Jakarta. Before the Maghrib call to prayer is heard on the loudspeakers signaling iftar, or fast-breaking time in Ramadan, many flock to a corner of Jalan Bendungan Hilir in Central Jakarta to buy takjil, light snacks and drinks that Muslims consume to break their fast. The pop-up market at Benhil – the nickname for the area – is famous for selling traditional takjil from all over Indonesia once a year during Ramadan, from lemang Medan, or sticky rice cooked in bamboo, to kolak, a sweet stew of bananas, coconut and sweet potatoes, done in many different styles.
The Jakarta Globe visited Benhil on Thursday (24/05) and compiled five of the best iftar snacks from the legendary market:
Though the name means "snakefruit seeds," the caramel-colored balls swimming in palm sugar syrup are actually made from sweet potato.
Biji salak is a classic Ramadan snack, usually served as part of kolak. They're gluten-free and vegan-friendly and everyone's favorite. The sweetness of the palm sugar and the savoriness of the coconut milk adds a depth of flavor to the chewy sweet potato dumplings.
32-year-old Yanny Gondrong ("Long-haired Yanny") has been selling biji salak for 15 years every Ramadan at the Benhil Market. His stall, which employs 10 men, is located right at the front of the market and looks like a mountain made of snacks and drinks before the hungry crowd arrives.
Gorengan is the generic name for deep-fried fritters made from different ingredients – tempe, tofu, banana, vegetables, sweet potato and more. In normal months, Indonesians eat gorengan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Ramadan, many say it's the snack they long for the most during the day.
Gorengan is cheap (which perhaps explain its popularity). Rp 10,000 (70 cents) can get you a plastic bag worth of the deep-fried goodness.
Yanny also sells gorengan and says they are so popular because of their versatility: you can eat them as a snack or as a side dish for rice meals.
"We make up to a thousand pieces of gorengan everyday during Ramadan," Yanny said.
A specialty of Tebing Tinggi, a small town a two-hour drive from Medan in North Sumatra, lemang, sometimes called lemang Medan, has simple ingredients: glutinous rice, coconut milk and salt.
But cooking lemang is not so simple. First, all the ingredients are mixed and then wrapped in banana leaves. The banana leaf capsules are then cooked over fire in hollowed bamboo sticks for 4 to 5 hours.
Lemang can be eaten plain on its own or with a side dish of fermented sweet cassava.
71-year-old Uda Mawi Caniago has been selling lemang in Benhil since 1994. "All lemangs are the same. What's different about mine is I scream for people to buy them," Mawi said before returning to his post and doing just that.
This Indonesian iced fruit cocktail is a popular choice to quench thirst at iftar. Es buah can look and taste quite generic, so Yani's stall at Benhil stands out for its rainbow-colored creations.
Yani has been selling es buah for 12 years at Benhil, working all by herself. She starts making the drinks at three in the morning, opens up her stall at 11:30 a.m. and closes shop at 6 p.m. The green-colored es buah in the photo above is made of cucumber shavings and melon syrup.
50-year-old Tatang, a slender man with a sparse mustache, has only been selling es blewah, or iced drinks made from shaved ice and slivers of blewah, a local fruit similar to the cantaloupe but with a softer flesh, for a month at the Benhil Market, but he's already proving to be quite a hit with the Ramadan crowd.
Tatang's es blewah also has coconut shavings, unsweetened red jellies, condensed milk and two grapes plucked from a vine hanging at the top of his cart, finished off with a big dollop of sugar syrup.
Tatang uses up 60 kilograms of blewah everyday, and since the fruit is relatively inexpensive, each cup at his stall only costs Rp 10,000 (70 cents).
Benhil Market: Jalan Bendungan Hilir Blok A No. 1, Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta.