Browsing Date

December 2010

Indonesia, Jakarta December 22, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Vegetarian Food in Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia

As a vegetarian, growing up and traveling in Indonesia poses very little problem. I lived in Indonesia until I was 16, and when I was 12 – I announced to my family that I no longer would eat meat. My parents were like, “Uh huh. Just eat the side dishes then.” 

Even though meat dishes are common, they’re usually eaten with side dishes that are vegetarian friendly. As a family, we were already eating mostly vegetable anyway. We ate a lot of tofu, tempeh, labu (gourd), and eggs. Not to mention that there’s plenty of fresh tropical fruit abound: mangoes, mangosteen, duku, papaya, pineapple – so much fruit!

All of the food on this list are vegetarian-friendly Indonesian food I grew up with and I always make it a point to have them every time I visit my family. Now that I live in the States and I can’t cook to save my life,  I miss Indonesian food so much.

1. Bakwan Jagung

Corn fritter. Deep fried, doughy, corny fritter. Eaten hot with rice, chili sauce on the side. Mom knew to have these waiting for us after she picked us up from the airport. Heavenly!

2. Sayur lodeh

Sayur lodeh

A type of vegetable soup/stew with coconut milk based broth. There are many different varieties, but the one that I’m used to has a type of gourd (labu siam) in it along with other vegetables such as tofu, long bean, egg, and chili sauce. Eaten over rice or rice cakes, this is a staple food during the big Muslim holiday at the end of the fasting month, Idul Fitri.

3. Keripik tempeh pedas

Another favorite. Thinly sliced tempeh, fried, and doused in spicy, sweet sauce. Eaten with hot, white rice, and usually served as a side dish or add-on for many of the soups/stews listed here.

4. Jogja gudeg

Gudeg with tofu and egg

Young jackfruit, boiled until soft, and marinated with coconut milk and sugar. The resulting look and texture is just like beef. Slightly sweet and savory. Usually eaten with a bunch of other side dishes like boiled egg, tofu/tempeh, and chicken.

A traditional dish of Yogyakarta, it can be found in many street food stalls lining the city’s famous Malioboro Street in big enamel pots.

5. Tahu bacem

I would eat a whole bucket of this when I was a kid! You get a piece of tofu (or lots of tofu if you’re making it for me), then have it sit for hours in a concoction of sugar, coconut milk, and about a dozen spices until the it absorbs all of the flavor.

Fried just before serving, it’s a delicious and flavorful surprise especially if you’re used the (more) bland way tofu is often prepared in the western world.

6. Lontong Cap Gomeh

Lontong Cap Gomeh

Another type of coconut milk based vegetable stew, served with or over rice cakes. I try not to eat too much of it because of the coconut milk, but it’s sooo good. You usually get to choose what you have it with. Options include: tofu, egg, crackers and chicken for the non-veggie.

7. Sayur asem

sayur asem
It’s the Indonesian’s answer to Thai’s Tom Yum soup. Translates to roughly “sour vegetables”, it’s a light vegetable soup that gets its sour taste from tamarind. It usually contains peanuts, corns, ‘melinjo’, some leafy greens and long beans. By itself, this dish doesn’t impress, but eaten with something fried (like corn fritters, for example)… it helps cleanse the palate and adds a little zing to your meal.

8. Telur Belado

Telur Balado

Fried boiled eggs covered in sweet chili sauce (balado sauce). Balado sauce often used with other types of meat as well. It’s a very flavorful chili sauce made with shallots, garlic, lime, and sometimes shrimp paste.*See note below

9. Mie Tek Tek

Stir fried noodles with eggs and veggies. It’s so simple, yet so delicious. In Jakarta, this is sold by vendors who go around neighborhoods with a cart. To announce their presence, they hit 2 wooden sticks together making “tek tek” sounds, thus the name “mie tek tek” or “tek tek noodles”.

10. Gado gado

Freshly made peanut sauce poured over assorted boiled vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but the peanut sauce either breaks it or makes it. Recipes call for various spices such as shallots, brown sugar, garlic, and other ‘secret’ ingredients that make one gado gado establishment different from the other. Eaten with rice cakes, crackers, and fried shallots it can be had either as an appetizer or a main meal.

Like ‘Mie tek tek’ in #9, Gado Gado has made it to the big league from its humble beginning as peasant food and can easily be found from street card vendors to fine dining establishment.

Indonesian snacks and sweets

Various Indonesian snacks - all vegetarian

Various Indonesian snacks – all vegetarian

Whenever you get a chance, I recommend visiting the market and check out Indonesian traditional snacks and cakes. Made usually with rice flour, coconut milk, palm sugar, with bits of cassava, yam, or banana – they’re very unique, vegetarian, and delicious.

Vegetarians won’t go hungry in Indonesia, that’s for sure.

* Strict vegetarians: Be wary of shrimp paste (terasi) that’s ubiquitous in Indonesia. It’s easily hidden in soups, stews, and other innocent looking vegetable dishes.

I go home to see my family once a year and on each visit, I try to see parts of Indonesia I’ve never been to. Some of my favorite include Belitung Island, Sumba, and Flores. Although being born in Java, I’m partial to this island as well. See all of my Indonesia posts, here.

