The Talisman of Jakarta’s Street Food

by Julius Kensan
19th December 2013
Street food banners are often overlooked but it provides a charming introduction and face to the street food of Jakarta.

When twilight arrives and street lights lit up, these creatures appears by the side of the road without fail. Their utilitarian presence serves to attract and inform the public in a muted way. Though, safe to say, their existence on the streets has largely been taken for granted.

The latter is the street food banners that humbly adorn the streets of Jakarta. And those modest creatures on it are the indication of the food that is being served behind the flimsy banners. In a way, those banners are oversized menus, which inform the passerby on what to expect. It’s hard not to bump into one whenever you turn around a corner. There they are, chicken, duck or fish fixed in a position that is strangely dignified, like that of a proud maitre d’.

Still, the practicality doesn’t end there. The banner also serves to shelter the patrons from the elements outside of the stall, not just the rain but pollution from the cars as well. And all of this is achieved through mere banners, not by some flashy neon lights or any expensive devices that run on unnecessary electricity.

However, the most interesting observation got to be the way those animals are depicted. Look closely and you’ll notice that the strokes and styles differ from each banner. Some are rendered in clean lines, while some in broad-brush strokes. Those banners’ animals are represented with distinguishable shape, colour and style that, eventually, you’ll be able to tell them apart, just like how a Picasso would differ from a Matisse.

It’s hard to imagine what Jakarta will be like without them. Their continuous presence on the street has morphed them into symbolic “talismans” of the city. After all, they are, unofficially, the link between the old and the new Jakarta. They stood in contrast (and perhaps, in resistance) against the bright lighting displays and billboards around the city that seem to exalt the ever-advancing Digital Age.