On Jamu and Coconut Shells

I flipped through my photos and found the one above that made me smile. Here’s a lady who sells jamu, a traditional Indonesian herbal drink believed to treat all kinds of ailments. I myself am an avid kunyit asem enthusiast, a jamu with the perfect combination of turmeric and tamarind, to which she made with a huge kick that woke me up! It gave me the strength that morning to walk for around 5 kilometers around Malioboro and Kraton in Jogja without feeling anything close to tired. Goodness, Jogja made it a convenience to get your regular

They’re usually sold by men in their makeshift pull and push cart for 3 thousand Rupiahs or so, by women on bicycles with a huge bamboo basket full of these bottled concoctions tied to her back with batik fabric. This would be called “jamu gendong” with gendong meaning carried, through it’s not such an easy sight nowadays as jamu is more than often packaged in hipster-shaped bottles to be sold on Instagram, its taste pretty much questionable.

Anyways, I consider myself lucky to have simply indulged in jamu countless of times back in Jogja without having to search for it where my fondest memory of was during community service in the paddy-field clad region of Bantul. The girls and I would take turns riding our motorbikes every chilly morning to the local market, which would already be bustling with those eager to cook for the day! Including us of course, as we were always on the search for quality chili peppers to spice up our meal.

And whenever the shopping list is fully ticked off, I would quickly walk to a lady who prepared some jamu with (yes) her hands, slowly mushing the softly pounded herbs together against her hand and between her fingers.

Oh, it was a glorious, passionate sight as she poured the vivid orange kunyit asem into a dried coconut shell or “batok kelapa”. I would utter my thanks, before saying a quick prayer and letting it sit on my tongue before sliding it down my throat, the velvety concoction still warm from her hands. After a satisfactory “ah,” and 3 thousand Rupiahs, I was off feeling cleansed and ready to roll!

Darn it, I could drink a glass’ worth right now.

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