The Symbolism of Crocodile Bread: Jakarta, West Java

In Jakarta, a man who can’t be loyal to a woman is often referred to as a buaya darat (land crocodile). The Betawi, native Jakartans, have a different opinion of this ferocious-looking reptile. Two pieces of sweetened bread in the shape of crocodiles are a must at every Betawi traditional wedding ceremony, as the reptile is believed to represent loyalty and long life. In the wild, a male crocodile mates with the same female for life and protects her and their eggs.

According to Betawi elders, there were once many crocodiles in rivers around Jakarta. The reptiles were regarded as the sacred protectors of the formerly swampy areas according to Agnes Winarti.

“Every year, when Betawi people’s traditional wedding season arrives, we receive loads of orders to make crocodile bread pairs,” Pak Utel, an employee at a home bakery located at Jl. Petamburan 5 in Central Jakarta, said.

When asked when the Batawi wedding season was, Utel and two of his colleagues, Kanta and Yus, grinned.

“During every rainy season, before and after the Idul Fitri celebration,” they said.

During this romance season, there are two to three pairs of crocodile bread ordered by customers every day.

“The crocodile bread is a necessary ornament in both traditional weddings and pre-wedding ceremonies,” Yus said.

The home bakery sells a pair of the one-meter long crocodile bread with no filling for Rp 150,000 (US$16.50).

“After being displayed during the wedding party, the bread is divided among family members and eaten,” Kanta said.

Since the bakery opened in the 1970s, orders for the wedding bread have gradually decreased, Utel said.

Kanta said the business could not survive by only selling the pre-ordered bread.

A well-known bakery in Cikini, Tan Ek Tjoan, sells 70-centimeter-long chocolate-filled crocodile bread for Rp 225,000 a pair.

Supervisor at Tan Ek Tjoan bread shop and factory, Thio Sin Yoh, said her crocodile bread customers often kept coming back over the decades.

“Customers who buy our crocodile bread are usually those who once bought it for their own wedding and their children’s, and now for their grandchildren’s,” Sin Yoh said.

Just like the home bakery in Petamburan, the largest sized crocodile bread can only be pre-ordered, at least two days prior to the event.

“We don’t make large crocodile bread if there are no customer orders,” Sin Yoh said.

Tan Ek Tjoan bakery, open since 1958, also sells small crocodile bread for Rp 5,000 at its shop in Cikini in Central Jakarta.

“Children usually like the shape of tiny crocodiles,” Sin Yoh said, adding the shop’s adult customers bought their grandchildren the smaller sized crocodile bread.

Other home bakeries like the one in Petamburan also sell smaller-sized crocodile bread around Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta.

Yus, who was packing sweet bread in the Petamburan shop, said: “Sometimes I see vendors sell the bread door-to-door to children around kampungs in Tanah Abang.”