Avocados Go Sweet, Not Savory, in Indonesia

May  4, 2018

I can still remember the first time someone asked if I wanted avocado on my sandwich. I’d been in Seattle barely a month, and I was still adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road and all that. “Yet another cultural quirk!” I thought to myself.

To clarify, avocados were not new to me. It was quite the contrary. Avocados are cheap and abundant in Indonesia, where I am from. But no one ate them in savory dishes—not in guacamole, not in California rolls, and definitely not on toast.

That's chocolate sauce on that avo. Photo by Rocky Luten

My previous dalliances with avocado involved chocolate syrup, jackfruit, and lots of condensed milk. I was accustomed to avocado (called alpukat in Indonesian) blended into shakes (jus alpukat)—just like the ones you find at a bubble tea shop—or served in a refreshing milky drink with coffee and chocolate syrup (es alpukat kopi susu).

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These sweet treats were a far cry from the savory avocado options I came across when I first moved to the U.S. two decades ago. Intrigued, I decided to get to the bottom of this divide.

Native to Mexico, the avocado was brought to Indonesia by Spanish merchants around 1750. Until the 1990’s, avocado trees were grown primarily in home gardens. Although avocado is now cultivated throughout the archipelago, and Indonesia is the fifth largest world producer of the fruit (after Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Colombia), it hasn’t always been so popular.

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“Avocado smoothie! Chocolate was swirled around the inside of the glass and then the smoothie poured in. Oh My God! So good! Thanks for reminding me of this sweet memory. ”
— Patty K.

Unlike other tropical fruits like jackfruit, mangoes, and papaya, the avocado is neither sweet nor juicy. This is a huge shortcoming, especially on the island of Java, where most of the country’s avocados are grown. (Don’t underestimate the Javanese sweet tooth.)

To encourage local consumption, the avocado had to be gussied up. One method: Blend them into a shake. Even the blandest of avocados can produce a smooth, creamy shake, because sugar and chocolate do the rest of the job. In 1982, Murniati Widjaja’s sweet milky cocktail of avocado, jackfruit, coconut meat, and jellies (es teler) won a nation-wide competition to become the national drink. But avocados only really took off when an enterprising entrepreneur started a food stall franchise selling es teler (called Es Teler 77), now a fixture in food courts all over Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

The rest is history.

Today, avocado drinks are ubiquitous in Indonesia, whether you’re sitting at a rickety wooden table in a warung (small, family-owned business), or dining at a batik-clothed table in Jakarta’s fanciest hotel restaurant. These drinks are not usually ordered as a post-meal treat but as an accompaniment to the meal, just as you’d order a soda in the U.S., or as a mid-day pick-me-up.

Unlike milkshakes or smoothies in the U.S., an avocado “shake” doesn’t usually contain ice cream or yogurt. Instead, it relies on avocado for richness and body. When blended with ice cubes, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate syrup, and/or sugar, this creamy, delectable concoction rivals the thickest milkshake you can get stateside. But I like the tang of yogurt in smoothies, so the avocado-matcha smoothie recipe below has the best of both worlds—plenty of milk and some condensed milk, too, as well as yogurt.

While the “shake”—like the matcha-avocado smoothie recipe provided below—is very popular, some people prefer es alpukat kerok, where avocado flesh is scraped (“kerok”) into a glass and swirled with the following: milk, sugar, condensed milk, and/or coffee, and served over ice.

Coffee isn’t mandatory in es alpukat. That’s just how I fancy mine. In fact, not everyone is fussy about the type of coffee; instant coffee and 3-in-1 coffee are common. However, I believe in a strong, fresh brew—either espresso or French-pressed—and that’s what you’ll find in my recipe. You can also choose to add young coconut meat, herbal jelly, toddy palm, or coconut milk for a heartier mélange. Avocado absorbs the flavor of its partners in crime, making it the perfect foil for any of these tasty ingredients.

However you choose to make your avocado drink—Javanese-level sweet, super chocolatey, or with a punch of coffee—consider these two recipes are just a jumping off point to making your new favorite dessert.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Patty Kirby
    Patty Kirby
  • healthierkitchen
  • Matt
  • Pat Tanumihardja
    Pat Tanumihardja
Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, I'm a food and travel writer, author of "Farm to Table Asian Secrets" (Tuttle Publishing, 2017) and "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 2009) . My Asian Instant Pot cookbook will launch in May 2020. Find simple Asian-inspired recipes on


Patty K. August 3, 2018
I spent 6 weeks in Indonesia working with a medical team after the tsunami. Our special treat was to get a smoothie at a local shop. Avocado smoothie! Chocolate was swirled around the inside of the glass and then the smoothie poured in. Oh My God! So good! Thanks for reminding me of this sweet memory.
healthierkitchen May 9, 2018
Pat, I'm going to have to make that iced coffee!
Pat T. June 3, 2018
Let me know what you think!
Matt May 6, 2018
I have avocado and jackfruit in my freezer, so es teler is def on my menu this week
Matt June 3, 2018
Update: I tried this. It was very bad. Wish I hadn't wasted my ingredients.
Pat T. June 3, 2018
I’m sorry you didn’t like it, Matt :(. Which recipe did you try?