Thing Indonesians Like: Oleh-oleh

“So you are going to Medan?”

“Yes, I am going to Medan”

Ah…..oleh-oleh ya.”

And then from the other corner someone will say: “Don’t forget to buy bika ambon, bolu meranti, lapis legit. Ohhh and Risol Gogo.”

That’s a conversation that you will hear anywhere in this country when you make the mistake of telling others that you are going somewhere. Here in Indonesia, it is best to keep your traveling plan with yourself and not share it with others. If you do share your plan, most of the time, you will be bombarded by request of oleh-oleh from close friends, relatives and colleagues. Do not worry about the damage, because it is always borne by the traveller. Oleh-oleh (noun) itself is a present, often delicacies, brought from a place we travelled to.

Even if you are traveling on business trip, oleh-oleh is something that you must buy. In the case of civil servants visiting other government institution, the oleh-oleh is usually bought by the institution visited. Here’s how it usually work: during a meeting you could send the hints by asking the special delicacies from the area. They will then explain what are the famous delicacies, or even the famous cloth material (batik, ikat, songket) and other handicraft. You can response by saying, I’d like to buy a, b, c, d, e,…z. Then ask the important question: “Where can I buy it? can someone drive me there?” and as a courtesy, they will response “ah don’t worry about it, we will take care of that”. A day or two passed by, nothing happened and no one drive you to the shop. Then when you are in the airport someone will bring you few boxes full of snack and handicraft and assist you with the chek-in. Magic! When receiving presents like this, it is rude to say no and all you have to do is saying thank you. Another thing that you shall never ask is to reimburse the damage. Don’t worry about it, it is usually come from the taxpayer’s money!

If you are not so lucky, you will have to do your own research about potential oleh-oleh and locate the shop. Don’t worry about it, even google knows well that we like to buy oleh-oleh.

the options

Even Google Knows that We Like Oleh-oleh

In city like Yogyakarta, you don’t even need to do your research. Just walk around the famous Malioboro street and a pedicab driver will be more than happy to take you to oleh-oleh shop, sometimes for 50 cents. The shop usually gives him incentive that is why he does not mind about the low fare. I interviewed a girl from a Bakpia factory in Yogyakarta, she mentioned that the factory does not give pedicab drivers any money, but give them some lottery coupons. The winners are selected in yearly based and the prize are including washing machine, motor cycle and other presents.

If you are travel to Medan, the same method of oleh-oleh hunting could not be applied. The famous Meranti Roll cake has to be ordered few days in advance. Alternatively you can buy other delicacies such as layer cake (lapis legit), bika ambon, and durian (both the pancake of the fresh the stinky fruit).  I am sure you think that Durian is banned from plane, but in Medan, you can always manage to bring durian with you. The durian seller in Medan  found this clever method: put the durian in the box, seal with cello tape,  then sprinkle some coffee around the box  before wrap it with the plastic. You can walk freely to the airplane and no one is going to notice the durian. Even if the flight attendants do, they will just tolerate it and will never remove you (or the durian) from the airplane. Rumour has it that the crashed of Mandala Air flight in Medan on 2005, was caused by the oleh-oleh, 2 tons of durian.

Other than delicacies you can also bring key holders, snow globe, magnets or traditional clothes material (batik, sasirangan, ikat, songket). A famous oleh-oleh shop usually put famous person photo in their wall. Take example of the Irma Sasirangan in Banjarmasin that I recently visited. Upon entering the shop you will be welcome by the photo of RI 1, Susilo Bambang Yudhono and the first lady, both wearing sasirangan. In Yogya, there’s a huge silver workshop who put the picture of Miss Universe to attract shoppers.

Speaking of key holders, I had more than 10 key holders from different countries in Europe, while I have only one door to lock. I now understand why people opt to buy key holder from Europe, it’s the cheapest thing. In the case of Ireland, it wasn’t that cheap, one key holder cost me Euro 7,5.

If you are in airport and see Indonesians could you queue and rush to the airplane, I am sure you think that we are crazy because there’s no advantage in rushing to go inside the airplane as the seats have been preassigned. You are mistaken! For Indonesians, getting into the airplane as fast as we could is very important, because we need a lot of space for our excess luggage, the boxes of oleh-oleh. The one only hand-carry luggage can not be applied in Indonesia. Anyway a quick way to locate your luggage-especially when there’s no information about the flight number in the conveyer belt- is by seeing the  oleh-oleh boxes. Meranti and Zulaiha from Medan, Aceh Rayeuk from Banda Aceh, Pia Legong from Bali, Manggoes from Surabaya, Bakpia Pathoek from Yogyakarta, and Amplang from Balikpapan.

Bringing oleh-oleh requires lot of energy, time, and money. But to see friends and family enjoying the delicacies, for me, is the greatest joy. This is the Indonesian way to show our love to others.

Tell me, what’s your favorite oleh-oleh?