The Highway Code for an extreme feed
Where to stop for a feed?
Parked trucks are a good guide – the drivers know the best places for cheap and wholesome fare. Busses in a restaurant forecourt indicate a broad menu; if the passengers aren’t satisfied they’ll travel with a different company next time.
Roadside kiosks selling specific meals, like bakso [meat balls] and nasi padang, an array of pre-cooked foods on separate plates, are usually well signed so motoring customers know what to expect.
But how about a warung [food stall] that only advertises numbers, and where de-coding the menu relies on cultural memory – or knowledge of fortune telling?
By her own admission Sri Sujayati, 40, is a vendor of “extreme foods” in the village of Talang Agung between Malang and Blitar in East Java. She calls her business Ono Wae, Javanese for ‘always available’.
“When you come here you must know what you want,” she said. “I don’t cheat. The ingredients I use are the real thing. Every dish costs the same – Rp 10,000 [US 75 cents].”
Feel like a plate of turtle served with rice? Ask for 27.
Prefer something snaky, like python potage? Select number 29. If not pre-ordered there’ll be a long wait. Cooking a snake takes at least two hours.
Quicker is frog stew, guaranteed to get you jumping. We recommend number 24.
A big guy needs something masculine and ferocious. Wild boar at 93 should put bristles on any man’s chest.
Behind Bu Sri’s shop is a sack with body parts of a big monitor lizard, including a claw. Along with geckos this meal is recommended for those with body itch. She doesn’t sell dog meat [number 11], popular among the Minahasa from North Sulawesi, because there’s no demand locally – but many other creatures find their place in her pots.
While this writer was unsuccessfully seeking the courage to order a rat or bat pie, two famished construction workers arrived, both keen for an 02.
“I used to have a sore throat but that’s gone since I started eating snails,” testified Tofa, 23 (right, white T shirt). His mate Muntiono, 31 agreed. “It keeps me healthy. My breathing’s a lot better.” Suggesting the men might give up smoking to achieve the same result was deemed inappropriate under the circumstances.
“Customers come from all around to eat certain animals believing there are physical benefits,” said the cook.
“Everyone has their own beliefs about what works. Men like snake because it gives them stamina.” This is a genteelism for sexual prowess.
There’s no suggestion that gambling or anything improper is underway at Ibu Sri’s wide-open warung on the main road– she uses the code as shorthand because “everyone in this area knows what the numbers mean.” There’s no written menu.
This seems to imply that there’s a lot going on in Indonesian society that doesn’t always meet the outsider’s eye, let alone the strictures of the authorities, secular and religious.
By the numbers
The code can be cracked using the Tafsir Mimpi 100 Trilyun [100 trillion Dream Interpretations].
This cheaply printed and badly bound book is unlikely to be found on the shelves of your local library rubbing covers with biographies of the great and good.
Like the promises 100 trillion is a gross exaggeration, though mixing and multiplying can expand permutations.
Buyers have to ask around. The one featured on this page was under a newsagent’s counter. It cost Rp 15,000 [US$1.20]. The seller insisted it be kept in a brown bag and not opened in public because, he said, numerology is haram [forbidden] along with astrology and fortune telling.
There are no details of the publisher or printer in Tafsir Mimpi, but every page has crude pictographs linked to numbers – and not just for animals. Number 60 relates to the police, 21 is a prostitute, while 43 is a young widow – and also a fish.
Number 11 can be a headscarf, fan, mushroom – and a greedy government minister.
The complex angka togel lucky number forecasting was widely used when the State lottery was operating. Angka means number and togel is a combination of toto [lottery] and gelap [dark], implying a system that’s slightly shady.
The national lottery, also called NALO with a top prize of Rp 1 billion [about US$400,000 in the currency of the time] was known as Sumbangan Dana Sosial Berhadiah [SDSB Philanthropic Donation with Prizes]. However the religious weren’t softened by the euphemism and insisted it meant gambling, which is haram.
Until reluctantly banned by the Soeharto administration in late 1993 following prolonged pressure from Islamic authorities, the lottery was a splendid income stream for the government and, allegedly, other individuals linked to the President’s family.
In those pre-democracy days an independent probing of the accounts by a free press was impossible, so the public couldn’t trace the rupiah river.
The togel or toggle system persists in Hong Kong and Singapore where predictions on cards can be bought using allegedly lucky numbers associated with dreams, fortuitous events – and animals.
Some Indonesian men’s tabloids, under a NALO heading include the numbers along with crime stories featuring sexual deviances and advertisements for paranormal services.
The togel cards are often illustrated with pictures of young ladies in various states of undress, suggesting that a big win will lead to success in bed.
Indonesia’s Secret World
Referring to numbers instead of words probably dates back to the 6th century, according to cultural historian Ismail Lutfi.(right)
“Long ago an ancient form of Javanese was used, mainly known to royalty,” he said. “It was based on Sanskrit and is no longer heard.
“Words had many meanings, including numbers. These were used to represent the object. Javanese people like to use symbols, and these became the language.
“Although it seemed to disappear in the 16th century with the arrival of Islam and the Dutch the knowledge remains in some parts of East Java. Gambling is illegal, but still continues. A person might, for example, dream of two dogs in his house. He can construct a number on the objects and use that to lay a bet.
“This is the secret world of Indonesia. It’s a kind of numerology known as candra sangkala – a chronogram [arrangement of letters to indicate numbers and reveal a date] based on the waxing and waning of the moon.”
Ismail, a senior lecturer in history at the Malang State University, said the system wasn’t taught. Although it was difficult to get information the code was understood in villages and kampong.
“It’s part of our cultural memory known as getok tular meaning it’s handed down by word of mouth,” he said. “For many this is a more effective way of acquiring knowledge than reading books or listening to government announcements.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2015)