Jakarta’s streets are renowned for a few things, one being the heaving traffic that creates gorgeous neon trails when viewed from above and a glorious cacophony of beeps when you’re immersed within it. However, what the streets are also famous for is the food that you can buy by the roadside. If you’re stuck at the lights in this sprawling mega-city, why not pop out and grab some exquisite nourishment for your journey home?
Indonesian cuisine is an exotic and exciting mix of taste and texture, and what’s particularly notable for a backpacker is that you’ll see practically the same dishes in a tiny market stall than in 5-star restaurants. The only elements that really change are the presentation and surroundings. So, if you’re happy to have tooting horns and a cardboard plate instead of ambient jazz and fine china, you can eat similar dishes to what’s served in the posh restaurants for less than a buck. Plus, you get those #authentic Insta shots, to boot.
As a culture that’s constantly snacking – no joke, Jakartans enjoy breakfast, late breakfast, late lunch, snack time, early dinner, dinner and late dinner…and have opposite dishes for all – it’s no surprise that Indonesian street food is growing rapidly in popularity.
We’ve left out the obvious Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Mi Goreng (fried noodle), as you’d struggle not to come across these if you step foot in Indonesia’s capital; instead, we’ve opted for the more esoteric dishes (to travelers at least) that the locals swear by.
Take note in your BUCKiTDREAM planner and start preparing your stomach for a flavor overload!
Crack On With Kerak Telor If you’re a pancake person then this tasty snack should be at the top of your list when visiting Jakarta. Kerack (loosely translated as the ‘crack’ sound that you hear when you fry the sticky, glutinous rice at the bottom of the pan) cooks the rice at a very hot temperature before adding telor (eggs) and creating a satisfying sweet and savory omelet-type dish with coconut shavings and fried shrimp adding a unique depth of flavor. Originally invented for the Dutch (who know a thing or two about pancakes, let us tell you), this snack from the Betawi tribe is a must-try.
Marvel at Martabak This dish ticks both the sweet and savory boxes, given that you can choose to have it filled with ground meat (normally chicken but you can also find beef and venison fillings) and onions or bitter chocolate sprinkles and condensed milk. Tracing back to an Indian heritage, this Javanese pancake is made with beaten eggs stretched over a hot plate and folded over your chosen filling, like a whisper-thin calzone or a wedge of Victoria Sponge, palate depending.
Skewer Yourself a Satay Padang West Sumatrans certainly know how to serve their meat and this specialty is no exception; cubes of boiled beef are seasoned with a variety of spices which are also included in the famous Padang sauce, along with a generous sprinkling of chili. The meat is then skewered and grilled over coconut shell charcoal and coated in the piquant sauce, the potent tang of fried shallots lending the dish a rich and moreish flavor.
Don’t Dismay, Reach For the Siomay If you thought that dim sum was only to be found in the Chinatowns around the world, you’re in for treat when visiting Jakarta (side note: definitely visit Chinatown in Jakarta, it’s a hoot!); you can find a siomay vendor on lots of street corners and markets and you won’t be disappointed with this delicious bite. As Indonesia has a strong Chinese contingent to its history, it’s no surprise that the steamed dumpling is popular in Jakarta; generally, your siomay will be filled with boiled tofu, cabbage, potato as well as some type of fish meat (traditionally tenggiri – the awesomely named ‘wahoo’) and served with a peanut dipping sauce.
Out Of the Fire and Into the Frying Pan, it’s Batagor Essentially, this is fried siomay; originating from the capital of West Java, Bandung, this is a classic example of taking a nourishing snack and making it naughty. Perfect for those hungover mornings or just when you’re in need of a blood sugar spike, don’t leave without trying this one.
Cast Your Line Towards a Serving Of Pempek Sticking with the piscatorial theme, this South Sumatran dumpling combines fish and tapioca in a fish meat dough; it has an almost rubbery consistency and is, yep, you guessed it, deep-fried (Jakarta is not somewhere you want to calorie count – they’ll plenty of time for salads when you come home). Served with a sweet and sour kuah cuko sauce (palm sugar, chili, garlic, and vinegar), which you can have spicy or plain, this is a real winner amongst locals and tourists alike.
Sweet-Toothed Travelers Rejoice, it’s Es Podeng Now we’re into the sugary stuff. Anyone with a penchant for the sweeter things in life will be in seventh heaven when wandering through Jakarta’s street stalls, not least when they discover this sundae, which is made with sliced coconut, avocado and jackfruit, cooked with condensed milk and chocolate milk and served with crushed ice (very popular in Indonesia – once you experience the heat, you’ll understand why) and a sprinkling of peanuts. Did someone say Netflix and air conditioning party?
Start the Day the Right Way With Rujak The exact ingredients of this dish will change depending on which vendor you visit, but you can think of rujak as an Indonesian fruit salad…with a few vegetables thrown in for good measure. You’ll usually get sliced apple, pineapple, mango, cucumber and sweet potato, all doused in a sweet and spicy sauce. For those who like a saltine tang to their fruit salads (or are just feeling adventurous), ask for a sprinkling of sambal garam powder (salt and red chili) for a more savory kick.
Just When You Thought We’d Finished With the Fryer, it’s Gorengan The Indonesian take on a fritter, this fried sweet potato snack will fill your carb-load quota for the day and then some; ‘gorengan’ is actually an umbrella term for any deep-fried bite (which seems to be a fair amount of the street food), but if you ask a street vendor for one, you’ll be served this sweet mound of crispy deliciousness.
Cool Off With a Glass Of Selendang Mayang You’re going to need a beverage with which to wash down all of these ambrosial appetizers, so why not opt for this colorful concoction of rice flour, food coloring, coconut milk, pandan leaves, coco pandan syrup and palm sugar, lengthened with water and poured over crushed ice? You’ll be bouncing off the walls by your second sip.
OK, guys, you now have the essential street food list to work through on your dream Jakarta trip – the rest is up to you. If you want to learn more about this huge, diverse and fascinating city before you book your flights, check out Jakarta: Take A Bite Out Of The Big Durian. And for other Indonesian adventures, don’t forget to browse through How To Surf Like a Pro In Indonesia and Bliss Out In Beautiful, Bountiful Bali!