Street food in Indonesia is not merely a novelty, but a way of life. Once the sun begins to set, food carts roll out, grills are fired up, and oil begins to sizzle. Motorbikes arrive from all directions, and makeshift plastic tables fill the parking lots. As the final rays of sunlight disappear, Indonesia’s street food nightlife comes alive.
To miss out on this cultural tradition is to miss Indonesian culture altogether. And if you’re not sure which street food to try, here’s a list of six must-try street food items.
When it comes to Indonesian street food, is there anything more iconic than satay? I doubt it. Nearly everywhere in the archipelago, you can find a man with a grill cooking some barbecued meat on a stick. From chicken to goat, beef to pork, and even tofu and tempe, you can easily make a full meal of satay. Deliciously sweet soy sauce and creamy peanut sauce blend with the savory charcoal flavor of the skewered meat, creating a dish you won’t easily forget.
If you are looking for a lighter or healthier option, keep an eye out for a gado gado cart. Gado gado is served as a fresh mixed-vegetable dish, complete with lettuce, green beans, glutinous rice, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, and tempe, and is topped with a sweet peanut sauce. It’s Indonesia’s version of a salad made from leftovers. Recipes vary across the islands, but usually include some combination of those ingredients. I like this one because the vegetables are fresh instead of fried!
Terang Bulan and Martabak
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop, a place to find something savory and sweet, this is it. Depending on where you go, both dishes are occasionally called “martabak,” but where I live in Bali, there are separate names for each dish. Martabak, the savory one, is a lightly fried crepe stuffed with eggs and veggies. Usually, you choose your size (the smallest tends to fill me up), but don’t get too overzealous because you have to save room for terang bulan, the sweet one. This treat is like a waffle without the squares. It’s made by filling a deep frying pan with batter and baking it to perfection. Then, it’s smothered in butter and filled with your choice of chocolate, bananas, cheese, peanut butter, or a combination of all of the above. And, finally, it’s topped with sweet condensed milk and cut into squares for easy snacking. One round won’t be enough. Terang bulan may just become your nightly tradition.
Bread can be hard to come by in most Indonesian cuisines, but if I start craving it, I always look for roti bakar, which literally translates to “toasted bread.” This street food snack is made from a huge chunk of bread, which is buttered and toasted, then filled with whatever you choose! From chocolate to strawberry, to cheese, roti bakar makes for a filling snack and rarely disappoints. It’s a lot of bread though, so you may want to share this one with a friend.
If you like fried food, this is the one for you! Gorengan stalls, which translates to “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 to go with another dish, like gado gado or satay. A nice slice of fried tempe is also a great compliment to some chicken satay! The fried bananas (pisang goreng) are a great treat as well, though there are a few ways you can find them: breaded and fried, large or small, and covered with sugar, chocolate, and cheese. A fried banana is an Indonesian street-food favorite, so be prepared to wait in line for a good one!
Fruit Juice and Mixed Fruits
There may be nothing I love more than fresh fruit juice in Indonesia. It’s everywhere, and it’s extremely 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, while others — like papaya, watermelon, and pineapple — are available year round. Juice sellers often offer a refreshing snack called es buah, or “fruit ice,” of sliced fruit, ice, and a bit of water. It’s like a juice before it’s blended! Also note that fruit juice is not often sold in the mornings, which is when I prefer to drink mine, but from lunchtime on, these stalls are open and you can find 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 drink, ask for it without them.