Ramadan’s Festive Drinks and Desserts
Culinary Delights From Across the Archipelago
After refraining a whole day from drinking or eating, nothing is more refreshing than breaking the fast with an impressive soft drink.
Ramadan is a time to reunite. Most people honour this special time by gathering with families and friends during iftar, the evening meal after sunset during Ramadan. Festive drinks have become a favourite part of iftar, which people often enjoy before any other snack. Indonesia’s soft drinks feature a range of ingredients, from coconut to sugar palm fruit, passion fruit and aloe vera, depending on the region.
When you are in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, you can indulge the palate with es (ice) tebak. It doesn’t sound appetising – tebak is a white, thread-like jelly, made of rice and sago flour – but it’s delicious served with cincau (grass jelly), sweet sugar palm fruit, fermented black glutinous rice, slices of bread and shaved ice, and topped with coconut milk, red syrup and sweetened condensed milk.
Moving to Medan, North Sumatra, you can find jus (juice) martabe. The name comes from shortening the words for its ingredients: markisa (passion fruit) and terong belanda (tamarillo). With the hint of sour and sweet, the refreshing juice is simple yet full of vitamins.
Tamarillo is good for people who are diabetic as it contains chlorogenic acid, which can reduce blood sugar. It may also help to prevent heart attacks as it is rich in potassium.
While you are likely to be familiar with the use of aloe vera to treat burns and skin wounds, as well as to strengthen hair and promote its growth, the plant can also be transformed into a wholesome drink. In Pontianak, West Kalimantan, es lidah buaya (aloe vera) has become a popular drink as the city is abundant with aloe vera farms. After being cooked with sugar and pandanus leaves, aloe vera is served with ice cubes and a squeeze of lemon. The aloe vera needs to be soaked in a mixture of slaked lime and salt before being processed.
People in Ujung Pandang, South Sulawesi, would rather use plantain to create the popular dessert of es pisang ijo (green banana). The plantain is first steamed then wrapped in green-hued dough, made of rice and wheat flour, coconut milk and pandanus leaves. Es pisang ijo is normally served with ice cubes, red syrup, sweetened condensed milk and a sauce made of rice flour and coconut milk. Tasty and delicious.
Native Jakartan or Betawi people have their own traditional dessert known as es selendang mayang. Selendang is the Indonesian word for ‘shawl’, used to reflect the shape of the long colourful slices of the pudding. Mayang means tasty and chewy. This chewy pudding is made of rice flour and mung bean flour, coloured red and green. It is enjoyed with coconut milk, palm sugar and shaved ice.
When talking about soft drinks in Indonesia, the name of the drink typically indicates the main ingredient. However, this is not always the case. Mocktails from Riau Province, on the central eastern coast of Sumatra, are memorably unique, including es air mata pengantin (bride’s tears), es laksamana mengamuk (a run-amok admiral) and es lancang kuning (lancang refers to the name of the king’s ship during the time of the ancient Riau Kingdom, which was yellow or kuning).
Despite the gloomy name, bride’s tears (es air mata pengantin) is quite refreshing. It is the combination of three coloured jellies (red, green and yellow), basil seeds, nata de coco, cocopandan syrup and shaved ice. Basil seeds are good for people suffering from anaemia or digestion problems.
Es laksamana mengamuk is said to be inspired by an incident in which an admiral ran amok in a kuini mango orchard. The pungent smell of kuini mango is so good when transformed into a drink. The square cuts of kuini mango are served with coconut flesh, basil seeds, coconut milk cooked with pandanus leaves and sugar, topped with shaved ice.
Es lancang kuning is also mango-based and quite simple to make. The mango is cut into squares and nata de coco is added with mango juice.
It is easy to prepare these soft drinks and desserts for your loved ones at home. For those celebrating the blessed month of Ramadan, I’d like to say, “Enjoy your delicious iftar!”
Javanese by birth, is a writer and translator whose passions are travelling, food and reading. Her hobby, amongst others, is observing the unique characteristics of different cuisines and places, which she shares later in her writing. Her published works include translated novels written by bestselling American authors, as well as travel and lifestyle articles.