Sun, 05 Jan 2003

Batak Market thrives in Senen

Moh. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The market is not easy to find among the warren of bustling streets and hectic trading activities in the Senen area, Central Jakarta.

But if you make an effort, you'll find yourself standing at a gate leading into a market thronged by people -- both vendors and their customers -- with North Sumatran complexions and speaking in the Batak dialect.

To make things even more obvious, the names of the shops, such as Balige Siantar, Simalungun Karo, Manurung Tambunan and Siagian Simatupang, make it clear that the marketplace has a strong Batak connection. The first two of these shop names are taken from places in North Sumatra, while the last two names are those of Batak clans.

Yes, this is the market that many Jakartans simply call "Pasar Batak."

Inside, you will find rows of shops selling foodstuffs and condiments. You will easily find typical foods of North Sumatran origin such as asam potong (chopped tamarind), mi lidi (stick noodles), kecap Medan (Medan soy sauce), and terasi Medan (shrimp condiment). Some other specialities are sirup markisa (passion fruit syrup), ikan asin (salted fish), teri (dried fish), pala (nutmeg), ketumbar (coriander) and even belau (bleaching starch).

"Our shop sells original condiments from North Sumatra, as well as lots of other goods," Sitepu, the owner of one the shops in a thick Batak accent, told The Jakarta Post.

Sitepu, who has run his shop since 1987, said that the condiments were transported directly from Medan. "Trucks regularly come from Medan bringing all these specialities," she said.

Move deeper into the market and you will find a number of shops selling ulos (traditional Batak apparel) as their main merchandise. Colorful, hand-woven clothing, which is displayed next to aromatic spices and condiments, means a treat for the eyes and nose.

If you are religious, at the end of your stroll you can check out the makeshift stalls in front of a music store continuously blasting out Batak music. You will be surprised what you find. They have Bibles and prayer books in the Batak Toba language! That's not all, if you are of Batak origin and want to get married, there is a guide to traditional Batak wedding rituals. And for those Batak people stranded far away from their families and unaware of their family trees, there is a stall selling books on how to trace their roots.

Jefri Napitupulu, the stall owner, told the Post that some of the books were printed in Medan. "As for the Bibles, I merely sell it them on behalf of a church foundation," he said, referring to Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (the Protestant Christian Batak Association).

If you think that most of the visitors are Batak, you are right. Although the market manages to attract non-Batak customers, most of the visitors are still primarily of Batak origin, Sitepu said.

The reason is simply that Batak people cannot find the goods they need anywhere else except in this market.

"There are certain Batak foods that have to be prepared with condiments available only in this market," said Rosdiani Perangin-angin, an elderly lady working behind a condiment counter.

Dishes such as sangsang (pork), lomok-lomok (young pig), dog meat, sibahut (fried freshwater catfish) and goldfish curry have to be cooked with certain spices available only in the Batak market.

The market started operating in the mid-1970's when a large number of Batak traders moved to Senen from other areas.

"They moved here after some business areas such as Copacabana in Ancol, North Jakarta, and Jl. Kenari, Central Jakarta, were closed down by the Jakarta city administration," said Patar Sitorus, head of Senen market's Block VI. He also said that later a number of businessmen from Belawan, Medan, in North Sumatra and from Batam in the Riau archipelago also decided to seek their fortunes in Senen.

"Around 1976, a large number of Bataks came here to set up business in Senen as a Batak official happened to be in charge of the market," said Napitupulu.

Nowadays, 70 percent of the traders in Senen market's Block VI are Bataks. The total number of traders currently stands at 736.

So if you happen to be a Batak living in Jakarta, there is no need to worry about missing out on your favorite food, clothing or even Bibles in your native language. Just get on down to Senen market.