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Something Sweet: The Art of Pressing Sugar Cane

I am constantly amazed by street vendors in Asia. They are extremely innovative. I’ve watched a Jakarta nasi goreng (fried rice) vendor whip up a plate of food in a terrible downpour. He had his customer hold an umbrella over his head and he deftly cracked eggs open and managed to stay mostly dry. During the day in residential neighborhoods you will hear vendors pushing or peddling their carts. Vendors will bang on pots or simply call out what they are selling: “Rooooti! (bread). The vendors usually aren’t making a lot of money, because most dishes are a dollar or less, but they somehow manage to get by. Here’s an interview we ran several months back with a vendor.

One of my new favorite street food treats is sugar cane juice. The sweet, cold drink is the perfect quencher on any hot day in Jakarta. The juice is sweet, sometimes overly so because Indonesians love sugar and vendors will add extra.

Sugar cane vendors aren’t as common as other food or drink carts because of the machine required. When I was strolling the Glodok area of Jakarta I happened on several vendors all next to each other and business was going well for them.

Pieces of sugar cane are inserted between the spinning crushers and juice is squeezed out.

And then for less than a dollar you are given a plastic bag filled with sweet juice. The juice-in-a-bag concept is popular in Indonesia and I also noticed it in Malaysia and Singapore. A rubber band holds the straw in place and keeps the bag from opening. It’s actually not a bad way to drink juice.

There were many bees buzzing all around the sugar cane vendors and landing on the left over pieces. I’m sure the vendors have gotten used to the occasional sting.

In Hong Kong I also had some sugar cane juice, but it tasted much earthier than anything I’ve had in Indonesia and the color was green instead of yellow. Just goes to show variety country by country.

If you happen to be in Asia, try some sugar cane juice, I don’t think you’ll regret it.


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