Except for the green liquid, the day after drinking jamu will be totally unlike a celebrated St. Paddy’s Day, unless of course it falls on that commemorated day. If you were not told to expect streaming green the morning after, enjoy a sudden, pea-green memory game. The first time I tried to enjoy this Javanese oddity was on a stool in a carnival-like, wooden stall along Jalan Karet Pedurinan, or rubber farm road, in Kunningan, South Jakarta. Now a sprawl of accommodation with many, spinning rubber tires, residents here wish they could say the area rests in the shade of Sudirman’s skyscrapers without being lebai, or about 2.3 kilometers hopeful.
My hairstylist (long story), legally named Edi Murpi after his family’s favorite comedian, introduced me to many local goings-on: midnight satanic ritual in Arabic verse conjuring Genies in a forested cemetery, pilfering and invisible baby tuyul whom his salon’s customers bought for just $400 per immaterial, winged infant, dangdut keliling musical troops bombarding the neighborhood with generator, taking requests for cheap wine or gasoline, his five wives and innumerable children, and the culminating experience of a four-part beverage: roadside jamu, frothed up with duck egg, finished off with an aesthetic green pill.
A jamu stall is usually painted like an Easter egg and contains a wood-and-Plexiglas display case loaded with card-sized sachets of mysterious powder. Dutifully attending to whomever takes a plastic stool, the proprietor is almost always an older Muslim man, with facial hair and a single, long fingernail, who will likely ask your preference. Your choice of sachets may include the illusive obat gantang handsome medicine – a little something spicy and herbal to foster good looks. Though fatigue, dizziness, and tension have the same, mildly bitter, herbal tang, I usually stick with something for general male health, accepting the implications and side-effects, opting for a syrupy anggur merah red wine finish. Yes, despite having the largest Muslim population in the world, alcohol – defined as any drink that makes you happily haphazard – is readily available anywhere in Indonesia, though moderates and progressives only consider it haram if it hasn’t already been street-side for hundreds of years, like a bad habit needs to ferment and become halal, or deserving Allah’s approval.
When finished our spicy, frothed-up drinks in orange plastic glasses served hot with something clear and citrus-flavored, Edi Murpi swallowed the green pill resting alone in its own tiny, orange dish. This time, I decided to ask first what the pill was, and was told that it would make me very, very strong (a clenched fist with the other hand wrapping around at the wrist usually accompanies this statement). As no one told me the next morning I’d be seeing pea-green, a new Google inquiry was born. Jamu not found in the results, I eventually grinned in recollection of the green pill, a more mischievous expression having flinched on the face of Murpi. How many restaurants say their cuisine is unforgettable? Why not leave patrons a colorful reminder?