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Avocados Go Sweet, Not Savory, in Indonesia

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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.
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).

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.

The Woman Who Changed the Way We Think About Indonesian Food
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The Woman Who Changed the Way We Think About Indonesian Food

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.

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.

Matcha-Avocado Smoothie
Matcha-Avocado Smoothie

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.

Iced Coffee with Avocado (Es Alpukat Kopi Susu)
Iced Coffee with Avocado (Es Alpukat Kopi Susu)

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.

Matcha-Avocado Smoothie

Matcha-Avocado Smoothie

Pat Tanumihardja Pat Tanumihardja
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Serves 2
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • Honey, to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes
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Iced Coffee with Avocado (Es Alpukat Kopi Susu)

Iced Coffee with Avocado (Es Alpukat Kopi Susu)

Pat Tanumihardja Pat Tanumihardja
Go To Recipe
Serves 2
  • 1 teaspoon coconut palm or light brown sugar, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk (I like the Chaokoh brand)
  • 1/2 cup coconut water
  • Chocolate syrup
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, halved and pitted
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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Avocado, Coffee, Travel