Muara Karang, a historic Jakarta fish market

If you have yet to visit the historic fish market, you truly are missing a plethora of sights and smells not seen many other places. Expect to partake of the freshest seafood around, right on the edge of the fish market, surrounded by muddy streets and the stench of fish around you.

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And, unlike other restaurants where you just wait for your dishes to be served, you are also going to have to select and buy your own fish here. But one thing is a sure bet, freshness is guaranteed because you will have chosen and bought freshly caught fish directly from the fish auction market. Muara Karang is located north of Jakarta and is accessible by driving to Pluit, then proceeding to the market by following the directions. Muara Karang is best visited during the evenings. Sparkling lights along the entrance road to Muara Karang prepare you for the beautiful experience ahead. The lights belong to the fish traders and their colorful umbrellas.

Upon entering the warehouse-like main market, the sheer vastness of the place was nearly overwhelming. There must have been hundreds of fisherman and dockworkers engaged in the night’s work. Makeshift aisles separated each worker’s wares from another’s. From what I’ve heard, the fishermen make their way into shore in late evening, and continue to arrive well into the night. Those seeking the most action would be well advised to arrive somewhere between 8pm and 12am.

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Jakarta’s seafood fanatics are familiar with this place and some stop by here just to enjoy the ambiance while others come here to buy their fish. The market was brimming with sea life so vibrant and multifarious that you can’t help but wonder how it’s possible to obtain such creatures from the murky depths of the waters surrounding Java: Shark, squid, eels, rays, and an array of fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes await those adventurous enough to enter this startling place.

Fishermen the world-over have a culture all their own, a language which outsiders are not privy to, and a sense of humor which may be defined by some as crude. Nonetheless, these men and women of the dock deserve respect for continuing a tradition that likely has not kept pace with the rest of Jakarta. The working conditions they endure, the night shift that keeps them from their families, and the overall tenacity of their lifestyle is something most of us will never properly relate to.

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Take a journey back in time, slow the pace for a while. The fish market of Sunda Kelapa is only minutes from Jakarta. Experience yet another part of what makes Jakarta special. Have a glimpse into the lives of these fishermen, have a laugh with them, and feast upon the pride of their efforts.

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