Explore the weird and wonderful of Indonesian street food
Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands with over 900 of those being permanently inhabited. Within that there are over 300 ethnic groups each with their own language and traditions.
It is no surprise then that the food of Indonesia is as diverse as its people. Some dishes are only found in certain areas and other dishes differ greatly as you travel through the country. They all do have one thing in common though, they are anything but boring.
One of the best ways, and often the cheapest ways, to eat in Indonesia is to hit the streets and enjoy your meals like a local.
This is your guide to some of the best street foods available.
First things first, is it safe?
Millions of people safely enjoy street food every day. In some cases it might be safer than restaurants because they tend to buy ingredients fresh every day. However what is safe one day might not be the next and whilst you can never be totally sure, there are some steps you can take to minimise any potential risk.
1. Pick a busy vendor. Not only does it mean there are lots of people to tell you how safe the food is but it also means a higher turnover of food. The ingredients should be fresher and more likely to be cooked fresh to order.
2. Watch them cook it. If you can keep an eye on the chef, you can make sure that any egg or meat is fully cooked. If you are worried, vegetarian meals can be safer.
3. BYO water. Some vendors will offer you a glass of water with your meal. It is hard to tell where the water has come from and it’s better not to risk it. Stick to bottled water to help wash down the chilli.
4. Have a backup plan. If things do take a turn for the worse, your holiday plans can be thrown out and it’s a good idea to make sure you have international travel insurance* before you leave, just in case.
Hit the streets
Now that you know how to pick a vendor you can get started on the food. You will find different foods and specialties across the country. These are some of the dishes worth stopping for as you explore the streets.
Sate (Satay): This is one of the best known and most widely available Indonesian foods. You can get choices of chicken, beef, mutton or tofu, skewered and grilled over an open flame for a great flavour. Most come with peanut sauce.
Kerak Telor: You will find this crispy egg and rice frittata only in certain areas of Jakarta. It is a traditional Betawi dish with spice, fried shallots and shrimp on top. This pancake shaped dish is considered a snack and not a meal, which is great news - it means you can get two!
Gado-Gado: One thing you’ll notice during your time in Indonesia is their love for peanut sauce. Gado-gado is an Indonesian favourite and means ‘mix-mix’. It is a mix of steamed vegetables served with peanut sauce, fried tofu or tempeh and sometimes hardboiled egg and rice noodles.
Nasi Gila: You might have heard of Nasi Goreng. Well, goreng means ‘fried’ but gila means ‘crazy’. So you can bet that Nasi Gila is a bit more than just fried rice! This ‘crazy rice’ gets its name because of the many different meats that are included. Although others say it’s because once you’ve had it you just want it again and again!
Pisang Goreng Sambal Roa: You know now that goreng means ‘fried’, well pisang is Indonesian for ‘banana’ and sambal roa is a chilli sauce that you will find served with almost everything. So put it together and this dish is fried banana with chilli sauce. It’s not quite a dessert, as the bananas used tend to be of a less sweet variety. It does make for a great snack though.
Martabak Manis: This is the Indonesian dessert you’ve been looking for. It is a sweet stuffed pancake. You’ll find goodies inside like condensed milk, nutella and toblerone. Those last two are more recent additions to the recipe no doubt! There is also a savoury version of this pancake, Martabak Malabar, so make sure you pick the right one!
Durian Pancake: A simple pancake is filled with a durian cream puree to make another of Indonesia’s popular desserts. Durian is a polarising flavour and this is a great way to test it out.
Gorengan: Gorengan translates to ‘fried things’. You’ll find these stalls almost everywhere with all kinds of different fried morsels including sweet potato, tofu, spring rolls, vegetables and more. Definitely a great snack to keep you moving.
Klepon: If you need a quick sweet treat, this boiled rice cake stuffed with sugar syrup and rolled in shredded coconut will do the trick. It is sold as a quick snack or Indonesian dessert and its popularity has spread from Java across Indonesia and even to Malaysia.
Bakso: The last on the list is this unassuming soup that made headlines when Barack Obama professed his love for it. Bakso refers to the meatball but it is traditionally served as a soup with meatballs, broth, vegetables and rice noodles.
* Travel Insurance is issued and managed by AGA Assistance Australia Pty Ltd ABN 52 097 227 177 AFS Licence No. 245631, trading as Allianz Global Assistance (AGA) as agent of the insurer Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFS Licence No. 234708 (Allianz). Travel Insurance is