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Herry the Rujak Man

Rujak (fruit salad with a spicy sauce) may have been born in East Indonesia, but it makes its home in Jakarta.

Some of the most colourful sights in the city can be found inside the glass casings of rujak vendors like Herry’s. On any given day, bustling Jakarta streets are dotted with carts like his, offering cool slices of sweet mangos, and scarlet papaya and crimson watermelon, all sitting atop a sleek chunk of refracting ice.

Fresh slices of unripe mango, bengkoang (jicama) and jambu air (water apple) all slathered in a unique blend of chilli, tamarind and shrimp paste, topped with sambal garam and served right on the street. Like durian and pete, Jakarta’s relationship with rujak is love or hate. Either you are a fan or you are not. Maybe the most interesting part of the rujak experience is asking guys like Herry about their rujak dressing recipe.

If you’re not in the mood for salty, chilli goodness, Jakarta’s street food vendors offer a colourful mix of papaya, watermelon and sweet mango slices as well. Catch vendors at the right time and you can pick up an order of rujak or mango for Rp.10,000. If it gets later in the day, and the ice has melted away, the fruit gets cheaper.

“People have all kinds of choices for things to eat,” says Herry, who lives just behind Sudirman, in Kebayoran Lama. “I like to think that I can offer everyone a healthy alternative to the fried food on the street.”

Herry, who has been working along Sudirman for the last 12 years, has a route much like you would imagine a milkman to have. He has regulars who he meets on a daily basis and big orders that he delivers for the offices close to the Pizza Man statue, Patung Pemuda, at the bottom of Sudirman.

But is Herry worried about being pushed off the street by unhealthy snacks?

“People love rujak. It’s in their blood. And everyone loves the sweet taste of healthy fruit served cold on a hot day.”

And for Herry, pushing his cart from his home, up through Sudirman, is also a healthy way to go about his day. “I sell fruit and I keep fit by pushing my cart. And I make enough money to send my kids to school. I’d say it is a good life.”

The next time you see Herry along Sudirman, stop him and pick up a famous Indonesia treat for the road. Chat Herry up; ask him about the weather, his kids and what’s in his secret rujak dressing.

 

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Hush Petersen is currently on sabbatical from the hero's journey. He loves sipping Budweisers, doing the crossword and judging people outside Ranch Market in Mega Kuningan. You should join him some time.


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