On my first trip to Asia a long time ago, I sat next to a professor who was on his way to Borneo. I didn't even know there was really a place called Borneo! I thought it was something from a Bugs Bunny & Roadrunner cartoon. That trip was an eye-opener.
So, Jakarta. 10 million people. Infernal traffic. Gut-wrenching drivers. Oppressive smog. Stifling heat and humidity. I love Jakarta!!! Granted, it's not for everyone. The beaches of Bali beckon to the south, but Bali does not need my services. The World of Exotic Destinations is rapidly getting squeezed like an old rind. Everyone's been everywhere and mostly done everything. That can't be said of Jakarta.
I had a day to myself and enlisted the service of a driver and car. My guide, Kelik, barely spoke a word of English. Which is exactly one more word than I spoke of Bahasa Indonesia. For the next five hours we communicated beautifully, bonding over our kids and family and the most pedestrian of matters. I said I had an interest in food markets. He took me to Kramat Jati, a commercial marketplace in East Jakarta. If it has undergone photosynthesis, you will find it here.
I was the only Westerner to be seen in the teeming marketplace and everyone seemed interested to see me – or ignore me. Mostly I assume they wondered why the heck anyone would be wandering through their office taking pictures of fruit!
Garlic, onions and peppers were hot items. I know there are 10 million people in Jakarta, alone, but the amount of food flowing through this hall being packed, peeled and processed is staggering.
I asked Kelik about meat and and fish. We hopped back into the car and wove our way deep into a local neighborhood. I thought maybe I had mis-explained myself until he parked in front of a shopful of air conditioners and led me into a back alleyway that he explained was a "traditional marketplace." Basically, the Safeway! And the meat was plenty fresh.
No worries about checking dates on the plastic package.
Seafood looked tasty, too!
The exotic sound of the midday Muezzin in the tropical heat was a stark reminder that I was a long way from home. But I was at someone's home and that is what travel has always been about for me. Food is language. Follow the local ingredients and inevitably you're going to stumble upon people with whom you have something in common. Garlic and spice is the international dialect. If you're fluent in that, I find, it seems you're always welcome.