TOP 5 TIPS to enjoying Indonesian Street Food Title Pic

One of the things I love about travelling in Indonesia is the diversity of cuisines from across the archipelago that are so readily available wherever you travel to. Yep, you got me…FOOD! I LOVE Indonesian food and especially street food! Many people love it as much as I do, but some others opt for fine dining in Mayfair restaurants, each to their own I suppose!

Okay, in all honesty, I have a bit of a gripe to make on this topic…I’ve got quite a few friends who holiday {let’s say annually or regularly} in Bali and all I ever hear about is the amazing food they had. Yeah, I’m expecting to hear all about some elaborate babi guling {suckling pig – traditional dish of Bali} or a fiery sambal udang {chilli prawns} …but no, it’s all about Italian food, Mexican food or perhaps even Thai or Greek. May as well throw in those that also source out Aussie pub favourites whilst on holidays in Bali, such as; a schnitzel or a burger and chips! All I want to say to these people is; WTF?! Are you kidding me?! What are you thinking people?

In all honesty, those people that travel to Asia and never try the local street food are missing out on so much! I believe, Indonesia has one of the most diverse cuisines available in the world. The so-called ‘spice islands’ are in Indonesia, and the spice trade bought with it all those amazing flavours of varieties of spices and herbs. I’ve even tried rattlesnake! I was a little apprehensive at first and it took me a while to try it, but after reading blogs like campingfunzone.com where they say it tastes similar to chicken, I took the plunge and tried it. It’s safe to say, it was pretty delicious!

I see “street food” as a little key into the heart and soul of Indonesian culture…Indonesians love their food and it’s a big component of all of their cultural and religious celebrations, wherever they are from. If you don’t know Indonesian food, and I mean home cooking and street food cooking, then you really don’t know Indonesia…you’re missing this one vital link that plays an inevitable role in every day life and culture in Indonesia.

Okay, for those of you that have possibly been feared away from street food from various friend’s nightmare travel tales of a ruined holiday due to ‘Bali-belly’ or some other such tale. I have a little secret to let you in on…street food is possibly cleaner than some restaurants you may choose to dine in. Yes, it’s true. Ever thought that with a street food vendor, it is all open for you to see what’s going on behind the scenes while your chef prepares and cooks your food right in front of you, by the side of the road…there’s no hidden secrets there! However, dining at a restaurant rarely provides you with an open display of the kitchen. Just think about that for a moment.

Aside from that, you can not beat the taste and flavour of street food! Perhaps it’s the fact that the chef cooks your food right in front of you, perhaps it’s the old wok that has been used in a family for generations, perhaps it’s that the recipe used is an old family favourite or perhaps it’s the fact that you just like to blend in and be like a local. I don’t know quite what it is…but the taste of street food is SO good!

Okay, here’s my top 5 tips to enjoying Indonesian street food:

1. Do as locals do.

As they say, when in Rome…blah-blah-blah… When in Indonesia, do as the Indonesians do. Look where locals are eating. Which places are busiest? If you see a line of people crowding around a pedagang kaki-lima {street food cart with wheels} or you spot a warung {street food stall} packed with locals and hardly a spare chair or stool to sit on…then all THESE things are a good sign. The food has got to be good, right? Otherwise locals wouldn’t be eating it…and they should know! Also, look what locals are eating…yeah be a bit of a sticky-beak and check out what’s in their bowl for lunch or on their plate for dinner. You can trust in locals to know what the best dishes are and where to find them.

2. Go out venturing for food at different times of the day.

Indonesia has so many varieties of foods {and drinks!} that may only be found at one time of day. By this I mean, you need to get out there morning, noon and night {and even early hours of the morning, again!}. One thing you can be sure of; food is available 24/7 in Indonesia.

BREAKFAST: Venture out super early in the morning to try out breaky in the form of bubur {Indonesian-style rice porridge; a popular breakfast for some Indonesians} or try a local style black, sweet kopi {coffee} to kick start your day of sight-seeing!

LUNCH: Lunchtime will provide you with a variety of local specialities depending on where you are. Perhaps the all time famous nasi goreng {fried rice} – try the nasi goreng spesial for something extra ‘special’, mie goreng’{fried noodles}, soto ayam {chicken noodle soup}, nasi campur {steamed rice with mixed dishes of meat and vegetables}, gado-gado {vegetable salad with peanut sauce}…and…oh, I could go on and on with the variety of possibilities but one must leave some space for dinner too!

