The largest port city of Central Java Province in Indonesia with a population of more than 1.5 million, Semarang is the main producer of Jamu which is why it’s called City of Jamu. You may be thinking, “What is Jamu?” A traditional Indonesian medicinal tonic, Jamu is made from herbs, spices, and fruits. I didn’t know this, however, until we returned home. I could kick myself when I travel somewhere and find out later I missed something major like this. When I read it’s on menus everywhere throughout Indonesia, I was stunned. How had we missed it?
Then when I saw the pictures and description, it looked and sounded so healthy and tropical, I was determined to give it a try. Since it’s not on menus here or sold in stores, I’d have to make my own. After considerable research, I settled on a recipe which I revised to substitute turmeric powder for turmeric root. I have no idea where to get turmeric root and I have the powder on hand. I created the recipe below then reduced the proportions down by 75% so I’d have 1 cup of Jamu rather than 4 cups just in case we didn’t like it.
FYI: I used the plastic squeeze container of fresh ginger rather than grinding my own. With turmeric powder and the fresh ground ginger, I didn’t have to strain my Jamu after simmering either.
When it was done, I tasted it, added more lime juice and more honey, and tasted it again. I added still more honey but it didn’t help. I gave Jim a shot glass full. He took a sip and was noncommittal but he was in no hurry to finish it which spoke volumes.
Apparently, the key word in the description was medicinal and I should have paid more attention to that word. It tasted strongly of turmeric with a hint of ginger. I didn’t taste much lime and I don’t think you could add enough honey to add sweetness. This concoction is widely used by Indonesians to maintain good health and I’ve read the medicinal properties are currently attracting even more attention as a preventative and/or remedy for COVID-19. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this view, anything that improves your immune system can’t be all bad–even if it tastes bad.
Jamu wasn’t the only thing we missed in Semarang. We missed much more because we hadn’t done enough research in advance. One port of many on a 19 day NCL cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel, we hadn’t booked an excursion in Semarang. The excursion to Borobudur, the largest Budhist temple in the world, appealed to us but the travel time on the bus was 2 hours each way and the cost was around $150 per person, neither of which appealed to us. It’s always a risk to book a private excursion even though the cost is lower since the cruise ship makes it clear they won’t wait for you if you’re delayed for any reason. Instead, we opted to explore the Old Town (Kota Lama) of the city on our own.
Not realizing we couldn’t just walk from the ship, we were unhappily surprised to learn the cruise line had a deal with local taxis to drive us to Old Town. The cost was $40 for the four of us to go one way and round trip was an additional $40. We weren’t sure how long we would want to stay and we didn’t want to commit to meet the driver at a pre-arranged time so we declined the roundtrip option. The guy who worked the deal assured us we wouldn’t find a taxi later to return us but we decided to take a chance.
The driver, who spoke no English, dropped us at Blenduk Church in Old Town. Built by the Dutch in 1753 and remodeled in 1894, this Protestant church is the oldest in Central Java. The hundred year old pipe organ is still used in church services today.
The garden in front of the church provided welcome shade for tourists including these school girls.
As we looked around wondering which way to walk to see more of the Old Town, we decided to follow other tourists thinking they might know where they were going. We walked and walked in the heat and humidity but saw nothing which looked like Tawang Railway Station or Lawang Sewu, Thousand Door Building, the two historic sights we had hoped to see. We asked several locals along the way showing them our map but no one spoke English.
When we reached busy streets, we realized we’d left the Old Town and, rather than turn around and go back, we abandoned our plan to see more there.
We saw a western-looking hotel and decided to stop in for cold drink and hopefully, a wifi connection. Although no one in the New Metro Hotel spoke English, we were able to communicate our needs and soon we had a Bintang with wifi for a little over $3 each including tax and service.
Following our refreshments, we managed, in spite of the language barrier, to convey our need for a taxi to the staff at the front desk, no small task considering we also needed to obtain local currency to pay the taxi driver. Thankfully, the staff were very kind and helpful and before long the taxi appeared and returned us to the port. Amazingly, the return trip cost about $3 for the four of us.
We later talked to a young couple from Wisconsin onboard the ship who had booked a private excursion which broke down on the return. The bus from the cruise line’s excursion stopped to pick them up because the passengers on board chanted, “Pick them up, pick them up” until they stopped. They never would have made it back in time if that bus hadn’t stopped. What a great adventure story with a happy ending!
While we didn’t see much of Semarang, we did experience the bustle of a busy Asian city and the friendliness and helpfulness of the Indonesian people. Until next time, terima kasih (thank you).
Based on events from March 2019.