Fishermen’a Wharf in San Francisco and Tsukiji Market in Tokyo are known as the most popular fish markets destined for tourists worldwide. They may not be my most preferred travel destinations, yet mouthwatering fresh seafood they offer manages to attract me to the market.
Inspired by Tsukiji Market, Indonesia’s President Jokowi inaugurated Pasar Ikan Modern Muara Baru (Muara Baru Modern Fish Market) in March 2019. I wonder whether fish markets in Jakarta will be ready to be the next iconic travel destination just like what the president has been dreaming of, since fish markets in the country has (unfortunately) always been associated with unpleasant fishy smell, untreated and dirty environment.
As my curiosity arises, I joined the night culinary tour from Wisata Kreatif Jakarta, that happened to make Pasar Ikan Modern Muara Baru as the main destination.
Situated on Jalan Muara Baru No. 27, North Jakarta, Pasar Ikan Modern Muara Baru is a 3-storey-building with 894 wet kiosks, 155 dry kiosks, a wide parking lot, a mosque, a clinic, ATM machines and a food court. For stall owners, there is a cold storage, a packing room and a meeting room.
The market offers a wide range of fish and seafood products, from squids, prawns, lobster, fish, crabs, osyters, to clams in affordable price. For instance, pomfret fish for Rp. 30,000 ($2) per kg and squids starting from Rp. 40,000 to Rp. 60,000 ($3 to $5) per kg.
For sure, you can always bargain to get the best price. A middle-aged woman in our group had an interesting experience related to bargaining. The seller finally knocked the price down for her just because of her gender. Ladies’ night at the bar is something common, but I didn’t know there’s a ladies’ special at the fish market. Most probably it’s just one of the seller’s trick to lure female customers like our friend.
While other buyers consider bargaining is part of the fun, I myself enjoy more looking at the fish having odd size and shape, like moonfish for example, with its rounded, flat shape and moon-like surface. I saw a visitor striking a pose holding the odd-sized fish facing in front of the camera, while some others pretend to cut the fish.
I don’t know about you, but posing with dead fish is not really the way I show my interest. I prefer to observe and immortalize daily activities of the merchants with my camera, from slashing fish, bargaining with future buyers until carrying buckets of fish on their shoulders. I believe the fish market could be a great destination for hunting human interest photography theme.
Nonetheless, the open air food court upstairs is the favorite spot of the fish market because visitors can have their raw fish fried or grilled in an affordable additional cost, from Rp. 15,000 to Rp. 25,000 ($1 to $2). The price includes choices of sauce, such as Padang-style sauce, oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce and sweet sour sauce. Dining at the food court is a practical option for those who are starving but too lazy to cook.
The market opens from 5 pm until midnight, whose peak hour is at 7 pm. To dine in at the food court, I advice you to come before 7 pm. Especially if you want to have your fish products grilled, as it takes longer than frying them. Some of our tour members waited for their food for almost an hour because it was being processed at about 7 pm.
Generally speaking, Muara Baru Modern Fish Market is able to change my perception about fish markets in Indonesia. It is more spacious than any other markets in the country with cleaner and more comfortable environment, from the stalls area until the food court. I find the open air food court a nice place to hang out with friends and families.
However, a fish market is a fish market, not a shopping mall. No one can totally avoid fishy puddle from melted ice cubes. Therefore, the golden rules still apply. Mountain sandals and waterproof boots are the best footwear to the market. Don’t forget to choose comfortable and sweat absorbing t-shirts.
I hope Muara Baru Modern Fish Market will always be clean and comfortable in the long run and become a new must-visit destination for both local and international tourists. Undoubtedly, it needs collaboration and consciousness from all parties. The fish market management needs to control their tenants during operational hours, as well as to put them and their visitors in order by setting rules to abide. On the other hand, tenants should realize that the rules are made for their own good in the end, not to restrain their freedom to do business.
Last but not least, consciousness from visitors’ side really helps a lot to make the president’s dream (probably citizens of Jakarta as well) come true by not littering on the floor, for example, and bring your shopping bag to reduce plastic waste. Especially, the local government forbids their use in shopping malls and markets, though I believe some still break the rules (as usual).
In a nutshell, going to a fish market could be a fun and activity entertaining activity, not only for the sake of doing a grocery. Please beware, citizens of Jakarta and tourists outside Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta travel destinations is more than just shopping malls and Kota Tua (Old Town).
This article is based on the published article I wrote for telusuri.id (Indonesian only)