Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grandmother's Kitchen

With a voice so sharp and strong it rings clearly down the street, 85-year-old Ibu Juheria sings out "kue kue," calling residents forth to buy homemade snacks from her basket.
"Grandmother makes them herself," Juheria says, referring to herself in the third person. "I have bakwan, gemblong, ketan, and lemper."

She wears a lilac and white headscarf, a purple floral blouse and a deep green and black traditional skirt. She squats on the roadside to chat.
"Which is the most delicious?"
"They're all delicious. I send them to the USA, Taiwan, and Malaysia."
"Which is the most popular?"
"All of them!" she retorts, her eyes lost in the smiling folds of her face.
Bakwan is a savoury mix of shredded vegetables fried in batter. Lemper, wrapped in a green banana leaf, is an oblong of glutinous rice with a chicken centre. Ketan, pictured below, is a patty of sticky rice dusted with desiccated coconut, chili, and sugar. Gemblong is a deep-fried mouthful of rice and coconut.
Juheria has been making and selling snacks since 1972. "I've got regular customers. Even an American who bought my basket to take home as a souvenir."

She makes over 70 of each delicacy a day and sells them all by sunset. "I sell over 300 pieces a day." The individual snacks cost Rp 1,500 each ($0.15).
Carrying her goods in a three-tiered metal basket, Juheria starts walking through the Benhil streets in central Jakarta at 9am, going home at 5pm. She walks bent double like a right angle ruler. On her feet are simple flip-flops.

She is accompanied by her middle-aged daughter, Jenna. Today they were caught in heavy rainfall. "We just sat in a shelter and waited for it to stop," Juheria says, giggling. "I'm strong, Alhamdulillah."
A man in a red uniform pushes a Wall's ice cream bicycle cart past; the ice cream melody on a never-ending loop. Crouched on the road, we silently watch the rival food seller.

"I'll be here again tomorrow," Juheria says, gathering her baskets and standing up. Her toenails are as thick as horns. She shuffles off down the wet road, her voice clanging like a bell. "Kue kue."


  1. Those snacks look much more delicious than icecream!

  2. I think I might miss bakwan more than most things. I was craving a snack the other day at work and Howie said, 'Just send the office boy out for some goreng.' Alas, no office boy AND no goreng. I might be a few pounds lighter without the bakwan, but I am also just a little bit sadder.

  3. Hi Kopisusu2,
    The kue lady has now been replaced - in terms of volume - by the blind kerupuk seller...who carries a megaphone...