Travelling is all about experiencing the local culture and for us, a big part of this is eating with and like the locals. We have learnt so much about this from our travels across Indonesia and want to share our tips with you so that you can also learn to appreciate the delicious and diverse food of Indonesia.
Bakul (Streetside Traders)
There may be no place to sit, no kitchen in sight, yet a full meal appears in front of you like magic.
Pikulan (Stick Sellers)
If you've ever seen that classical image of someone carrying any goods into bundles balanced at the end of a stick over their shoulder you will know what n Pikulan is. More specifically, a pikulan in Indonesia are used to carry food to sell around streets and neighbourhoods. The pikulan can be a simple way to carry two baskets or an outrageous contraption with a gas stove and wok on one side and ready-to-cook ingredients on the other. Some of the stick sellers make bakso (meatball soup), with the stock constantly on the boil at one end, ingredients and eating bowls at the other.
Kaki-Lima (Roving Vendors)
These roving vendor’s carts usually consist of a small workbench, a portable stove and a glass display box holding ingredients and for advertising their speciality dish or drink on offer. The traditional food cart in Indonesia is called a “kaki lima” which literally translates to ”five legs”. This, of course, refers to the three wheels on the cart plus the two legs of the vendor! You’ll find any and every type of popular streetside dish, drink and snack sold from a kaki-lima, with two firm favourites being sate and bakso. At night a kaki lima can easily turn into a “lesehan” (see below) simply by rolling out some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat while eating.
The term lesehan refers more to seating arrangements than the food itself. If you’re eating while seated on a grass mat then you are eating at a lesehan. The most famous place for lesehan is in Yogyakarta around the Southern alun-alun. At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat while eating.
Warung (Food Stalls)
Although some restaurants call themselves warung just to attract tourists, a traditional warung is an informal place to eat and is often disassembled after closure. The classic warung usually consists of a table sheltered by a tarpaulin or canvas roof with a cloth or canvas screen to separate the diners from the streetside chaos. On the screen you'll find written what food or drink is sold within – often no more than one or two dishes. It's not uncommon for aa warung to become famous for a specific dish.
Warteg (short for Warung Tegal)
This simple, but usually a permanent restaurant sells a wide range of dishes at budget prices. The warteg eateries are normally the best bet for vegetarians as meatless dishes, especially ones that are tofu or tempeh based, are in abundance.
Rumah Makan (Restaurants)
These restaurants can sometimes appear very informal with the most common meal available being nasi campur or nasi rames (both meaning ‘mixed rice’). A simple but popular lunch-time meal which consists of plain rice and a selection of meat and vegetable ingredients of the day. Where there’s food set out for all to see, you can be certain to get a plate full of tasty variety, guaranteed to be different each day. Nasi Campur was one of our favourites during our last visit to Indonesia and we made a video to show some of the food we ate at smaller restaurants.
Rumah Makan Padang (Padang Restaurants)
You’ll find at least one Padang restaurant in every town in Indonesia. They serve West Sumatran cuisine and for a first-timer, a meal at a Padang restaurant can be a confusing affair as there isn’t a menu in sight. In a Padang restaurant, you take a seat at any table and before you can say anything someone will have scurried over and piled up your table with a selection of umpteen small dishes and rice. At a Padang restaurant you pay for what you eat. If you don’t touch the ikan bakar (grilled fish) you won’t pay for it, it’ll go back into the window display. This is a good way to be tempted into trying some new and exciting dishes.