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Published on August 04, 2014 with No Comments

Discovering jamu on an island journey.


When in Bali, slather on the sunblock, slip on the shades, then reach out for a cool glass of … jamu. This once drink of the Royals – its origins can be traced back to the time the Borobodur was built – has transcended ranks and status and become one of the most identifiable icons of Indonesia.

In Bali, where the sun, surf and sea mix with a sense of joie de vivre, even the jamu drink has taken a life of its own. Of course, you can still catch women in traditional dresses peddling the herbal tonic every morning in various villages. But even if you missed them on the streets, the jamu drink has entered the fabric of contemporary society that even modern spas and cafes now offer them.

Jamu is a traditional tonic made from local herbs, roots and spices. They may also include barks and leaves, often creating a concoction that is bitter and perhaps explains why the younger generation tends to shy away from them. For many Indonesians, the drink is a cure-all elixir. Drinking it everyday is how they ensure they get the necessary intake of essential vitamins and minerals to keep themselves healthy. It’s also believed that jamu’s medicinal properties can heal various ailments, boost one’s beauty, strength and stamina.

The preparation itself is pretty straightforward. In former times, mothers used to hand down the secrets of these healing recipes to their daughters. Those who were skilled at preparing jamu were also consulted for their recipes and know-how. Shared recipes allow for others to create their own jamu, but no two jamus are ever alike in taste and flavour.

For effective jamu to work, ingredients need to be sourced fresh. Homemade jamu brews are prized for that they do not contain any chemical additives. Traditionally, people have their own favourite jamu maker and often return to the same seller for whose methods they trust.

It’s not difficult to get a taste of a jamu drink in Bali. The adventurous can go into the various villages and look for jamu gendong. These are the women who bring bottles of jamu in a cloth carrier, selling it door to door. Your other best bet are the spas and cafes.

At the Spa Village Tembok Bali Resort, guests can try the resort’s kitchen-brewed jamu drinks served every afternoon by staff that make their rounds at the resort. The jamu kunyit asam for women is made fresh everyday, its turmeric main ingredient prized for its antibacterial properties. Tamarind juice is added to the mix and the brew is sweetened with palm sugar, all locally sourced. The overall benefit is for cleansing the body and stomach.

The jamu beras kencur for men includes pulverised rice and finger root and is thought to help strengthen and invigorate the body. Guests can also partake in the complimentary jamu-making class to learn how to replicate the jamu back home.

At Alila Manggis, guests using the organic garden for the cooking class are also taught the various herbs and spices before preparing their own jamu drinks. At sister property Alila Ubud, jamu is the choice of beverage after every spa treatment to reinvigorate the senses and complement the wholistic therapy.

Similarly at Samabe Bali Suites & Villas, the jamu is incorporated into the everyday menu at its Te.Ja.Co restaurant. Healthy jamu drinks are served alongside herbal teas and coffees to give guests a taste of local Balinese culture. The name “Te.Ja.Co” actually stands for “Tea, Jamu and Coffee”.

Beyond jamu as a drink, they are also used externally. Local farmers feed used jamu pulp to reared animals so they too, can benefit from the herbs. At home, the practice of using jamu herbs – turned into oils and pastes – in everything includes postnatal care and alleviating headaches. They help in improving blood circulation, detoxification and stress reduction. Samabe Bali Suites & Villas translates some of the local use at their Galangal Spa in the body treatments and massage oils.

Of course, jamu now can also be found commercially sold in capsules and ready-to-drink sachets. It may require some experimentation to find the right manufacturer that respects the integrity of homemade jamu-making. But so long as you’ve a mortar and pestle and a chopping board at hand, a trip to the local market for your spices and herbs will ensure your jamu is available fresh and ready to drink anytime of the day.

Royal Brunei Airlines will resume 4x weekly flights to Denpasar on 26 July, 2014.

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