Before I leave Jakarta, I feel honour and duty bound to write at least one post on vittels. This post is therefore dedicated to fellow lushes and curry freaks, especially the ones who find them selves here in Jakarta with a trembling hand and a burning desire for a hot madras. In the great Durian, shops that sell alcohol are rarer than hen’s teeth and Indian spices are like gold dust.
When I first arrived here I had no one to show me the ropes. Unlike some companies who have helpful programs designed to orientate new employees and their families to life here, Irishman’s employers left us to work it out for our selves. High and dry is probably a better way to describe it. It doesn’t sound like much of a big deal but I tell you, a helping hand in the early days would have made a big difference, especially if someone had been thoughtful and at least pointed out the nearest wine shop or place to buy decent bread. These things are the staff of life. My hope is that someone who is new to Jakarta might read this and not have to go through the withdrawal symptoms that we did before eventually locating what I consider to be our basic tools for survival.
Before getting down to details I need first to give this story some sort of perspective. Despite being an Islamic state, alcohol is served in most restaurants and hotels but it’s exorbitantly expensive. During Ramadan many places stop serving it altogether and places that do will only serve it in coffee mugs. Some bars won’t serve it until after 8pm so during the fasting month it’s best to check first whether alcohol is being served and if it is, at what time. Several times Irishman and I have trekked across Jakarta only to find that we are out of luck. My quest to find somewhere that I could buy decent reasonably priced alcohol to drink at home was one of the greatest challenges when we first moved here as I am about to illustrate.
Around the second or third week, Irishman and I were becoming increasingly fed up with only drinking Bintang. I should point out that lager beer (not to be confused with real beer or ale) is readily available in most food shops. Wine and other alcohol however is not. Desperate for something other than gassy Bintang, I suddenly had a cunning thought. Carrefour, France’s largest hypermarket chain (who incidentally are much loved by Brits who frequently make dashes across the Channel to their vast hypermarket in Calais to buy crates of cheap beer and wine) has a mega-store just down the road from where we are living. I say just down the road but actually it’s about 4 miles away, which in Jakarta speak, means sitting in a traffic jam for 2 hours.
We arrived at Carrefour, giddy with excitement. I could hardly contain myself as I grabbed a trolley and rushed through the doors headed straight for the ‘drinks aisle’. The shop was enormous, at least an acre in size but I was on a mission and nothing was going to come between me, and a several bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. To speed up the search, I sent Irishman off to start looking at one end, and I started the other. After 15 aisles, imagine if you will, my near hysteria when, at last arriving at the beverages section I found myself staring at a seemingly endless amount of soft drinks and varieties of orange squash with just a dusty couple of cans of Guinness and a few bottles of Bintang, surely this was some sort of joke? No, this was the best that Carrefour Indonesia could do, a token nod to the alcoholics. I promptly burst into tears.
I should have known that Carrefour was going to be a massive anti-climax. I was stupid to believe that in a Muslim culture where drinking is not the national pastime that I could easily find things that I take for granted back in London. My next foray out was to Debenhams, Yes, Debenhams in Jakarta has a food store in the basement and please do try not to wet your knickers with excitement when you read the next bit, a liquor section. On visiting this place for the first time, you would be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into a shop selling hardcore porn. All the bottles are out of sight, hidden behind red, velvet curtains and I must admit to feeling somewhat dirty as I furtively toyed with the bottles before making a purchase. Be warned, the wine here is outrageously expensive and so are the spirits but if you are desperate it’s an option.
The best place to go in Jakarta for you alcoholic needs is ECO PRIMA Duty Free shop on Jalan Kemang Raya. Eva Soesianti runs this haven of wonderfulness and it is open Mon-Sat from 10am to 12 noon. Don’t expect to come back and find the same offers and brands. The stock changes depending on what she can get hold of. Recently I bought some very delicious Mendoza but a week later they had run out. $15 is about the cheapest that you can expect to pay for a bottle of wine but they have halfway decent white wine in 3 litre boxes for $30 – with soda and ice added it’s perfectly drinkable.
Vodka and Gin is comparatively cheap. Finlandia and Sky vodka is $15 and Irishman is fond of Early Times bourbon which is the poor man’s Jack Daniels- this is $16 a pop. Unfortunately there is added tax on top of this but that’s the same wherever alcohol is sold in Indonesia.
Now bread. My favourite place to buy really good bread in Jakarta is AUTHENTIQUE in Kemang. It is owned and run by Sophie and Edy. Sophie has brought her traditional French bread making and baking skills to Jakarta. Their new shop and café in Jalan Kemang Selatan I is beautiful. Here you can buy all manner of breads, sweet pastries and quiches. Sophie will make things to order and deliver. Her telephone number is (021) 7180011
I haven’t forgotten the spices! MAHARANI Indian Groceries is an absolute godsend if you like making curries. It’s next to a carpet shop on Jalan Kemang Raya, 34 (open 11am -9pm) Don’t be put off by the outside which looks a little like a public toilet with it’s red brick shed like exterior – go up the stairs and you are in for a treat. Pickles, popadums, pappads, rice, and every conceivable type of dried spice that you can think of. Lots of different types of dried pulses and, should you require it, plentiful supplies of Jolen Crème Bleach. Handy to know in case your moustache needs attention.
Finally, I’ve got to admit to having a real soft spot for this place KINARA India Restaurant on Jalan Kemang Raya ( almost opposite Eco Prima) it’s been like a port in a storm for us when we’ve been stuck in Jakarta at the weekends. Every Sunday they do a fabulous belly-busting buffet lunch from 11.30am-2.30pm. Lots of choice, all very delicious vegetarian and meat dishes and starters, plus desserts and non-alcoholic drinks all for around 150,000 rupiah. If you want beer add another 30,000 rupiah but again, it’s free-flowing so very good value. The a la carte menu is also superb.
My next post is going to be about really important things such as where to buy a bra in Indonesia if your bosoms are larger than a B cup, what to do if your Nicorette stocks are getting low, things to avoid like the plague and where to get your hair done. It’s a post for the girls.