Indonesia December 13, 2010

Jakarta – A city only its residents can love (aka What’s to love about coming home)

There’s no place like home

Jakarta can be tough to love: its choking pollution, the unpleasant mix of smell of burned trash and diesel fumes, and sea of humanity overwhelm the senses. Add to that the horrible traffic and the hectic pace of life — this is a city only the bravest and most adventurous of travelers can love.

I doubt I’d be able to survive living here for long without my family showing me how things work.

This is a city where…
– everything from a bottled water to income tax is negotiable
– the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” can’t be any truer
– the traffic is so horrendous it takes 2 hours to go 20 miles
– the sight and smell of poverty as such you’ve never seen before stares you right on your face

The list goes on. Oh it goes on… But Jakarta will always be ‘home’ for me. Whenever I land, I take a deep breath of Jakarta’s 90% humidity and 32 C degree air, choke on the dust a little bit, and proclaim “I’m home”.

We are departing for Jakarta tomorrow. And even though I’m dreading the long-flight home, here some things that I have to admit… I’m looking forward to:

1. The Shopping Malls

Ice Skating at Taman Anggrek Mall -- by d10n2000

Jakarta’s malls are huge. Huge. So huge. There’s one huge enough to have a roller coaster inside. So huge they provide you with a map at the entrance.

So huge they can (and did) put an ice skating ring inside (see pic).

And new ones keep popping up every year. Each one trying to be bigger, bolder, badder than the rests. They’re deliciously air conditioned and never fail to have superb food courts with food from all over the world.

2. The Food Courts

Food Court in Mal Ambassador -- UweBKK

Indonesians (at least the ones in my family) love to eat. Ask Jack. When they’re not asking him what he’d like to eat for his next meal, they’re trying to feed him something.

The mall establishment usually dedicates about the whole floor of the building for their customer’s dining experience. Sometimes two. See point #1 on how big these malls are. And imagine the whole floor lined with stalls selling food.

The differences between these food courts and the ones I’ve been to in the states are not only that they’re much bigger, but they are more varied. Yes of course you have the usual ‘standard’ things like McDonald’s or Wendy’s, but you also have the mom-and-pop stores selling unique dishes that can’t be found in other food courts.

Vegetarians? Don’t worry. Indonesian food happens to be very vegetarian friendly.

3. Cheap Software and Technical Books

Places selling pirated software and movies are everywhere in Jakarta. Some are being sold on collapsible stalls on pavements while others are more established.

I can’t think of any place in the US similar to these stores. Most of them are not much bigger than a walk in closet. Its walls covered floor-to-ceiling with plastic holders containing CD’s. The space in the middle is filled with rows of vertical racks with barely enough room for one person between the racks. These racks are holding even more CD’s.

They’re not discriminating. They have everything from Adobe CS to ‘1000 Most Popular Karaoke Songs’. It’s one stop place to learn about the latest products in the software or computer gaming industry (and apparently, the karaoke business).

4. Burgeoning Secondhand Game Console/Computer Parts Stores

There are places where a TechHead like Jack would gladly spend a whole day in: whole floors dedicated to games, computer parts, and gagdets for any brands and any gadgets imaginable.

Not sure why, but these places tend to look and smell like a dungeon. Think of Fry’s on steroids, minus the annoying salespeople. Take away the overhead lighting and the air conditioner. Add some cigarette smoke. And about 1000 people.

These places also often have in-house technicians who can soup up your game consoles or phones. You want to get bigger drives? Replace dying parts? Jailbreak your Iphones?

When our 3 yr old PlayStation 2 was having a hard time reading discs, we brought it all the way from to US to get the laser head replaced — for a whooping labor cost of $10.

5. The Street Food

Street food at nighttime -- by seth mazow

Jakarta has some of the best street food stalls selling the yummiest late-night meals I’ve ever been too.

And just like the malls, new comers keep popping up. Word-of-mouth is still the only way to keep up if you’re into the food scene here. I always need to hit up my friends for the latest ‘hot’ areas to get anything from ‘es doger’ (hot-pink slushy drink with syrup and jackfruit pieces) to ‘mie tek tek’ (stir fried noodles).

By the way, in case you’re curious, the stall in the pic above is selling seafood, street food style.

6. How The Place Takes On A Different Persona At Night

Jack and I live in place that goes to sleep around 10pm. Jakarta, on the other hand, does not only seem to be awake 24-7, but it seems to be a different place at night.

Actually, it IS a different place at night.

The temperature drops to a much more tolerable range. The air seems to approach breathability level. And what were previously sidewalks turn into cafes and stalls selling all sorts of food. With lights running on generators or kerosene, people cooking on the sidewalk, families with their kids out on dinner run, they lend a certain festive atmosphere to the place.

Just writing this I have this huge grin on my face. Yes, Jakarta is tough to love. It is not pretty. It doesn’t have any rice terraces, or bathing elephants in the river. No temples or snow-capped peaks. But it’s home, and there’s really, really no place like home.

What’s your favorite thing about your home town?