You know how every big city has to have a seedy district where you go to get back-alley abortions or hard-to-find merchandise? For Manila, it’s Quiapo. For Jakarta, it’s Glodok (Chinatown).
And so it was on a partly cloudy weekend that my friends and I decided to drink some snake blood, get some contraband fireworks, eat some authentic Chinese food and possibly buy a crossbow. We did four out of those five things.
We explored the area on foot, armed with our friend’s map of dining spots and another friend’s fluent Bahasa to make our way through the crowded, muddy side-streets where vendors were selling anything from meth pipes to newborn turtles to warped pink snails.
The whole street was an assortment of electronics shops, pharmacies, “massage parlors,” cagey strip clubs, with the sidewalk spilling with makeshift stalls selling dirty vegetables and underwear.
For late lunch, we ducked into a restaurant next to a trinkets shop that sold dragon heads. According to our map, the restaurant served the best sticky dumplings (exactly like gyoza) in the city.
I was pleasantly surprised to find they served NORMAL condiments such as chili garlic, liquid soy sauce and vinegar. We scarfed down a lot of these:
But the real highlight was drinking cobra blood, just to say we’d done it once in our lives. The quest for a stall that sold the delicacy was a bit trickier, though.
Early on our quest, we found a guy selling snake oil and meth pipes with a cage of writhing cobras next to him. This is the surest sign you’re looking at a cobra blood vendor. But he’d managed to disappear late in the afternoon from his perch in front of the yellow Glodok mall, so we had to find another similar guy.
|Somehow very well behaved.|
Two hours later and 8 blocks down, we ended up on Mangga Besar, a wide street lined with restaurants and bars, plus some warungs (food kiosks).
Here, we found a guy who, for Rp 60.000 ($6), will happily grab a snake, impale it with a guillotine-like device, drain its blood into a cup, skin it, cut into its belly to reveal some vital organs, somehow identify the snake’s heart –or liver?– and then proceed to drain those organ juices into your drink.
Thankfully, it’s spiked with honey, the brew from boiled ginger and a little rice wine. Plus they make sure you have water on hand to chase down the blood. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad. It’s the shock of ingesting something so raw is what got me.
I mean, really, imagine licking this:
We learned later on that Indonesians believe cobra blood will improve one’s skin and potentially improve one’s sex drive. Now, I’m still waiting on that perfect epidermis and mighty mojo, but for now I’m just glad for the adventure. But we have to come back for that crossbow.