18 October 2012

Secretly Recreational Jamu Drinking

Don't let the froth fool you...
Drinking jamu can hardly be classified as recreational. But then again, how often do we twenty-first century humans subject ourselves to slightly unpleasant experiences for the sake of our long-term benefits? It's like getting a tattoo. Your happiness is mutilated for a few minutes but you soon feel like getting another that is even more hardcore ugly-tasting.

Jamu is a blanket term for Indonesian medicinal formulations. We were hunting down some idli recently in Melaka when we spotted a makeshift stall apparently selling refreshments. We perused the little packets in a plastic bin and saw photographs and illustrations denoting ailments addressed or positive endstates after drinking some jamu.

Left, we concluded it was a woman with an aching back and not a rape scene. Right, virility via dried seahorse.
Aside from being an "unintentionally funny funny" enthusiast's dream, the packets symbolize something a phenomenon that evades many "developing country" cultures (save for India and a few more maybe?)-- the mass-marketing of "indigenous health products".

The jamu lady, dispenser of health and beautifying Indonesian products for immigrants.
From the smoky room of an herbalista or albolaryo (our local Filipino blanket terms for people who deal with leaves-as-medicine, or pigs' blood smearing-- yes, we lump them together) to an easily-distributed packet that can be sold anywhere and served by anyone with a few ingredients and a wire whisk. You wonder about the journey. This article describes fresh jamu in a wet market setting. I imagine a succeeding phase of commerce, of jamu propagated through market stalls of loose dried herbs and home-repacked plastic bags of powders, like you see in places like Quiapo.

A jamu packet for every need. Boxes are cut halfway to display the different types.
But this sachet-ization of jamu is something else. The just-add-water state is the easiest path to third-world domination (Nescafe, yes?). It has been attempted by energy drinks locally to limit transport, storage, and spoilage costs.

Powdered energy drinks and a jug of purified water, Manila streets.
All you need.
You begin by selecting the packet you like. If you can't read Indonesian, you can base it on the packet art, but sometimes that can be ambiguous, e.g.:

Be the strongest shadow-puppet on the block.
The lady at the jamu stall helped us select suitable packets, to do with virility and being a nice-looking female with shiny hair. She cut them open, emptied the earth-colored powders into a blender.

The biodiversity-reflecting muck that is jamu.
A kampung egg with a marvelously orange yolk.
Afterwards, she added a raw kampung (village, or non-industrial) egg yolk. Before you judge, raw egg yolks are, like, an original superfood, as long as they're "native" or backyard, with deep-colored yolks. Remember Disney's Gaston? Yes, from Davao to Romania, tales abound of grandmothers mixing egg yolks into great-tasting things like wine, sarsaparilla, and hot chocolate. But in jamu? You can't tell which bad taste is trying to mask which, apparently (I skipped it).

Mystery fermented syrup.
Then follow two kinds of fermented syrup, which were blessings, really. The lady topped it off with some hot water and ran the blender. It is worth noting that most of herbs and spices were obviously not water-soluble, so the beverage was a little grainy, like consuming a well-spiced German Christmas cookie without flour or butter.

It is also worth noting that I felt exceptionally great and bright-eyed the whole day despite all the eating that had taken place against my better judgement. Which leads me to conclude that megadoses of pleasure deserve megadoses of displeasure, which are in turn perversely pleasurable.

Want some jamu with those raw eggs, Gaston?

Cupholder. Now How?

Malaysian drink hanger, v. wire and screws.

Although I find it a terribly unsettling idea to put hot beverages in plastic bags, I also find it nice that we still live in a world where cupholders are just one kind of in-car beverage-resting thing.

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