Eat & Drink

Explore Every Flavour Of Indonesia Without Ever Leaving Jakarta

Indonesia is renowned for its mouth-watering food and flavours. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy, each of its 34 provinces has its own regional specialities and ingredients, yet we Australians only know a small portion of what the island nation to our north possesses. But rather than travel the entire country (including more than 17,500 islands) you can get a taste of the breadth of Indonesian cuisine right in its capital, Jakarta.

Home to over 9.8 million people from all corners of Indonesia and the world, Jakarta is a modern city where you can taste the best of Indonesia in one handy location. Spicy chilli Minang cuisine from West Sumatra, sweet and rich Makassar desserts from South Sulawesi, or fresh Sundanese salads from West Java, you can find it all here plus a whole lot more.

If you’re looking to eat your way through Indo, this is how to do it.

Essential foods to try in Jakarta:

Nasi goreng

You can’t visit Indonesia and not taste its most popular dish – nasi goreng, which means “fried rice”. There are many variations, but at its core it’s a rice dish flavoured with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), garlic, shallots, tamarind, shrimp paste and chilli. Meats such as chicken and prawns are often added. Wherever you are, someone nearby will sell this.

 

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Gado gado

Sundanese cuisine is one of the most popular traditional foods found across Indonesia, the most famous of which is gado gado. Unlike the version you’ve probably tried, traditional gado gado isn’t just raw vegetables around a bowl of satay sauce. It often features blanched vegetables such as green beans, cucumber and bean sprouts, together with tofu, and it’s all mixed together in a rich peanut sauce. Deep-fried crackers are always served as a side.

 

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Sate

Sate, or satay as we may know them, are a dish Australians have taken to like ducks to water. Originally from Java, these small skewers of chicken, beef, mutton, goat or various other meats are grilled over charcoal or wooden fires that impart a delicious smoky flavour. Slather them in a peanut sauce, tuck in, and keep going back for more until the food coma hits.

 

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Rendang

Another well-known export is rendang, a spicy meat dish which originated from the Padang/Minang ethnic group of West Sumatra. Though traditionally made for ceremonial occasions or to welcome special guests, a dish this good deserves to be enjoyed year-round. Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang in downtown Jakarta is a fantastic spot to try it.

 

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Pisang goreng

The humble banana fritter perfected. Meet pisang goreng, a pressed, battered and deep friend banana or plantain often served as a snack with tea or coffee. Commonly sold at street stalls, the dish varies according to regional tastes. If you love spice, pisang goreng sambal roa, served with a very spicy chilli and soy sauce, is well worth seeking out.

 

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Where to find the best food in Jakarta:

Hawker centres

Most shopping centres are home to hawker centre food courts where you can snap up good food at a reasonable price. The food courts are all clean, tidy, and generally a safer option than eating from street stalls. English isn’t that widely spoken though, so either brush up on your charades skills prior to visiting or do what most people do and point at the picture.

Padang restaurants

 

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If you want to try a variety of dishes but don’t have a whole lot of time, head to a Padang restaurant such as Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang. Padang food is generally served in the hidang style, which means a large number of small plates with multiple dishes will be placed in front of you and you only pay for the ones you eat. Anything you don’t eat is taken away and sold to other guests. It may not seem like the most sanitary option from foreign eyes, but it’s all cooked fresh daily and worth it even if just for the local experience.

Street food stalls

Street food in Jakarta doesn’t get any more authentic than at Jalan Sabang and Jalan Jaksa, two central streets featuring dozens of food stalls selling tasty food at all hours of the day and night. Sate cooking on a smoking-hot charcoal grill, mouth-watering pisang goreng, nasi goreng prepared in giant pots while eager diners patiently wait… it’s foodie heaven. Most stalls only prepare one or two dishes, so they’re well practiced too. Be sure to use your common sense, however, and choose stalls which have a high turnover of produce.

Jakarta is the gateway to the rest of Indonesia, yet it’s much more than just a transit hub. It’s an authentic, complex, and surprising destination which deserves more than just a day.

If it’s the Indonesia less travelled you crave, Jakarta is the place for you.

(Lead image: Chris Ashton / supplied)

The writer travelled as a guest of Wonderful Indonesia.