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Ikan bakar.

Ikan bakar.

A Culinary Journey through Indonesia: Java, Bali and Sulawesi

Indonesia is well-known for its street food culture, even though much of it is still undiscovered. This personal journey will take the most adventurous eaters to try some of the best dishes of this region.

Satay vendor in the streets of Yogyakarta.

Satay vendor in the streets of Yogyakarta.

When you say Indonesian food, you say street food. Everything happens in the streets, and I mean literally! If you have been to Yogyakarta you know what I mean. Women crouch in the floor on the pedestrian path, cooking their satay skewers over charcoal, many other vendors generally prepare some tasty delicacies from their open houses or shacks, and large groups of people eat all together on the side of the busy roads.

The city is bustling especially at night. From island to island there are some classics dishes which you can’t miss, as they are widely available. Among these are nasi goreng (fried rice), ayam goreng (fried chicken), gado gado salad, ikan bakar (grilled fish) and bakso (meatball soup). Grilled meats and fish are generally accompanied by a fiery sambal dip (a variety of the chili sauce). Gado gado is one of my favorite Indonesian dishes: a vegetarian salad with tofu, bean curd, lontong (compressed rice cake) beansprouts and vegetables, topped with a sweet and subtly spicy satay sauce.

“Everything is cooked fresh in Indonesia”

You can’t leave Indonesia until you have tried a few chicken satay! These tender chicken skewers are grilled and served with peanuts sauce. Chicken is especially tasty in Indonesia; they are generally left free to roam in the countryside and their meat is therefore flavorsome and juicy. Ikan bakar is one of the classic dishes, with a really straightforward recipe: just take some fresh seafood and grill it over charcoal, and then serve it with rice, fried green vegetables (kankung goreng) and a sambal sauce.

In Indonesia, everything is cooked fresh. The rule of thumb to spot the best vendors is either to check their queues or to ask your taxi driver or any other local. Bali feels like a different world coming from Java or Sulawesi, and you might find some great dishes which are typical Balinese delicacies. Babi guling is one of these. The word literally means 'roasted suckling pig', it is accompanied by a bumbu (spice paste) and served with rice, blood sausage and crunchy crackling. It is spicy and fragrant, and truly addictive. Another lucky discovering in Bali, recommended by my tour guide, was ayam betutu. 'Ayam' stands for chicken, which is served with a spicy mix of herbs and steamed rice that will help you to cut through the spiciness of the dish.

“Spot the best vendors by checking their queues or asking your taxi driver” 

Many enter Sulawesi through the big city of Makassar, the main gateway to other destinations on the island. The city itself is not particularly attractive, but the food scene is interesting. Seafood is one of the highlights and a great discovery was konro. Konro is a delicacy from South Sulawesi made with tender beef ribs which are first marinated in spices, then braised and grilled. The ribs are either served in a soup or with a peanut sauce.

There is a lot to explore all around Indonesia and every island has something unique and different from the other islands. As history told us, many regions have just been merged under that same name only in fairly recent years. Let your senses guide you and don’t be shy to ask around and eat as the locals do.

Ikan bakar and ayam goreng with rice.

Ikan bakar and ayam goreng with rice. 

Chicken satay.

Chicken satay.

Babi guling.

Babi guling.

A street vendor offering ikan bakar in Yogyakarta.

A street vendor offering ikan bakar in Yogyakarta.

Konro.

Konro.

Gado gado salad.

Gado gado salad.

People eating in the streets of Yogyakarta.

People eating in the streets of Yogyakarta.

ARTICLE CREATORS
Photographer, Writer
Cooking, Gourmet travel
Jennifer Cauli is an Italian Photographer and Writer specialised in Food and Travel. She is based in London. 
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