Firm breasts, clear skin: Claims of Jakarta's snake blood salesmen
On any given day on Jalan Mangga Besar in Jakarta, dusk brings a scurry of activity from street stall owners.
Food vendors roll their carts out and start chopping and frying. Fresh juice vendors squeeze and pour.
And between stands of fried rice, tropical fruit and seafood, sharp-eyed travelers in this area in the center-north of the city will spot large cages full of black cobras, slithering and climbing, their tongues flicking between the cage bars.
For vendors like Dani, who owns one of the half dozen cobra stalls on the street, there is nothing terrifying or strange about the cages sitting on the ground on the side of the busy road.
This is his livelihood.
The cobra stalls all open around 5 p.m. and see a steady stream of business until 1 a.m.
The cloth signs that hang over their stalls feature drawings of cobras with bright red eyes and promise traditional medicines and other exotic menu items including lizards, monkeys and bats.
But most customers are here for the cobras.
In one night, vendors can make INR 500,000-1 million (US$55-111). Customers return nightly to drink cobra blood shots, eat cobra meat satay and buy medicines that are stacked in plastic containers on the wooden tables in the middle of the stalls.
As I talk to Dani he rattles off a list of health benefits that come from downing a shot of cobra blood and using the other snake products he has for sale.
Men can expect increased sexual stamina, women firmer breasts, as well as clear, smooth skin. Cobra blood can also cure eczema and arthritis, he claims.
For a more formal experience, a sit-down cobra restaurant, King Cobra, is also located on the street and features an extensive menu with a variety of snakes including pythons.
Just be careful where you step on Mangga Besar Street. One vendor, who goes by the name of Cobra, smiles and says occasionally the snakes escape from their cages.
Dani arrives at his stall with a green mesh bag full of snakes. He dunks the bag into a bucket of water to give the snakes a bath before putting them into a cage.
When customers take a seat at his stall, which Dani has run for the past nine years, he pulls out a cobra and tapes its mouth so it doesn't spit at him.
Dani’s assistant, Beke, often multitasks, texting on his phone in one hand while holding a cobra in the other.
Vendors try to select the most docile snake, one that will not begin moving frantically when the time comes to lay them out on the wooden chopping block.
When a customer orders a cobra blood shot, the butcher's knife comes out.
Some vendors insert the snake head into a wooden clamp, while others hold the snakes steady with their bare hands until the knife swings down. At the King Cobra Restaurant, colorful striped snakes (pictured) are on the menu.
After the head is detached, the tongue often keeps moving and the head wriggles around the chopping board for several minutes before coming to a rest.
The headless snake body is handled with care to ensure none of the valuable blood is lost.
Every last drop of blood is poured into a teacup. Cobra blood shots are popular with customers and most vendors kill at least 10 snakes a night.
Women drink the cobra blood in hopes of having smooth, healthy looking skin while most men hope they will gain more energy and sexual stamina.
Vendors do not feed the snakes beforehand because they do not want clients receiving a half-digested mouse with their blood.
Although Islam forbids drinking blood, a vendor claims that when it is done for health reasons an allowance is made.
The cobra blood is mixed with arak, a liquor made from palm, and parts of the snake. The cobra blood is thick and tastes like the alcohol it is mixed with. Vendors offer cups of water as a chaser.
Founded in 1965, the King Cobra Restaurant, located at number 93, has a backroom full of cages with many varieties of snakes.
A worker pulls a giant python from its cage and methodically kills it and takes out the gallbladder. A combination drink selling for INR 250,000 (US$27.25) contains bile from the gallbladder of a python, black cobra, and a striped cobra.
For customers not interested in drinking snake blood, ointments, oils, and medicinal capsules all made from snakes are also sold at every stand for around INR 18,500 (US$2) a piece.
Bags full of shredded lizard, said to be good for your skin, and other exotic items are also available.
Devi is one of only two women who work at the cobra stalls. After killing a snake for a blood shot, she skins it and begins cutting up the meat into small pieces.
She balances her plate of meat on top of a cobra cage while she skewers the meat onto sticks that will be cooked over hot coals when a customer orders a serving.
On the street a serving of cobra meat satay sells for INR 20,000 (US$2.20) and at the King Cobra Restaurant it goes for a dollar more.
A side of peanut sauce and sweet soy sauce is paired with the chewy meat that tastes a lot like chicken. One vendor proudly says that even after selling snake products for 11 years, cobra satay is still his favorite meal.
Jalan Mangga Besar Raya is in northern Jakarta and the best way to find the cobra stalls is to ask a taxi. Alternatively, take the TransJakarta busway to the Mangga Besar stop and then walk north. Istana Raja Cobra (King Cobra Restaurant) is located at Jalan Mangga Besar Raya No. 93.