The ancient drink that powers Indonesia

Kalani isn’t the only person to tweak jamu for a new audience, as it has also entered the local cocktail scene. At hip Bali beach club Potato Head’s Indonesian restaurant Kaum, head bartender Bina Nuraga gives international guests a taste of Indonesia by blending turmeric jamu with pandan-infused rum. “As the jamu consists of turmeric, ginger and pandan leaf, it adds a spicy touch to the cocktails, as well as a nice earthy note and a bitterness as well,” said Nuraga.

Meanwhile, American chef Will Goldfarb of Netflix’s Chef’s Table fame is showing at his Ubud restaurant Room4Dessert how jamu can also be a dessert. Describing the elixir as “timeless”, the chef, who drinks jamu each morning, immediately knew which ingredient to add to his “Incidente Stradale”, a spin on a traditional tiramisu. “The plate is brushed with just a little bit of jamu concentrate, which keeps it from being too boring,” said Goldfarb. “We also recently utilised jamu for our botanical bomboloni [Italian doughnuts] line. It’s passionfruit with a crispy crust of jamu.”

But young entrepreneurs are determined to take jamu further afield. A third-generation Moluccan recently launched Good Jamu in the Netherlands. Anna Uspessij, who spent seven years in Indonesia learning about her heritage, returned home to the Netherlands during the pandemic. After making jamu in Bali, she wanted to keep it as part of her daily ritual. When Uspessij could only find jamu powder for sale in the Netherlands, she started making fresh turmeric and ginger jamu for family and friends. Word spread and she now sells her Good Jamu brand online and in organic grocery stores across the country. The tropical, orange-coloured juice can confuse Dutch buyers, she said: “They say, ‘I thought it would be sweet’, but they still think it tastes really good.”

The entrepreneur, who now plans to take the brand to Germany, said she hasn’t tweaked the ingredients for Western tastes: “It’s cultural heritage and I don’t want to dilute it.”

Culinary Roots is a series from BBC Travel connecting to the rare and local foods woven into a place’s heritage.


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