Chinese Indonesians and Kue Keranjang

by Barrie on February 5, 2008

by Barrie | February 5th, 2008  

For decades Chinese New Year treats known locally known as kue keranjang have also been enjoyed by Betawi families in the capital. Beng Sui opens his stall each day from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a small lane behind Pasar Jatinegara in East Jakarta. He said many of his Betawian customers were Muslim women. He said last year he sold five tons of kue keranjang during Chinese New Year festivities, which traditionally last for four weeks and end with the celebration of Cah Go Meh on the 15th day after Imlek.

“My best customers in the lead-up to Chinese New Year are Betawian and Chinese Indonesian,” Gouw Beng Sui, 55, who has been selling kue keranjang since he was eight, said recently.

“I also sell kue keranjang during Idul Fitri … although I am not as busy as I am during Chinese New Year. I probably only sell a quarter of what I sell during Chinese New Year,” he said.

Ahmad Kurniawan, 30, a Betawi native from Pasar Minggu in South Jakarta, said recently his family had always served kue keranjang during Idul Fitri celebrations as Agnes Winarti explains.

“I think the tradition started when some of my brothers worked for Chinese Indonesian people. They gave us the treats, which we call dodol Cina, every time we celebrated Idul Fitri,” said Ahmad, who is the second youngest of 11 siblings.

“If we didn’t serve the treats during Idul Fitri celebrations, it would feel like there was something missing,” he said.

Kue keranjang are made from glutinous rice flour mixed with white and brown sugar, which is boiled and steamed and then placed into baskets, or keranjang in Indonesian.

After a few days the treats are packaged into plastic or banana leaves. They usually have a shelf life of up to one month.

Beng Sui said Chinese people believed eating sweet dishes, candies and preserved fruit would bring them good luck in the year to come.

He said the taller a cake was, the more luck it was believed to bring, which is why cakes were often stacked nine or ten layers high in temples.

Chinese New Year treats at Beng Sui’a stall range in price from Rp 12,000 to Rp 32,000 per kilogram. They are produced in various cities around the country, including Sukabumi, Bogor, Ciputat, Medan and Kebon Pala in East Jakarta.

A Cing, a middle-aged woman, said she bought 45 kilograms of kue keranjang at Beng Sui’s stall to give to her customers.

“Most of my customers are not Chinese but have been asking for the sweets anyway. I do not want to disappoint them,” said A Cing, who owns a bed shop in East Jakarta.

Tangerang resident Uli said when she was growing up her family lived near Sukamandi village, where many Chinese Indonesians used to make kue keranjang.

“I remember when my parents used to buy the sweets from an old Chinese man who rode his bicycle around the neighborhood.

“I miss that old man and his kue keranjang.”

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