[Googlers: if you got here with 'Jakarta wet t-shirt contest' you're in the wrong place. Move on.]
One night in Jakarta we, an American journalist friend, and a few of her Jakarta-resident buddies hired two taxis and headed out to Muara Angke, an amazing seafood market somewhere in the northern reaches of the city. Rather than a 'market' Muara Angke might more accurately be called a seafood neighborhood, because though it's anchored in a large building the market itself leaches into all surrounding streets and lanes. We seemed to drive past blocks and blocks of 'market' before we even reached the market.
And it is not for the faint of heart. Muara Angke is not a tourist market. It seems to exist primarily to service greater Jakarta's wholesale needs. A lot of fish move through here everyday. Situated somewhere near the quite un-pristine coast and surrounded mostly by slums, its aurally challenging. We could smell the place from blocks away. It's not pretty and it's not tame, but it is truly fascinating.
We didn't go just to gawk, but to eat too. Outside the main building are rows of vendors selling small allotments. There is incredible seafood to be had here: giant mantis prawns, ruby red lobsters, plump prawns, bamboo clams, whelks, pristine squid, firm, red-gilled snapper and other fish. If you're willing to bargain, that is. There's no escaping it; these guys are hardened businessmen and unless you're willing to throw up your hands and be fleeced to high heaven, bargain you must.
Once you've purchased dinner (or breakfast or lunch - we're told the market is open 24/7) you can take your seafood to one of any number of nearby warung, where they'll cook it to order.
While our companions were hemming and hawing over purchases Dave and I slipped inside the main building for a look. Everytime I enter a market I feel a little frisson of excitement, but this place just took my breath away. Crowded, manic, loud - absolute chaos. Or so it appeared to us.
The entire market seemed to be on fast forward. Voices were high, seafood was being moved in and out, and from one end of the market to the other, at warp speed. If you're in the way here - and we definately were - move the heck aside, because no one's got time to stop what they're doing so you can find a safe place to stand.
We made our way, through aisles of ankle-deep, ice-cold, god-knows-what's-in-it black water (note to self: next time wear wellies instead of tevas) to a relatively empty selling platform in the middle of the market where I could catch my breath and Dave could set up his tripod without danger of being run over.
Here, as elsewhere in Jakarta, folks were incredibly friendly, if a bit puzzled as to why we'd want to be hanging out in a fish market.
We could have lingered here for hours (with proper footwear), but dinner called, so we headed back outside and followed our hostess her favorite warung (they all looked the same to us). On the way she stopped to pick up an appetizer of otak-otak, which turned out to be a sort of smoky grilled fish sausage somewhat similar to southern Malaysian otak-otak - perhaps a bit sweeter and with more lemongrass, and with lots of black pepper substituted for chilies.
Everything here is grilled over coconut husks, and the cooks at our place really knew their way around a barbecue.
Unfortunately, by the time food arrived to table we were too ravenous to pause for photos. Our meal included, among other items, a mound of perfectly deep-fried squid (low on grease, high on crunch), a huge spice-rubbed grilled whole snapper, and lots and lots of skewered and spice-rubbed grilled prawns, well more than enough for 6 of us. With a lot of beer and some accompanying pickles and dips and veggies, the tab came to about 50,000 rupiah (that's less than 7 US dollars) per person. We actually ended up paying more for beer and prep than for the seafood itself.
Then it was time to push on back to downtown. A great feed and a great evening. We will return - both for the market and the vittles.