much like Delhi indeed. It actually made me feel very much at home, though nervous! India has changed a lot, as I found out when I got home after five years – the police here are now very helpful and charming. 

The hotel reception created a little more tension as the fair petite miss with the perpetually pursed lips could not find our booking and all she could offer us was a little higher than what was expected. My partner’s young colleague from China opted out and we all went off in search of cheaper lodgings.

We chose the Atlet Century Park Hotel, in Central Jakarta. Once up in the room, we found the fridge locked! And I think this was after we found that we had been given a room with separate beds: my partner had misinterpreted “twin beds” to mean a double bed! The swarthy bell boy was not the most servile of beings and sort of huffed about when we were going to make up our minds.

As it was Sunday and the day lay almost entirely still ahead of us, we sauntered down to the nearest Mall, Plaza Senayan. We wandered around and, finally (English doesn’t get you around much in Jakarta), found a place to buy sim cards. While my partner handled that, I looked around for booze-beer we could see in the supermarket facing us and there was a wine shop to our left. I finally approached it – it was run by two cute young ladies who were a bit gigglingly aghast when I asked them where one might procure a bottle of whiskey or Vodka. One of them furtively pulled a quarter bottle from somewhere below and sidled it at me. I toddled back to my partner and told him the gist of it and, with his ok, hobbled back hastily lest that one poor bottle disappear too. Thus, as I soon made out, beer is sold but no hard liquor – that is only to be had at bars and pubs and the like (beer lounges). That stuff was basically moonshine at a ridiculous price! So we sundowned our stay in Jakarta on Bintang beer which is nice and light. It was also here that I bought a marvellous thing: a magnifying mirror! 

Gelora Bung Karno - Senayan, Jl. Asia Afrika No.8, Gelora, Jakarta Pusat, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta, Indonesia
Plaza Senayan

The urgency to get the Sim cards was mainly because we discovered that my partner’s suit had not traveled with us. A little deduction and I recalled that I had left it draped on our son’s motorcycle as we bundled our luggage into the taxi back in KL. So the son, who had not yet risen, was awoken and informed of this and made to take it into safe custody. The trip to the Mall, now, had greater purpose – the lack of the suit had to be remedied by the purchase of a tie.

Now what to eat? We approached a nice little place near the supermarket in the Mall and thought we had made ourselves understood: gado gado and some rice was what we assumed we would find once home at the hotel room. Having quaffed some cold beer, we opened the thermocol box and found gado gado –no rice.

Pigging out at hotel free breakfasts has become a habit with me. The smoking breakfast area had a nice view of the city. Breakfast was “Western”- I did not try the fried rice or Chinese porridge.  Munching away whilst skimming through newspapers was quite a treat as the newspapers in Jakarta are as exciting as they used to be in India and as slim. Perching the Jakarta Globe over a sofa arm at some spicy page, I tackled wholemeal toasts with butter and marmalade or honey or jam, nibbled at melons, pineapples and papayas, and washed it all down with orange, guava or apple juice. I also adventurously browsed a selection of strong cheeses, and finished it all off with some hot coffee with real milk and a cigarette.

Lest any frown on such obviously unhealthy ways, I hasten to add that I visited the gym half an hour later on most days. This was an exercise in itself as it was situated at one end of the hotel from the outside.

Having forgotten to pack my swimming costume (as also my cell phone charger) I never got to enjoy a swim in the pool, reputed online to be a culture medium of sorts but did try out the less than half of the gym equipment which functioned. An added incentive was the Indian TV channel (Really Indian from India! Ads and all!) perched high on one gym wall except for the day the grumpy middle aged man from Korea switched to a Korean news channel.

On day 2, after some regulation exertion, I waddled off to Plaza Senayan for more in depth investigation but, alas, soon the thousands of the Indonesian currency took their toll on my courage and I scampered back.

Just outside the back of the hotel, workers gather come evening as do women who peddle some street food and so I had some Tahu: tofu slices batter coated and fried with slivers of cabbage, carrots, etc. inside and served with one green chili. Tahu (Indonesian term for tofu) is one of the few vegetarian choices in these regions. But, as such, Sayur (vegetarian) is more available in Jakarta than in KL. Tahu was quite bland – except for the green chili. Now, what would I not have given for one paneer pakora?! 

At first the men, lounging around on the pavement after a hard day’s work (like Amitabh Bachchan in a Seventies Hindi film), jeered at my faltering attempts to figure out what the eatables were but, in the days to come, they and the women greeted my passage with warm friendliness.

That evening our friend took us to another Mall around the corner and we dined at the food court – each eating of his/her choice.

But before that we went to a beer lounge where the beer took ages to arrive (just 3 bintangs). This dimly lit place had the makings of a disco but people huddled around, some in cosy twos and, mostly, as groups of young people, tasting a new found freedom to smoke and drink. I was ravenous but the attempt to ask for the bill prompted the young waitress to ask anxiously: more beel?

My choice for dinner was jackfruit in curry, some veggies and two kinds of chili pastes: green and red. Continue reading