Jakarta. What better way to spice up your cooking than with Indonesia’s traditional spices.
For many years, Indonesian spices are best known for their strong flavor and fragrance. Traders —especially from Europe and East Asia— have sailed across the seas to bring these aromatic seasonings to the kitchens across the globe. Lemongrass, galangal, and nutmegs are among the few of Indonesia's many spices. Not only do they excite the palate, these spices are also nutritious.
Nowadays, knowledge on essential cooking spices commonly gets passed down through generations. But that is not the case for Heri Setiawan, a 51-year-old man selling blended spices at Tebet traditional market in South Jakarta.
As a Javanese, young Heri did not learn the ins-and-outs of spices from his parents. It was a Minangnese trader at a Mampang traditional market who had taught him the art of spices back in 1988.
“I was born in Banjarnegara, a small town in Central Java. Three decades ago, I came to Jakarta. Since then, I have been selling blended spices," Heri said.
Every morning, Heri goes to the Tebet traditional market to sell spices — starting from ginger, turmeric, garlic, shallots to chillies.
Spice mixes for specific traditional dishes are also for sale. This includes spices for soto, the world-famous beef rendang, and chicken-curry with coconut milk or opor ayam. Heri also blends spices for other recipes from West Sumatra, West Java, Central Java, East Java, Bali, and North Sulawesi.
Heri will blend the spices with a modern grinding machine to create a smooth paste and texture. Each blend can consist of up to 20 spices.
Heri's loyal customers are the owners of Padang restaurants around the capital. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, however, it is the online delivery drivers who frequent his market stall. Heri has to help these drivers as they do not understand spices like he does.
Heri usually compares his stall sales to the season. “During the rainy season, our sale rate is hot and cold. Today’s income is uncertain, but I can feed my children,” Heri said while wrapping fried shallots in a small plastic bag.