Grocery Shopping in Jakarta

Ok, so no-one ever arrived in Jakarta and expected there to be a well-stocked Super Valu with a clean and colourful fruit and vegetable section.  Or a neatly displayed meat counter hygiene certificates hanging on the wall and your reflection on the glass, a dairy corner that’s brimming with freshness and dry foods aisles logically merchandised with everything from Weetabix to Bisto.  The fact that you could also buy a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers and do the lotto are nice little extras that make your local supermarket a one-stop-shop.

For those that wish to traipse around the country buying carrots in Aldi, cold meats in Dunnes and washing powder in Tesco, only to save 5.19 in the shopping and spend 11.25 on petrol, that’s their own business, the fact is Ireland is full of super supermarkets.  Not the case in Jakarta.

It’s true on arrival I felt a flicker of hope when I saw the CARREFOUR sign. ‘Where there is Carrefour, there is hope’, surely, again, not the case in Jakarta.  What I forgot was that Carrefour caters for the masses and not the seventeen expats that might fancy a bag of organic whole-wheat pasta or a jar of sundried tomatoes, neither of which can be found in Carrefour.  Instead, Carrefour in Jakarta has aisles and aisles of rice, starting in 5kg bags and going right up to, ‘get tommy to reverse in the van’ size.   No beautifully packaged pouches of 2 minute microwave rice and no little boxes of boil in the bag rice.  Where is Uncle Ben when you need him?

Next aisle are the oils, 1 litre bottles to large vats of corn, sunflower and every other kind of oil known to man, forget about picking up a 50ml bottle of truffle oil or balsamic vinegar, and count yourself lucky to have found a bottle of olive oil small enough to carry.

When that fails, the next option is to try Hero, Ranch Market and Jason.  Whose by-line should read, ‘squeezing every last rupiah from expats for years’?   In all of these you’ll find a jar of sundried tomatoes lurking on the shelf, a little dust on top, a dodgy expiry date and a price that explains why these few jars haven’t been picked up.  You’ll also find a small bag of rice, probably at the same cost of the 5kg bag in Carrefour but it will have weebles none the less.    Yes, also all rice, flour and sugar has a few complimentary maggots throw in free of charge in Jakarta.  You open the rice, transfer it directly into the pristine tub you use to store same and watch the tiny black maggots climb to the top, a great way of passing time in Jakarta.

Walking past the meat counter you are forced to be downright racist when it comes to choosing a steak. The cuts aren’t advertised as clearly as the nationality and you have to choose between local cuts at the price of a box of matches or US or Australian pieces, which for a family of five, would be equivalent to lunch at the Hilton.

As soon as you realise that the milk supply has run out and there is none expected for another week, you fear that same will happen with other products and you scramble around the shop, frantically throwing every imported product you see into the trolley.  John West, McVitees, Kellogg’s, all thrown into the trolley with gusto for fear of there being a shortage.  Despite having said before that you would never pay 106,000 rupiah for a box of Cheerio’s, you back-track and fork out the cash, you need the comfort, the reassurance.

The best part is, where you leave the shop without the meat you couldn’t afford or the milk that wasn’t there, there is a server waiting to help you to your car with the trolley of imported useless niceties and your driver empties the contents of your trolley into the boot.  He drives you home, where the maid takes the shopping from the car and puts it away while you enjoy a cup of dolce gusto, black.

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