LATE AFTERNOON SNACK {DUSK}: My favourite time of day. As the sun begins to sink lower in the sky and shadows begin to form, the various street food carts will start to come out also. You’ll see them walking along the street pushing their cart or setting up at their local spot. And it’s this time of day that you will find many small treats to snack on, and although they may be small they are generally packed with a punch of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else!

A few favourites to keep a look out for are; gorengan {variety of deep fried snacks}, which can be in the form of tempe goreng {fried tempe}, tabu goreng {fried tofu}, pisang goreng {fried bananas}, tahu isi goreng {tofu stuffed with vegetables and/or meat and deep fried} – probably the unhealthiest of snacks but surely the yummiest! Also, watch out for; bakso {meat-ball soup} – a HUGE favourite with locals!, jagung bakar {BBQ corn – with a mix of butter, sambal-chilli sauce and kecap manis-sweet, thick soy sauce. And not to be forgotten, the huge variety of ‘es’ {ice} drinks that are available; from es campur {ice mixed with fruit and syrup} to es soda gembira {lit; iced happy soda – a combination of soda and sweetened condensed milk} to es kelapa muda {iced young coconut}.

DINNER: And a little later as evening begins to fall, you’ll find an all time favourite of mine, the martabak or terang bulan, in some parts of Indonesia {like a stuffed crepe} food cart vendors come out with both sweet – filled with various toppings such as; nutella, crushed nuts, sweetened condenced milk, chocolate sprinkles, lashings of butter and even grated cheese, if that takes your fancy! – and also the savoury – minced meat filled, martabak. You can find martabak until late in the evening. Another favourite is the ever-popular sate {satay} street food vendor that hangs around until the wee hours.

And aside from that, evening brings with it all the ‘pop-up warung’ – the street food restaurants that set up shop in the evening such as; all the lesehan {sitting on woven mats on the floor} eateries that pop-up after dark, such as; along Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta. It is here that you can try a myriad of local cuisines from sate to seafood and so much more.

Sate ayam street food pic

3. Hunt out information about local food specialities.

Every region in Indonesia specialises in their own traditional cuisine {or their own version of a recipe of a particular dish}…ever thought about the famous rendang {meat simmered in spices with coconut milk} from the Padang cuisine, although you can find rendang and Padang {or Minang} restaurants all over Indonesia, it originates from the city of Padang in Sumatra. I love the fact that each area of Indonesia has their own food specialty that they are proud of…and I love travelling to different regions and hunting out and sampling their food specialty. For example; gudeg {young jackfruit sweet stew} a traditional dish found in Yogyakarta and Central Java, lumpia {Indonesian style spring rolls} in Semarang and siomay {Chinese-style steamed dumplings with meat} in Bandung, West Java.

As a traveller through indonesia, you will never tire of the varieties of foods that are available throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Street food Pic Collage

4. Have an open mind.

Don’t be put off by appearance…I see many tourists by-pass a pedagang kaki lima or a warung just by an initial glance because it doesn’t perhaps live up to their expectations. Just because a warung may look old and rickety, with dirt floors, a tarp for a roof and non-existent plumbing…doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not tidy or clean, it may well serve up the best bakso, sop buntut {ox-tail soup} or bebek goreng {fried duck} you have ever eaten.

Bakso cart

5. Be brave!

Just get out there and try some different foods from different places and different food vendors. Ask locals where they buy their favourite nasi campur or soto ayam from. Every local will have tried out many local eateries and will know the best spots! You just have to be brave and open to ask around.

So, that’s my top 5 tips. I hope that on your next adventure to Indonesia, you’ll hunt out some local delicacies on the streets of Indonesia. There are so many wonderful treats to be savoured and enjoyed, you wouldn’t want to miss out on a great culinary experience! They are all around you…on every corner you turn or every alley way you walk down…so don’t turn your back…give it a try!

And for all those people out there, that are just like me, and know the many delights of Indonesian street food…what’s your favourite street food? {Ooh, if you tell me where to find it…I might just hunt it out myself next time I’m in Indonesia.}

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