A GLIMPSE OF MANGGA BESAR AND COBRA 34 PAIS
Mangga Besar is a densely populated, hustling and bustling area in West Jakarta, the melting pot of bars, night clubs, discotheques, hotels, restaurants and street food stalls. Not to mention the less–known Avalokitesvara Temple and abundant medical clinics situated in residential areas somewhere behind the street food areas.
Joining Wisata Kreatif Jakarta on walking tour to Mangga Besar, the last destination of the tour is what I had been waiting for: eating cobra skewers and its blood and bile. The snake meat itself was not the biggest challenge for me, but the blood and bile were!
Along the street of Mangga Besar Raya, a few hundred meters from the famous Durian Acin, there are several stalls selling cobra skewers, among others Cobra 34 Pais. Established by Pais since year 2000, the family-owned business is inspired by his grandfather who has been selling cobra before 1980s, whose stall name is “34”. In Chinese belief, number 34 means life and death.
Generally speaking, cobra food stalls in Mangga Besar only open in the evening, starting from 5 pm until midnight.
BEST-SELLING COBRA SET MENU
The most well-known dish from Cobra 34, perhaps as well as other cobra snake food stalls, is a set menu of cobra skewers, blood and bile sold for Rp. 90.000 (about $7). King cobra package is sold for Rp. 300.000 (about $25). There are also cobra floss, cobra soup and cobra oil. The non-cobra product is biawak (tropical giant lizard) skewers, soup, floss and oil.
My cousin and I ordered the Rp. 90.000 cobra package. The rest of the tour members hesitated to get one and some would only like to have a bite or two, only if they finally had guts in the last minute.
“Do you want the blood and bile as well?” The vendor asked.
“Well, not this time. But we would like to have it pictured, so don’t throw it away.” I replied.
To be honest, the day before the tour, I promised that I would challenge myself to consume the blood and bile for the sake of compelling story telling in my blog. Nonetheless, my stomach felt bloated in that afternoon for reasons only God knows. Since they would be mixed with alcohol (and honey) to reduce the fishy taste, I wasn’t sure if I could stand the alcohol in my condition. Therefore, I decided not to consume them.
ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?
The “slaughter” show began. After taking the cobra out of the cage, he (the vendor) closed the snake’s mouth with a bamboo clip and chopped its head off. Then, he stretched the headless cobra’s body and squeezed it to pour the blood and bile into the prepared plastic mug. Skinning and separating the cobra’s meat and bone were faster than I thought, less than 30 seconds, by tying the front part of the body with a rope and peeled its black skin with bare hands. The last step was to remove the remaining organs attached in the inner side of the cobra’s meat using a bamboo skewer.
During the 3 minute process of slaughtering, both cobra’s head and its beheaded body kept writhing. Slow but sure, it was a very agonizing way of facing death. If I were the vendor, I would first smash or stab right to its brain before doing anything else to end its pain. Especially the head kept flipping and the mouth kept moving after being left for an hour. Its body stopped writhing after 5 minutes since it was instantly cut and pierced in bamboo skewers to grill.
One cobra equals to one portion of cobra skewers, that consists of 9 pieces. Although it was about 2 meters long, the whole body mostly contains of bone and the organs inside, which are definitely inedible. The only meaty part is located in the outer part attached to the bone, which is not as much as I thought.
Watching the whole process of turning the venomous predator to be on our dinner plate is either curiosity or something too hard to handle, depending on your personal perspectives.
One of the tour members mentioned about her friend, who had severe acne problem and her prescribed medicines didn’t work, was advised to drink snake blood and bile, but not necessarily the meat. After consuming them regularly, the acne turned dry and gradually peeled off from her skin. Doing so was the last option for her, so eerie and disgusted feeling were swept away by the sense of urgency to get cured.
The vendor justified her story. He added a notion that many of his customers are women having skin problems.
THE TASTE OF ADVENTURE
We were so carried away witnessing the slaughter show that we almost forgot asking about where the blood and bile drink were. It turned out that he only knew that we didn’t want to consume it, but he didn’t get the idea that we still wanted to take a picture of them in the mug . He gave it to the parking lot caretaker instead, who apparently often volunteers to drink them every time customers are not willing to.
One of us asked the parking lot guy how it tasted.
“Nothing really special, just like Vicks Formula 44.” He replied.
Vicks Formula 44 is a liquid cough medicine, that can be obtained easily in drug stores without prescription. Well, I’m not a fan of the taste of any cough medicine, but it gave me an impression that drinking snake blood and bile doesn’t taste terrible at all.
Grilling the skewers took about 20 minutes and added with sweet soy sauce when served to our table. It looked and tasted exactly the same as chicken skewers, and the plus point is that it was completely fresh. Nonetheless, it was more chewy than chicken, but not as chewy as crocodile meat in Cambodia. I remember trying fried snake with turmeric spices many years ago elsewhere and the meat was much more tender than the skewers.
Eventually, some tour members dare to get some bites from us. They said that it’s just like chicken, but the only problem is that they still can’t get rid of the memory of how the cobra is “processed” into food.
Apart from food, Cobra 34 Pais also offers medical products, among others Kapsul Cobra (Cobra Capsule), Minyak Bulus (Softshell Turtle Oil) and Salep Cobra (Cobra Balm). I tried the Cobra Balm, that merely costs Rp. 30.000 ($2) per bottle. Using cobra oil as the main ingredient, Cobra Balm solves skin problems, such as skin allergies, acne, itchy, chapped skin, wounds and so on. I use it to cure acne problems and it works pretty well for me.
In a nutshell, I can guarantee the freshness of the food from Cobra 34 Pais since I witnessed the whole process from the start. All you need to do is to prepare yourself to see how it’s made. Otherwise, you can turn your back away when it’s in progress or watch it blindfolded.
Have a great dining adventure!
Cobra 34 (Pais)
Address: Mangga Besar Raya, West Jakarta, Indonesia
Tel: +62 812 8777 5387
Opening Hours: 5 pm – midnight