Indonesian Street food

Snake fruit or durian ice cream - which would you order for lunch?

Indonesia is a country of surprises. While many have visited Bali and been smitten by the friendliness of the local people and its beaches, mountainous interior, and .......yes, all right, the shopping, few tourists venture to the west, to Java, and particularly the often maligned city of Jakarta.

Perhaps the best place to start is in Old Batavia, the old town, close to the waterfront. It reminds us that Jakarta had been settled as part of the Dutch East India Company’s expansion into the Spice Islands, as these lush and fertile islands were once called.

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Old Batavia's square is filled with people out enjoying the sunshine, some sketching the historic buildings, some (of course) picking up a snack from the street stalls, like this one serving hot battered breads.

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As in most Asian countries, the wok has a multitude of uses.

To one side of the square, a restaurant spills out onto the pavement, not unlike many places around the world. Indonesia's cuisine has been heavily influenced by early Dutch and Portuguese colonists. Being at the crosswires of the spice trade brought ships with crew from every country in the world and, while Java was instrumental in changing the cuisines of many countries, so too was theirs enhanced with foodstuffs and techniques that came with the visitors.

But first let's meet some of the major players in Javanese food:

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Petai beans - you'll see these everywhere in markets and they are definitely something of an acquired taste. Some say they smell like durian but they are highly popular in south-east Asia and are often chopped up and added to stir fries.

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Where would this cuisine (let's face it, any cuisine!) be without chillies? Watch out for locals chewing them between mouthfuls of fried tofu. And in case you are wondering, this New World produce came here with traders who were more than happy to swap these fiery critters for handfuls of black peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves and much more.

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Durian, the king of fruits, is as popular here as it is in other south-east Asian countries. If you can't face the smell, there are many other fruits (buah) in this country. The local grey-fleshed passionfruit, the makisa is especially fragrant and delicious. Look for jambu (a sort of guava) and of course, coconut!

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Ask for Kelapa muda and the stall owner will whack off the top of a coconut and plunk a straw into the juicy cavity, so that you can enjoy one of the freshest, cleanest, most refreshing drinks on the planet.

And yes, they make ice-cream with durian too!

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If you had to name this fruit, what would you call it? Most probably what the locals did - snake fruit or salak. The flesh is sourish and not to everyone's taste although it can be quite refreshing. Make sure that you peel off the fine membrane over the fruit as that can make the fruit taste quite astringent .

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Download a PDF of another article about Jakarta by Sally in Travel & Living

Although not native to south-east Asia, corn is always popular and and it's an easy and healthy snack, especially when it comes ready-wrapped like this. 

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One of the most difficult things when eating in another country is decoding the different names of dishes. Fortunately street vendors often thoughtfully provide a picture on their signs. Even if they don't, you can usually get an idea by looking at the ingredients laid out ready to go - and if all that fails, wait until a local orders and watch carefully how the dish is prepared. Less risky, as far as tummy troubles go, is to only order food that is cooked at a high heat to order.

Here pisang roti bakar means banana bread, toasted, or is that banana and toast? That's half the fun, isn't it?

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Nasi Goreng is as close to a national dish as you can get in Indonesia. It is simply fried rice, usually topped with a fried egg. Nasi means rice, goreng is fried. Kampoeng  is 'village', ayam means chicken - see how easy it is? Kambing is goat, campur means 'to mix'. Udang are prawns, and no, Pete is not the cook's name - pete refers to those long green rather whiffy beans, pictured earlier.

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Baso (or bakso) is a meatball - meat, fish, whatever the cook decides to use – often served in a broth. Tahu is tofu. Risoles are not meat patties (rissoles) here they are pancake like spring rolls with a savoury filling. 

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And as you can see baso is very popular! It's the laksa of Indonesia, its pho, translated to this country's menu. Nutritious, full of flavour, satisfying.

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The main square of Old Batavia is the perfect place for hawkers to set up their stalls (warung), usually built on wheels so they can ride home at the end of a long day. Transport and employment in one! Although some have handles like a wheelbarrow, in which case they need to be dragged somewhere and kept safely.

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Eggs (telur) are a valuable source of protein

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And some stalls have a range of dishes. See if you can translate them.

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These are duck eggs and the vendor (below) assured us that this is served at New Year. Kerak Telor is a dish from the Betawi people of Jakarta – a traditional spicy omelette made from chicken or duck eggs mixed with rice and spice, and served with a coconut. It is considered as a snack and not as a main dish,  served from hawker's carts and commonly popular during the annual Jakarta Fair.

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What's your favourite Indonesian dish? Where did you eat it?

 

 

 

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