Indonesia’s martabak masters messing with tradition

By: Colin Meyn - Posted on: June 26, 2017 | Culture & Life

One of the archipelago’s favourite snacks is undergoing a radical reinvention, moving from Jakarta’s street carts to trendy shops offering a rainbow of flavours

This article was published in the June​ edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here

For hundreds of years, vendors around the region stuck to similar variations on martabak, a fried pancake stuffed with savoury meats, egg and perhaps some vegetables. A sweet martabak emerged at some point but, again, recipes were distinct mostly in the details. A standard ‘martabak manis’ in Indonesia consisted of thick pancake smeared in butter and folded over cheese, condensed milk, peanuts and chocolate sprinkles before being sliced into squares.

Then a vendor decided to mix things up – and sparked a martabak revolution.

“One guy in central Jakarta began with Toblerone, crushing that up into martabak instead of sprinkles,” said Jed Doble, publisher of Foodies, a magazine based in the Indonesian capital. “Then it began with all different versions of chocolate, and then the wackier flavours in the past four or five years.”

These days, the snack comes in a wondrous array of flavours. There’s red velvet, blue velvet, blackpool, rainbow, durian and Kit Kat green tea. Some locals have even embraced a DIY martabak, allowing patrons to choose their own toppings.

With one of Jakarta’s upmarket martabak shops owned by the son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, martabak was already big business. However, Doble said that Martabucks, a company launched in 2015 by well-known actors Luna Maya and Uya Kuya, set off the highly experimental craze. Hans Susanto, the manager of Martabucks, said the firm is well aware of rising competition in the boutique martabak market and has a research and development team making sure they stay ahead of trends.

“We continue to develop from various aspects. For example, we will present innovative products in the next few months which, of course, here we are the pioneer,” Susanto said, adding that he could not offer any specifics, in order to prevent any imitations hitting the market first.