Street food in Indonesia is not merely a novelty, but a way of life. Once the sun begins to set, the food carts roll out, grills are fired up and the oil begins to sizzle. Motorbikes appear from all directions, and makeshift plastic tables fill the parking lots. As the final rays of sunlight disappear, Indonesia’s street food night life is in full swing. Missing out on this cultural tradition is to miss Indonesian culture altogether. Not sure which street food to try? Here’s my list of six must try street food items, and one to skip!
Is anything more iconic as street food in Indonesia than satay? I doubt it. Almost anywhere throughout the archipelago, you can find a man with a grill, cooking up some barbecue meat on a stick. From chicken, to goat, to beef, to pork, and even tofu and tempe, you can easily make a full meal of simple satay. Delicious sweet soy sauce & creamy peanut sauce blends with the savory charcoal flavor creating a delicious dish you won’t easily forget.
– Terang Bulan & Martabak
If you are looking for a one stop shop, a place to find something savory & something sweet, this is your stop. Sometimes both dishes are called Martabak, but where I live in Bali, we have two different names for the sweet and the savory dishes you can order here. Martabak, the savory one, is a lightly fried crepe stuffed with eggs and veggies. Usually, you can choose a size, and the smallest always fills me up. But not too much, because I have to save room for Terang Bulan, the sweet one. This treat is like a waffle, without the squares. Batter fills a deep frying pan, and is baked to perfection. Then, it’s covered in butter and filled with the topping of your choice. From chocolate, to bananas, to cheese [which is often found on desserts!], to peanut butter…or a combination of all of those, topped with with a sweet condensed milk, and then cut into squares for easy eating. One stop won’t be enough. This may just become a nightly tradition.
– Gado Gado
If you are looking for a lighter or healthier option, look for a gado gado cart. Gado gado is served as a fresh mixed vegetable dish, complete with lettuce, green beans, glutenous rice, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, and tempe and topped with a sweet peanut sauce. It’s Indonesia’s version of a salad of leftovers. Recipes vary across the islands, but usually some combination of those ingredients. I really like this one because it’s nice finding vegetables that aren’t fried!
– Roti Bakar
Bread can be hard to come by in most Indonesian cuisines, but if this American girl starts craving bread, I know I always pick up a Roti Bakar, which means toasted bread! This street food snack is pretty great, made with a huge chunk of bread, buttered and toasted, and filled with whatever filling you prefer! From chocolate to strawberry to even cheese, roti bakar makes for a warm & filling snack, and rarely disappoints. It’s a lot of bread of though, so you may to share this one.
If you like fried foods, this is the stop for you! Gorengan stalls, which literally means fried things, are filled with various foods that have been…fried. Fried bananas, fried tempe, fried tofu, fried potatoes…and so on. I usually grab something fried to go with another dish, like gado gado or satay. A nice slice of fried tempe is a great compliment to some chicken satay! But the fried bananas [pisang goreng] are a great treat as well. There’s a few ways you can find fried bananas, starting with simple breaded & fried large-sized bananas. I prefer the smaller fried bananas covered in sugar, chocolate & cheese, because well, they are covered in sugar, chocolate & cheese! A fried banana is an Indonesian street food favorite, so be prepared to wait in line for a good one!
– Fruit Juice & Mixed Fruits
There may be nothing I love more than fresh fruit juice in Indonesia. It’s every where, and so cheap. Many fruit sellers are also juice sellers. But sometimes, you can find juice stands on their own as well. Fruit options vary from day to day, as some fruits only have a specific season, like mangos. But others, like papaya, watermelon & pineapple, are available year round. Juice sellers often offer a refreshing snack called Es Buah, or fruit ice. It’s cut up slices of fruit with ice and little bit of water. It’s like a juice before it’s blended! So if you prefer to chew your fruit & ice, rather than drink it, be sure to try this snack as well. Fruit juice is not often sold in the mornings, which when I prefer to drink mine like a breakfast smoothie. But from lunchtime on, these stalls begin to open and you can find delicious fresh fruit juice the rest of the day! Ordering tip, most juices come with sweetened condensed milk AND sugar, so if you want a less sweet fruit juice, you can ask for it without sugar and milk.
After living in Indonesia for two years, this is a street food that I still cannot enjoy. I’ve tried it. It’s so popular. For many Indonesians, this is one of their favorite foods! But I just can’t. Bakso are meatballs, varying wildly as to what kind of meat and quality of meat. These meatballs are served with noodles and broth and spices creating a meatball soup. It doesn’t sound like a weird meal at all. But for the same reason I’d skip an American hot dog, I continue not to like this one. So if you are going to skip a street food experience, I say skip this one. But I’m sure an Indonesian person will tell you why I’m wrong about bakso!
So that’s my list of some great street food to try while you are traveling in Indonesia! Have you tried street food in Indonesia before? What was your favorite?
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