Wed, 03 Sep 2003

Obin makes traditional treats fashionable

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Obin -- famous in her creation of exquisite textiles -- keeps family tradition alive at her boutique at Jl. Teluk Betung No. 10, Central Jakarta by serving traditional treats to visiting friends and clients.

Her living room is filled with the heady, traditional scent of exotic flowers. Once seated around an old marble-topped table, her staff serve refreshing ice lemon tea and invite guests to try several types of old-fashioned sweets and snacks already on the table.

For some guests, these small yet heart-warming details make their visit to her boutique pleasurable, even reviving past memories.

Budi Supriadi one of her staff said that several kinds of tempo doeloe (days of yore) light and popular Indonesian, Peranakan, or Chinese snacks, are always provided as a simple way to welcome guests. And Obin alternates the selection every other day.

On one day, she may provide san cha (Chinese coin-shaped sweets), three kinds of Chinese preserved sweets, namely lemon, plum and ginger and enting-enting gepuk (a traditional sweet peanut treat). On the next day, manisan buah (a mix of sweet and sour fruits like cereme, kedongdong, manggo and papaya) or kuaci (dried sunflower seeds), brem (a fermented snack), kue pepe (glutinous rice cake), kue clorot (traditional snack wrapped in a leaf) or pudding hun kwe (sweet layered snack).

Each of the snacks is served in an antiquated glass container, that curiously seems to be chosen to match the food (but according to Obin is not). She also uses a tenong (traditional container for food made of bamboo) as an interesting tissue box.

"We serve those snacks and sweets everyday for every guest to enjoy. What we serve is what we usually eat too. They are the family's favorite," Budi said.

Obin has enjoyed such treats since she was a child. "Unlike many people who have turned to modern food and snacks, I still eat what I did when I was little," she said.

Besides reminding people of their past, the treats represent her fondness for family tradition. This is a special quality which fashion designer Robby Tumewu calls inspiring.

"There is nothing special about them, actually. Most of the treats are still available in stores or markets and I think people just overlook them, or their desire for light treats has changed. This is why they are slowly losing their popularity... before they finally die out," Obin said.

Often, her clients -- after visiting her boutique to get the cloths or garments they ordered -- leave with a small plastic bag filled with some of the treats from the table.

"At first they were surprised and said 'Hey! these used to be my favorite sweets when I was little and they took a handful of each, for themselves and for their children at home," she laughed.

Although some of the old fashioned treats can be easily obtained at supermarkets, Obin said she often does her snack shopping at Glodok or Mayestic markets. "Gue kan anak Jakarta (I'm a Jakartan)," she said proudly, while adding that she also knows where to find the best tasting dishes in the capital.

She also likes to buy traditional delicacies, like es jali- jali (ice cream) or kembang tahu (soy bean pudding with gingery brown sugar sauce), sold in push carts by small vendors in the neighborhood, whose presence is indicated by the specific sound they make.

But some of the old fashioned food is also prepared based on family recipes she got from her mother, who inherited them from her grandmother.

"Oh yes, we still prepare such food. It's a family tradition, there is nothing to change. That is why the tradition is still alive in my family. But when I serve it to others, people may think such dishes are special because they can not even remember the last time they eat them."

For her, what makes something special is not what she does but how she does it. "I am what I am. I don't want to change and this is not a movement to preserve old fashioned dishes," she said.

Obin realizes that the capital has also evolved into a sort of culinary center -- where various food from around the world can be easily found -- providing more options for residents, besides local dishes.

"I guess it also depends on the location. If I lived in a kampong, the food that I eat would not be considered special," she said.