Re//Store Sisterhood: Jamu Kitchen
The first time Jamu Kitchen came onto my radar was during my regular Druid Street Market stroll, one of my favourite food markets in London where great food initiatives and craftsmanship sit next to each other under fine curation by the people behind food culture magazine At The Table. Tanita de Ruijt, the founder and creative brains behind Jamu Kitchen was selling her first tonic “Jamu” at this market, and I bought one, brought it home and loved it. I was already in the routine of faithfully commencing my day by making lemon, ginger turmeric water in the mornings to kickstart the day but they faded in comparison to the fullness of flavour of Tanita’s jamu. I wasn’t surprised to see her tonics are now stocked in several London shops ranging from Wholefoods to Harrods.
Turmeric has kicked off being the super foods root of the year with many health benefits such as it being high in anti-oxidants, it works as an anti-inflammatory and has great healing powers overall. Turmeric is the essential ingredient in Jamu Kitchen’s first tonic that she learnt to make whilst travelling in Bali. As stated on her website: “Jamu is a 5,000 year-old system of natural healing from Indonesia, similar to Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India. It relies solely on the power of roots, herbs, spices and barks to cure whatever ails you. Turmeric Tamarind Tonic is the most popular type of Jamu in Indonesia. It’s made at home according to sacred family recipes passed down from generation to generation, and sold hawker-style to nearby neighbours and friends throughout the islands of Bali and Java.”
She has recently expanded her tonic menu with a Lemon Grass Ginger tonic and we can expect many more naturopathic medicinal goodness coming our way.
I met Tanita in one of my favourite East London places, Raw Duck, around the corner of her working station. This place has it all, plants, fermentation stations, a great food menu, kombucha and natural wine.
How would you describe your personal style?
Sort of a little bit tomboyish and a little bit fun? The standard uniform is 501 cutoff jeans, turtlenecks and converse. I have a thing for quirky trousers. I love the 90’s. Patricia Arquette (True Romance), Cameron Diaz (The Mask), and Alexandra Spencer in general are #goals. If I’m dressing up, it’s mostly all black everything.
What made you decide to start making tonics? And what inspires you at the start of a new tonic idea?
I wouldn’t say it was a planned venture. I have always had a thing for Asian food culture – it’s their concept of balance in particular that really does it for me. Their approach is incredibly mindful. Taste always comes first, and health benefits are assumed. We can learn so much from that.
I was travelling in Bali when I first discovered Turmeric Tamarind Tonic. Indonesia has a lesser-known system of traditional medicine similar to Ayurveda, known as Jamu. It’s all about using herbs and spices to support the immune system and prevent common ailments. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, and the TTT is their most popular type of remedy.
The tonics are sold very hawker-style on the streets by women from the back of their mopeds or bicycles. A lady would come by the homestay every morning, ring her bell, and pour out a wicked potion or two to cure any particular ails I may have had. I enjoyed it so much I asked her to show me how to make some, and she did.
It wasn’t until I was back home brewing tonic in my own kitchen that friends convinced me to start selling it at the market. That’s when I officially started the Jamu Kitchen. My tonics are always based on remedies from traditional systems of medicine. I take traditional recipes and make them somewhat tastier or more interesting by adapting them somehow, but always making sure to retain the key medicinal elements. I guess it’s as simple as making something that’s medicinal tasting more palatable, so that we actually want to drink it, everyday. It’s a more sustainable approach to health.
When you develop your recipes and produce your tonics do you have a sustainable approach? And how do you put this in process?
By making jamu I feel that I’m somehow doing my part in preserving some very fundamental traditional food wisdoms that are quickly disappearing.
I buy a lot of my spices and ingredients from the local market in Dalston, the Vietnamese Supermarkets on Mare Street and other independents around to support the community. Our turmeric waste also gets composted around the borough of Hackney.
What are your favourite elements of your job? And biggest Challenge?
The creative freedom and variety of what I do is definitely up there. Everyday is different and I’m continuously learning. Being at the stage where I’m able to have an idea and launch it on a shelf within a small matter of time is something I’m really proud of. The biggest challenge is working alone and making 101 decisions per day based on your gut instinct, and separating work from play, especially when work is play.
What role does yoga play in your life?
Being in uncomfortable positions on the mat helps me deal with uncomfortable situations off the mat. I’ve learnt a lot about myself from yoga, it’s very confrontational. It’s my kind of therapy.
Do you practice mindfulness and in what way?
Making tonic is a form of meditation in a way. That may sound deep, but consider washing bottles, blending all my ingredients, brewing the tonic, filling bottles, labelling bottles, capping them, packing them into cases… it truly is a (yellow) hands-on labour of love.
I savour every last drop of tonic after that kind of effort. Everybody should make everything they love to eat or drink at least once, or delve into how it’s made, grown or raised in one way or another. The process takes that appreciation to new levels. You can’t help but be mindful.
Here’s a challenge: eat as much junk food as you like, but make sure you make all of it all from scratch.
What is your favourite indulgence within the world of wellness?
It’s probably organic/natural skincare. I’m an absolute sucker, especially for the Korean stuff. They even ferment their ingredients. Everything I buy is all about getting glowy. I like a lot of active ingredients in everything I use—I want whatever I put on my skin to be working harder than I am. I’m basically waiting to find the product that’s going to take care of my skin and also pay my taxes for me.
Where do you go when you want to find inspiration in London?
Hipster cafes are my achilles heel. But they’re not usually where I find my inspiration. When not making tonic, you’ll probably find me at a Chinese supermarket somewhere scanning the isle for something weird and wonderful/ googling translations for unusual thai herbs on my iPhone. Or in New Malden eating Korean food.
What do you listen to at the moment?
Sampha, Frank Ocean, Solange, Mac Miller, Drake… that sort thing. TLC radio on Spotify is also very much my jam.
Being in uncomfortable positions on the matt helps me deal with uncomfortable situations off the matt. I’ve learnt a lot about myself from yoga, it’s very confrontational. It’s my kind of therapy.
Where do you go to shop for clothes / accessories?
I absolutely love Nordic Poetry at Boxpark in Shoreditch. Such a gem for selected vintage pieces. I’m going to regret telling anybody this…
And wellness / organic food / crystal shops…
For fruit and veg galore it’s all about Newington Green, fruits & vegetables shop on Newington green road. The one on Church Street is pretty good too.
Who would you like to see on here in the future? (Somebody within the world of wellness / sustainability, all fields)
Mimi Elashiry. Love her.
What is your favourite plant based / Vegetarian recipe?
I recently stumbled across this Kimchi-Miso dip recipe on Munchies. It tastes like doritos… Think of it as a guilty pleasure, but with nothing in it that warrants actually feeling guilty about.
2 tablespoons white miso paste
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
250ml any neutral oil
1 large cucumber, sliced
1. In a high-powered blender or a mini food processor, combine the kimchi, vinegar, miso paste, oil, and 2 tablespoons water and blend until smooth. If you’d like, transfer the dressing to a squeeze bottle.
2. To serve, transfer kimchi dip to a small bowl and transfer cucumbers to a serving platter for dipping.
Thank you so much for the lovely interview Tanita! It was lovely chatting to you!