They say you have not entirely experienced a place to its fullest potential if you have not tried its local food. While our capital city – a melting pot of cultures – is not short of lavish restaurants, street food remains one of the best ways to truly taste Indonesia’s diverse and versatile culinary scene. You can find street food carts, vendors and small shops at almost every corner of this congested city so to make things simpler, we’ve narrowed down our top 14 picks of street foods that are an absolute must-try while at the metropolitan.
1. Nasi Goreng
A national obsession, nasi goreng is a major player in the Indonesian street food scene. Literally means “fried rice”, you would be hard-pressed not to find a pushcart or street vendor serving a type of nasi goreng in almost every corner of the city. It’s flavor and looks is worlds apart from the Chinese-style fried rice found throughout the rest of the world – for starters, nasi goreng is typically cooked with eggs, meat, vegetables, and soya sauce seasoning and contains a light blend of chili and other local spices. There is a huge variety of nasi goreng to choose from as different regions prepare it differently. Some of the most popular ones include nasi goreng ayam (chicken fried rice), nasi goreng kambing (lamb fried rice), nasi goreng ikan asin (salted fish fried rice) and nasi goreng gila (“crazy” fried rice made from a mixture of sausages, scrambled egg, meatballs, leeks, onion, cakwe and other condiments).
2. Sate (satay)
One of Indonesia’s most renowned national delicacies sold by street vendors everywhere is known as saté (satay). It is a dish consisting of chunks of dice-sized and seasoned meats (such as lamb, beef, chicken, fish, prawns and occasionally vegetables) on bamboo skewers, which are grilled over charcoal or wood fire. The archipelago’s diverse culture has resulted to a variety of saté dishes to try – such as saté Padang and Taichan, but the most popular one is typically served with a spicy peanut sauce and compressed rice cakes (lontong) as well as pickled onions, carrots, and cucumbers on the side. If you’re feeling adventurous, try other variants of saté made of kidney, intestine, liver, and cubes of coagulated chicken blood.
Gado-Gado, which literally means ‘mix-mix’, is Indonesia’s version of salad sold throughout Jakarta on mobile street food carts. The dish consists of fresh slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables such as potatoes, bean sprouts, corn, spinach, string beans, cabbage, and bitter gourd, with fried tofu and tempeh. The dish can also be served with hard-boiled eggs and compressed rice cake (lontong). These components are all coated in a thick and creamy peanut sauce and garnished with deep fried shallots. Gado gado can make a great light meal, or a snack, and is popular among vegans.
Another popular, staple street food that is a must-try is ketoprak. Resembling gado-gado in its use of peanut sauce as dressing, ketoprak’s components differ slightly. This legendary street food is made of fried tofu chunks, rice vermicelli, sliced cabbage, cucumber, and bean sprout as well as a choice of lontong (Indonesian compressed rice cake) and boiled eggs on the side. It is then garnished with Indonesian crackers and fried shallots. When ordering ketoprak, you can specify the dish’s spicy level according to each individual.
Gorengan, which literally means ‘fried food’, is a staple and one of the most desired snacks in the entire country. Seasoned, battered and then deep-fried, you can opt for different bases from banana to cassava, to tofu (with or without filling), yam and/or tempeh (fermented soybean). Many locals eat this bite-sized food with small bird’s eye green chilies (cabai rawit) to add spiciness. These pushcarts are spread across many roads in Jakarta and almost impossible to miss.