Spirited Traveller: Cocktail infusions in Jakarta
The non-alcoholic herbal cocktail "Bir Pletok" created by The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Mega Kuningan is shown in this undated handout photo obtained on February 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Handout)
Welcome to Jakarta, also known as the "Big Durian."
Although you're unlikely to find the notoriously stinky durian in many drinks in the Indonesian capital, expect refreshing cocktails that make the most of other tropical fruits, such as mango, lychee, even the cantaloupe-like rockmelon.
"Over the past few years, Jakarta has seen a boom in its drinking culture, especially among young people," says Hanny Wahyuni of The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Mega Kuningan.
While a cold beer, particularly Bintang, is the classic unwind after a long work week, the growing number of bars across Jakarta also do a brisk business in spirits. Local cocktail menus reveal a sweet-tooth for candy flavoured vodka martinis, rum or cachaca cocktails dosed with kafir lime or tropical fruits.
Ritz Carlton's 8 Lounge has an entire drinks menu section dedicated to Mojito variations; another to Caipirinha concoctions.
Wahyuni's drink-stop recommendations for business travellers include Cork & Screw, a restaurant and bar located inside a wine shop, and Potato Head at Pacific Place Mall. The latter serves Western-style comfort food accompanied by cocktails such as the Pistachio Rockmelon Martini (vodka, melon liqueur and fresh rockmelon, topped with pistachio foam).
He also notes newcomer Otel Lobby, a gastropub in the Annex Building of Epicentrum Kuningan.
Meanwhile, at the end of the day, Wahyuni likes Social House at Harvey Nichols in Grand Indonesia Mall. During the day, the space serves tea to office workers, but in the evening the windows fold back to invite cooling evening breezes and panoramic views of the Jakarta skyline. The same team that runs Social House also owns the VIP-happy Dragonfly, where celebrities mix with expats and execs to dance all night, fuelled by rum cocktails.
Loewy in Mega Kuningan, near The Ritz-Carlton, also gets a nod from Wahyuni. The bistro-style restaurant offers a menu of (exclusively vodka) martinis and the city's largest selection of single malt whiskeys.
Once you've sampled your way through these bars, you're ready for Bir Pletok, Jakarta's iconic restorative libation.
RECIPE: BIR PLETOK - courtesy of Hanny Wahyuni, The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta
This non-alcoholic herbal libation is said to ward off a host of ills, from flu to high cholesterol.
Dating back to the colonial period, the drink is indeed named after beer - few locals could afford the beer drunk by Dutch colonists, and opted to brew their own "bir" using local herbs and spices. As for the word "pletok", depending on who you ask, it either mimics the sound of cardamom pods cracking open in boiling water, or it's the sound made when shaking together all the ingredients: "Pletok, pletok, pletok."
2 litres water
350 grams ginger, peeled and sliced
6 pieces clove
1 piece cinnamon Bark, about 5 centimetres long
3 cardamom (cardamom) pods
5 stalks lemongrass
25 grams secang wood (a plant native to Indonesia )
500 grams white sugar
3 pandan leaves
5 lime leaves
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the remaining ingredients, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a jar and allow to cool, then cap tightly. Discard solids.
Although bir pletok can be drunk hot, most people prefer to drink it served refreshingly cold. Keeps for one week, refrigerated.