Take a wrong turn down north Jakarta’s traffic-choked streets and not only will you be met by the antiquated charm of the street food “warung” and the beaming toothless smiles of vendors, but you could also stumble upon a myriad less pleasant hazards, including a restaurant with walls that wriggle.

In the Big Durian, it’s not the DIY pedestrian crossings, unapologetically ruthless go-jek drivers or mysterious Jakartan illness known as “masuk angin” that should worry you. The most dangerous thing in Jakarta is in a 40-year-old restaurant wedged between a derelict house and street food diner.

It’s there that the local delicacy has everyone talking. King Cobra House on Jalan Mangga Besar Raya boasts an exotic assortment of snake-related delicacies, but it’s satay king cobra — killed fresh — that is the most popular choice for locals and tourists. One customer edges the morsel into his mouth, saying that it tastes like chicken, but it’s much, much bonier.

The parched, peeling wallpaper and oppressively narrow shape of the restaurant adds to the atmosphere of doom. But it’s not until you take a stroll to the toilet and peek into the dozens of cages with walls that slither that the fear really sets in. The restaurant is donned with minimalist plastic and wooden decor, and the walls adorned with “oleh-oleh” made from all things snake related. While my skin is crawling, the chef is wrangling the nearest snake, and I’m left wondering whether this is legal. Stare into the kitchen for long enough and you’ll see cobras being ruthlessly decapitated and their blood being drained into teacups.

Watch the video above: A visit to King Cobra House

The restaurant’s second specialty, cobra blood shots, are served with a side of still beating heart. While my vegetarian alarm bells are ringing and I’m ready to bolt for the nearest exist, the locals are unfazed. The king cobra is not a protected snake in Indonesia, and folklore says that the delicacy increases stamina and purifies human blood.

The cashier is adorned with an impressive array of medicines derived from the creatures, many of which have sold out. According to the manager, the concoction can cure allergies and heart problems, among other benefits.

But obtaining the prized possession comes with a price. A job at the King Cobra House isn’t for the faint-hearted. While staff say chopping the venomous head off is a foolproof way to safely eat the morsel, not every cobra has gone down without a fight. According to the manager, one staff member was bitten by the deadly snake, but was later stabilised after emergency first aid was administered and a doctor visited.

In a city that’s on steroids, it shouldn’t be surprising that almost everything you come across seems to be a risk to your person. But for the unsuspecting tourist, it’s the inexplicably and unapologetically chaotic streets of Jakarta that make it a field day for the brave. Taking a wrong turn down a Jakarta back street might just be the best, or worst, thing you ever did. And don’t be surprised if you get ushered into the nearest restaurant, and your meal is three metres long and a force to be reckoned with.

Peter Fray

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