The Indonesian Archipelago is home to many different cultures, speaking hundreds of languages and dialects. With the tourism industry on the rise, many more travellers are discovering the delights of Indonesian cuisine.
Both in cities and rural areas, you’ll find authentic, traditional food. Cooked by local people for local people, street food is a treat that should be experienced by all tourists.
With its warm climate, eating outdoors remains pleasant and convenient, while providing an insight into local Indonesian cuisine and culture. By eating street food, not only will you pay local prices, you will also join local people enjoying the diverse and multitudinous fare.
These are small fried sticky rice balls, covered with sesame seeds and filled with sweet mung bean paste. Perfect for breakfast or as a snack, Onde-Onde tastes nutritious and not too sweet or greasy. You can find these at street vendors all over Indonesia, morning and night. It’s a snack that can be shared and eaten by hand, and it’s always popular with the locals on an outing. Fried right in front of you, the freshness is salivating, and at a price of 5000 IDR (around $0.33 USD) for 10, it’s one of my favourite treats.
This is what the locals eat for breakfast and can normally be found in warungs, a simple open style cafe with some plastic chairs and sometimes a table. Pisang goreng are sliced bananas dipped in batter and then fried. It’s actually quite a tasty and different way to eat bananas. The batter isn’t crispy, but provides the banana with an added “bready” texture. It’s very filling and perfect for warding off cravings in the late morning. Around 1000 IDR ($0.07 USD) a piece, it’s difficult not to try!
With origins in China, this snack bears little resemblance or taste to the Chinese Shumai. It is larger, more filling, and depending on the stall, served with a choice of sweet soy sauce, peanut sauce, sweet chilli sauce, or ketchup. It is made up of crushed fish and flour mixed together with other ingredients and tastes delicious. It is also steamed which is a nice alternative to the abundance of fried snacks available. It can be found in street stalls, in warungs, and peddled by bicycle vendors. Siomay is usually 5000 IDR per piece, and although it’s very tasty, I found that eating more than 4 was quite challenging.
This is my definition of comfort food. Soto Ayam is a clear soup with rice and rice vermicelli topped with diced chicken, crispy fried onions, and herbs. To add a little zing, squeeze fresh lime over the top of everything and sprinkle with chilli sauce as required. Soto Ayam should not be confused with Sop Ayam, which is the Indonesian take on western soups. The delight of this dish evokes great memories, especially for the clean and nutritious Vietnamese pho and for the pasta and rice combination of Egyptian koshari with crispy fried onion topping. The price for a bowl ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 IDR ($0.47 – 0.67 US cents), and it can be found everywhere. In fact, it’s so popular that you can find it in many restaurants, with a starting price of 25,000 IDR ($1.67 USD).
The national dish of Indonesia is worth a mention here as well. Fried rice with variations of egg, chicken or shrimp added, it is served with chilli sauce and fresh lime to squeeze over the top if desired. The combination of spices in this dish is lovely and local people from different islands tell me it’s their favourite dish. The colour is a reddish orange and the taste is a little sweet and salty – a little something that can only be described as Indonesian. This simple dish costs 15,000 IDR ($1 USD) and may cost a little more if you request chicken or shrimp.
Tempe is made from soybeans but is not tofu, nor does it have the texture of tofu. Gram per gram, tempe contains as much protein as beef. When served, it looks like a thin slice of cake with sliced baby almonds. Yellow in colour, it is sweet, soft, and a delightful accompaniment to rice and sambal. Now recognised as a superfood and hailed as Indonesia’s gift to the world, this street food is more than just a snack. It is usually priced around 5,000 IDR per portion.
If you find yourself in Indonesia, head for the streets. The food you’ll find will be different from island to island as the local culture is infused into the food. Made from local ingredients, you’ll find delightful treats, nourishing foods, and even the national dish as you wander among the street vendors in this diverse and interesting island nation.