Jakarta Ramadan bazaar feels the pinch

Shoppers at the Benhil bazaar in Jakarta. Stallholders say they have been forced to raise prices due to rising costs. This has hurt sales. Still, stalls at Ramadan bazaars remain profitable, with vendors able to make many times what they would in a normal month.

JAKARTA - For an entire month, Bendungan Hilir in central Jakarta transforms into the capital's largest Ramadan food bazaar, with some 100 food stalls offering a wide range of food and drinks, from grilled fish to sticky rice treats and sweet porridge.

The Benhil bazaar, as residents call it, has been around since the 1990s but stallholders say they are feeling the impact of rising costs, which force them to raise prices, as well as greater competition from bazaars nearby.

"We are definitely seeing fewer customers. We won't achieve what we took in last year," says Ms Rian Aizir Nailis, 25, who sells bubur kampiun with her mother.

The local delicacy consists of porridge made from rice flour mixed with brown sugar, and is commonly prepared only during the fasting month, which began on July 10 this year.

But higher prices - a cup now costs 10,000 ru-piah (S$1.20), up from 8,000 rupiah (S$0.96) last year - have hurt sales.

To rent a stall - a 1m by 1.2m table - for the month costs 2.5 million rupiah (S$300). That is up from two million rupiah (S$240) last year, and 1.8 million rupiah (S$216) the year before.

"Last year, our gross takings were 50 million rupiah (S$6,000). This year, we'll probably see 40 million rupiah (S$4,800) if we're lucky," Ms Rian says.

Still, stalls at Ramadan bazaars remain profitable, with vendors able to make many times what they would in a normal month. These crop up all over Jakarta, with other popular ones in Tebet in South Jakarta and Jatinegara in East Jakarta.

In recent years, a number of large office buildings in the city centre have followed the trend, turning one corner of their carpark into a bazaar.

These bazaars have taken some business from Benhil bazaar.

Mr Umama Abubakar Sidik, 54, who sells packs of ikan bilis, says his sales are now about half of what they were three years ago. This year is his seventh appearance at the Benhil bazaar.

"There are more and more food bazaars everywhere now - including at the office buildings there," he says, pointing to Bank Rakyat Indonesia's office a 10-minute walk away.

But Ms Yarnis, 60, says business is still good at her tapai lemang stall. Tapai lemang is sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan, heated in bamboo stem, and served with fermented sticky rice sauce.

"Bazaars will always attract customers. We're still having good turnover here," she says.

Mr Syahrul, an organiser of the Benhil bazaar, says that one in every four stallholders is a housewife trying her luck, while the rest are seasoned traders with permanent businesses elsewhere.

While occupants who have rented a stall in the past get preferred treatment, applications to rent a stall are still on a first-come-first-served basis, he adds.

Vendors can start selling food and drinks from around 11am, and usually clear up by 7pm.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg


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