In this article I share my impressions about a market that contributed to increase the low levels of enthusiasm towards my present host city, Jakarta.
I have always loved all sorts of markets because for me they are the perfect mirror of the local culture. They tell you a lot about how people interact and live, and are a privileged channel to communicate with the local population.
In Jakarta I had been quite disappointed by markets. Coming from Africa, then South America and ending with beautiful Jerusalem, all places where open air markets are an absolute delight, I found the ones in Jakarta rather sad, run-down and cluttered. Most of them are hosted in old grey buildings that do not invite you to spend hours strolling among the stalls.
The night cake market (Kue Subuh) however, proved different. I did not know such a market existed so close to the place where I live, and it was with joy that I discovered its history and life. The market is located outside the huge market complex of Block M. It opens its door at midnight and closes at 7am. This is a branch of a much bigger cake market located further north in the capital. It was opened to satisfy the many requests of cakes and savoury snacks of restaurants and shops in the southern part of town.
It is a small but very lively and colourful market. They sell all sorts of traditional sweet and savory snacks, but also elaborated Western-style cakes and pastries, Dutch desserts, and of course the unmissable nasi goreng and mie goreng.
Rice paste is used to make a lot of traditional Indonesian sweets. Adding a bit of colouring (I did not investigate how natural) yields spectacular results. It is indeed a joy for the eyes to walk through these amazing combinations of colours!
People are very friendly. They explain what each snack is, invite you to try them, and are always smiling. They are busy with their activities. Many of them prepare packages of sweet or savoury snacks and put them in big cardboard boxes, waiting for the shops owners to come and get them. Others cook and sell food on the spot. With the use of big gas bottles, they fry and serve delicious dishes for a great breakfast.
It was so nice to see the night turn into the day, while men pushing their chariots offered a quick breakfast made of nasi goreng and coffee. There was a strong feeling of a community getting ready to face yet another busy day. While the daylight gave another nuance to the colours of the sweets, I thought once more how I love the markets’ atmosphere. This one, being so small and intimate, offer an even bigger chance to stroll along the stalls and discover both the products on sale, but also, and foremost, the wide creativity of the Indonesian cuisine and the warmth and humanity of Indonesian people.
Photo credit ©Claudia Landini