By: Dominique Staindl
16 July 2009
Any traveller away from home long enough will have a story of being sick. It's one of the most uncomfortable situations you can find yourself in, especially when you're trying to be adventurous far from your comfort zone. However, if you're coming to central Java you have a unique option available. There is a form of traditional, liquid medicine called Jamu passed down from generations of penduduk asli (native peoples) that will supposedly help all sorts of ailments. And for the traveller who does things in style, there are now chic cafe-restaurants serving and specialising in Jamu.
I was shown the local Yogyakarta "House of Raminten" by our guides where we were treated to an assortment of the cloudy tonic. With its plush outdoor garden setting, the rather affordable eatery is just like any other commercialised form of therapy-chic, just like the spas and retreat-farms all popping up wherever there are tourists. However, the menu boasts 39 different drinks to aid symptoms of daily living; from menstrual cramps and increasing milk-flow for breastfeeding women to remedies for pimples, liver problems and migraines (even itchiness!); this place has it all. Of course, the cafe survives on the business of its customers, therefore its main concern is marketing and aesthetic. But the staff and manager truly believe in the power of the Jamu - well, why else would it have survived for so long?
The antidotes consist of hundreds of herbs, leaves, fruits, barks and spices found in and around the geographical region and there are variations of the styles and recipes as you venture further around Indonesia. Some of the most versatile and staple ingredients are ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and jasmine. Locals buy the juices off local women (Mbok Jamu Gendong), which literally translates to older, mobile seller of medicine. This is witnessed through and on the Jalan Mariboro where old women walk or ride baskets of different coloured cloudy tonics, selling by the bottle or cup. And like most things in Indonesia, the prices are very affordable. You're looking at Rp 3,000 per bottle.
And the taste? Well, just like any medicine, it's not designed to please but to heal. Prepare for coloured variations of bitter, peppery flavor. Maybe have a cold bottle of coke on standby for the chaser.
WRITER'S PROFILE: Dominique or Dom as we all call her, has a mixture of English, Irish and Austro-Hungarian heritage. The Virgo who is pursuing a double major in French and Photography and minoring in Communication hails from Melbourne, Australia. Dom recalls poco-poco or line-dancing in Purawisata and walking blindfolded through the Banyan trees in Alun-alun Selatan as her favorite moments in Yogyakarta.