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 Betawi's Answer to Beer

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BerichtOnderwerp: Betawi's Answer to Beer    ma 3 nov 2014 - 23:41

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta 03 November, 2014

The heady scent of herbs and spices permeates the home of Rismi Alifah Madjah in South Kedoya in West Jakarta. It's no surprise, since the house that the 61-year-old Rismi calls home since 1978 doubles as a "brewery" that churns out Bir Pletok "Alifah".

After conversing for several minutes, Rismi brought out a maroon-coloured drink, complete with a heady topping of foam, just like beer. "No need to worry, although it's called beer, it won't get you drunk," said Rismi, on Sunday.

The beer that Rismi served contains zero alcohol indeed. In fact, the beverage tasted strongly of spices. "This is a Betawi specialty, it warms up and invigorates your body," explained Rismi.

Rismi went on to explain that Bir Pletok is a concoction made out of 12 different herbs and spices, which include ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, sappanwood, star anise, cloves, long pepper, lemongrass, pandan leaves, and kaffir lime leaves.

Each of the spices possesses their own medicinal qualities. Ginger, for instance, is a traditional appetite stimulant, and warms the body, while cloves is believed as a cure for cough, indigestion, and headaches. "The maroon-colour comes from the sappanwood," explained Rismi.

Rismi's son-in-law, Risky Kurniawan, joined in to explain how the beverage came to be known as Bir Pletok. According to him, the "Pletok"-suffix was added because it is onomatopoeic (meaning, sounding exactly like the word) to the sound that is made during the "brewing" process, wherein the cooked herbs are brewed and then poured into the culm of a Giant Bamboo, before it is shaken with ice shards, which gives it its' characteristic foamy "beer-head".

"When the ice hits the bamboo, it makes a 'pletok-pletok' sound. That's how it came to be named Bir Pletok," finished Risky.

Chairil Gibran Ramadhan, a Betawi historian, said that Bir Pletok could be easily found around populated residential areas during colonial times, although some concoctions were brewed on the outskirts of the city, including Bogor, Depok, Tangering, Bekasi, even as far out as Cianjur and Banten.

"As orchards and fields turn into gravel roads and concrete houses, Bir Pletok is much harder to find these days," said Chairil.

Culturally speaking, continued Chairil, Bir Pletok was not only a beverage as it symbolizes cultural resistance among Betawi folks during the colonial era. "It was how they differentiate themselves from their beer-drinking, non-Muslim colonial overlords," explained Chairil.

Once in a not-too-distant past, said Chairil, Betawi families often stock up Bir Pletok at home, and it was quite commonplace to serve it as a tonic when one is feeling tired or unwell. "It was also common to drink it during the night rounds around the block, or to neighbors who came to visit," said the publishing director of Padasan.

"However, as time changes the beverage has become upgraded, it is now served as a novelty drink at cultural exhibitions and high-level official ceremonies in Jakarta," finished Chairil.

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