Monday, August 22, 2011

Lobster Juice and Ramadan

"Cup of lobster juice, please!"
"What's lobster juice?"
"The green one is melon, the pink one is young coconut, and the yellow one is, -?" The vendor lifts the cup and squints. Suspended within a pale mucus are clusters of seeds. Lobster spawn?

"Hey! Mum! What's this?" he yells across a table of croquettes studded with green chilies.
"Blewah!" she hollers back. Melon.
"Why's it called lobster juice?"
"Oh, that's just the packaging," he says dismissively. "They are Rp 5,000 per cup." The vendor holds his hand out, fingers splayed. "One, two, three four, five."
It’s the final week of Ramadan at the Benhil outdoor food market in central Jakarta. Packed under a canopy along the roadside are vendors with open tureens and trays of food, both savoury and sweet. The air is coughingly fragrant with chili.

"Silahkan! Boleh!" the vendors call, encouraging customers to their wares. There’s a camaraderie here, vendors banter as they persuade. Several wave short-handled mops over the food, swishing at flies.
During the Ramadan month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking in daylight. "Tonight, I’ll break my fast with a glass of sweet tea and some jengkol beans," says one man, eyeing stuffed squid and steamed cakes.

"Fasting gives your stomach a break," interrupts another. "It’s like looking after your motorbike. You service your bike: you give your stomach a rest." His wife tugs his sleeve, smiling an apology as she leads him away.
"Mister!" someone calls.
"She’s not mister," someone counters.
"The most popular food at my stall is asinan betawi," says Upi. "It’s salty, spicy, and delicious." She points to a tray of clear plastic bags knotted and bound with elastic bands. Inside are bubblegum-pink crackers (krupuk), beansprouts, chilies, and peanut sauce. "It'll keep for three days in the fridge."
"Hello!" sings a voice high above a wall of grilled gurame. The lady waves a hand, gesturing to the fish pressed between blackened mesh. "Tastes great with green chili!"
But not everyone is pleased with the outdoor market. "Oh no. No. This isn't right," spits Zulkifli, a taxi driver, caught in the slow traffic immediately alongside the market. "They must not display the food during the day."

He glares through the window, sucking at his teeth. "This open bazaar will make people break their fast early.They shouldn't open until evening."
I try a few questions to see if I can cheer Zulkifli up.
"What's more difficult? Abstaining from drinking, eating, or smoking?"
"They're all the same."
"How do you break your fast?"
"First I'll have a drink. Then eat something sweet to regain my strength. Then have a smoke."
"What's the best food to break a fast with?"
"Padang food. It's delicious."

This is surprising: Padang food, from west Sumatra, can be intensely spiced.
"Where are you from?"
"Padang, of course!" Zulkifli grins and toots his horn.

1 comment:

  1. I dunno how they do it - selling food all day while keeping to the fast...