Rizki Fachriansyah, Jakarta – This article is part of The Jakarta Post's "Forging the New Norm" special coverage series, on how people are forging their lives anew to adjust to the new realities of COVID-19 in Indonesia.
As Indonesians adjust to the reality of life in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, frozen precooked meals seem to be winning the hearts of many people who want to keep their taste buds pampered without much hassle.
For Salmin Haris, a private employee in Jakarta who has been working from home since the onset of the virus outbreak, frozen meals have become something of a godsend amid limited culinary options during quarantine.
"I have grown to love frozen meatballs and sausages during the quarantine period. They add so much variety to what I eat every day. It's also fairly easy to cook them – it really is a no-brainer," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
He went on to say that scouring various social media channels to look for enticing frozen meals had recently become his favorite pastime as he could no longer frequent his favorite restaurants due to the pandemic.
In response to ever-increasing demand for pre-cooked meals in recent months, a growing string of established food franchises and family-run eateries offer their customers an entire menu of frozen foods since the coronavirus restrictions have forced them to temporarily close their brick-and-mortar outlets.
Restaurant chain Es Teler 77, for instance, offers frozen versions of its popular menu items to its customers in Greater Jakarta through social media platforms since late March.
Es Teler 77 marketing manager Arlene Clarissa said the company had noticed an upward trend in frozen food sales as people were made to stay indoors and work from home.
"We've seen that our customers crave for our products, but they are unable to go out and eat at [our outlets]. So, we thought it would be convenient if we offered them our frozen products that they can immediately enjoy at home," she told the Post.
Arlene said that the restaurant chain sold hundreds of frozen food products to its customers in Greater Jakarta per week, with several of its signature dishes – meatballs, scallops and chicken noodles – becoming best-sellers.
Amid rising demand, she said the company was set to offer its frozen products through a number of e-commerce platforms this month.
"We will continue to offer our frozen products even after the pandemic has abated. Our customers may rest assured that our virtual outlets on Tokopedia, Shopee and Blibli will be officially registered as official stores," Arlene said, adding that the company also planned to offer the frozen products to customers outside of Greater Jakarta once the health crisis ended.
The pandemic has also given birth to new businesses that specifically offer frozen food.
As the number of COVID-19 cases and casualties in Jakarta continued to increase, Fanny Jasslyn Halim decided to quit her job as a marketing officer at a private company that still required her to work in the field.
Her immediate plan was originally to help her mother manage her family's own eatery in Cengkareng, West Jakarta. However, the family-run restaurant was soon forced to shut down indefinitely due to the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), leaving her with no choice but to improvise amid the dire state of affairs.
"We figured that we could still keep our business afloat by preparing and selling frozen food to our neighbors and closest relatives instead. To our surprise, our products [sold by] word of mouth," Fanny told the Post.
Fanny said she used that momentum to set up a virtual eatery on Instagram in April to showcase and promote their menu to the social media platform's vast user base.
Dubbed Samcan Mami, the digital restaurant now ships an average of 1,000 crispy fried pork and chicken per week.
"There has definitely been a significant increase in sales as people continue to stay at home. We also noticed that some people even resold our frozen products as they were left with limited sources of income amid the pandemic," Fanny said.
Flora Chrisantie, a Jakartan originally from Bandung, has been busy helping her West Jakarta neighbors who crave their favorite food from Bandung. Many Jakartans spend weekends in Bandung and most of them have favorite foods that can only be found in the West Java capital. However, the social restrictions have made such trips unwise.
A graduate of food technology from Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), Flora coordinated orders for food, some frozen, through WhatsApp groups and arranged boxed deliveries of several famous brands of Bandung batagor (fried fish cake) and baked goods from popular Bandung shops Primarasa and Bawean.
Weekly, she sent food to 10 to 30 neighbors and friends. She was happy to do it even though she did not gain a profit. She even helped restaurants package food so it would not spoil. "Once, a neighbor craved an expensive special soup from their favorite restaurant in Bandung. I called the restaurant and taught the owner how to treat and package the soup so it would arrive unspoiled. It was a successful mission," she said.
Masakan Omah, another family-run eatery that offers frozen precooked dishes, was also born amid the current quarantine culture.
Priskilla Wanda and her cousin Olivia Ivanka teamed up to found Masakan Omah in early April to cater to the needs of people living under quarantine who had had to contend with limited food options.
"We want people who have limited cooking skills to still be able to enjoy their favorite homemade meals, especially as they spend Ramadan at home," Priskilla told the Post.
She went on to say that their customers had mostly ordered frozen West Sumatran-beef rendang, fried chicken and spicy shrimps during the pandemic.
"Our frozen food sales have increased toward Lebaran [Idul Fitri]. Many of our customers order our products as gifts for their relatives on Idul Fitri," Priskilla said, adding that Masakan Omah had shipped an average of 500 food packages as of Tuesday.