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The Big Durian turns 485

Posted by OmarTarakiNiodeFoundation
25 June 2012 | blogpost
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During the month of June, Jakarta is always adorned with parties and performances as this capital city of Indonesia, nicknamed the Big Durian, turned 485 on June 22. 

The city’s name has changed based on the ruler of the time, from Kalapa (coconut) of the Hindu Kingdom, to Jayakarta (the city of glory) ruled by Demak Kingdom,  Batavia under the Dutch, Djakarta Toko Betsu Shi during the Japanese invasion, and finally Jakarta after Indonesia’s independence.

Although Jakarta’s anniversary date and the Sanskrit name of Jayakarta has been disputed by one or two historians, the story remains and passes on from generation to generation.

Betawi Cuisine

Like most metropolitan cities, Jakarta is a melting pot of ethnicities and citizens of many nations who flocked in for work of just a short visit. Betawi, the ethnics of Jakarta flourished through its history, old city, culinary and culture. The city government and organizations such as Betawi Cultural Institute and Jakarta Old Town Kotaku preserve its legacy.

Betawi cuisine can be found in many parts of Jakarta, whereas during the month of June, 5-star hotels celebrate the city’s anniversary with Betawi lunch and dinner buffets. The annual Jakarta Fair organizes exhibitions, music performances and food festivals. In such events, Kerak Telor (translated egg crust), a popular Betawi cuisine is always available with rows of Kerak Telor vendors ready to serve visitors.

Kerak telor is an egg dish made from glutinous rice cooked with egg and served with fried grated coconut, shallots and dried shrimp. Salt, pepper and red chili can be added according to taste. In appearance it looks like an omelet with a crusty edge.

Last year, as an effort to preserve Betawi cuisine, the Sahid Festival in Jakarta broke a record of cooking the longest Kerak Telor. Tempo magazine wrote that the event, listed at MURI Indonesia’s Record Museum, produced an 84-meter length of Kerak Telor.

Another favorite food in Jakarta is Soto Betawi. Tasa Nugraza Barley and Marcel Thee wrote an article Relishing the Capital's Bold Betawi Cuisine for The Jakarta Globe in which Soto Betawi was thoroughly reviewed. It is a traditional soup made from a coconut and beef broth, with turmeric and bay leaves to enhance the flavor. Potatoes, tomatoes and beef are usually mixed in the bowl before serving.  A twist of lemon will even out the richness of the soup. According to a street food vendor, the key to a tasty bowl of Soto Betawi is the right mixture of the coconut milk and the beef broth.

Massimo Montanari, a professor of medieval history and history of food at the University of Bologna, in his book Food Is Culture explores the innovative premise that everything having to do with food—its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption—represents a cultural act.  Such cultural act is clearly shown in the preservation Roti Buaya (crocodile shaped loaf of bread). It is another Betawi specialty, customary in wedding and other family celebrations.

In a blog named Roti Buaya, it was mentioned that the length of Roti Buaya and the number available in a party depends on the purpose of the celebration. To welcome guests, the hosts usually provide 50 pieces of 30cm in length Roti Buaya. While a pair of 1-meter length Roti Buaya is presented in a wedding.

Roti buaya’s flavor is plain sweet. Yet, it is now common to have a variety of toppings and flavorings, such as chocolate, cheese and peanut.

Betawi people, according to a Jakarta Post article, believe that crocodiles are monogamous; hence, a symbol of fidelity. Without the crocodile bread, some say, a traditional Betawi wedding is not a whole wedding.

Jakarta Old Town

Along with enjoying Betawi cuisine to celebrate a city turns 485 years, it is also interesting to visit Kota Tua, Jakarta Old Town.  Located in the northern part of Jakarta, the place that started as small port expanded into a commercial center in Asia during the Dutch era.

Nowadays Kota Tua, an area of 1.3 square kilometers, does not look like the city of glory due to traffic jams and rundown buildings.  Many visitors, however, admire remaining old buildings with European architecture style.

Indonesia Travel Guide suggested some places to visit there, including Fatahillah Museum, Wayang Museum, Bank Mandiri Museum, Jakarta Kota Station, Sunda Kelapa Harbor, Kota Intan Bridge and Syahbandar Tower.

History buffs are disappointed with limited funding and attention to preserve Kota Tua. Last year however, officials of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy announced that Kota Tua is listed in Destination Management Organization Program. The Ministry has high hopes to have Kota Tua as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2015.

True to its nickname, the Big Durian, Jakarta is an acquired taste with more than a dozen ways to experience.

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To get to know Jakarta visit: www.jakarta.go.id/english/