There is food everywhere in Jakarta. Street vendors with their carts, fast food in the shopping malls (big and small, opulent and spartan), locals restaurants, and ex-pat restaurants, all have something for you. If you go to Indonesia there are a few dishes that you should be able to find at many of these places to eat:
- mie goreng
- nasi goreng
- ikan (usually guarame) goreng
- soto ayam
- sapi lada hitam
- gado gado
What are these you ask? Read on!
Sate is probably the only one on the list that you have heard of. Skewers with chicken (sometimes chicken skin), beef, and lamb grilled, and served with a peanut sauce. Sate is something safe and easy to eat if you are new to eating Indonesian food. Add some rice and/or gad0 gado, and a glass of Teh Botol (Indonesian ice tea, served in a bottle) and you are complete. Don’t go looking for pork sate, or pork anything in Jakarta, as it is predominantly Muslim. The only place that you can find pork dishes readily is on the island of Bali.
Mie and nasi goreng, have one thing in common: goreng. Goreng is the Indoensian word for “fried”. Frying food, whether in a pan, or deep-fried, is an inexpensive and easy method of cooking. Fried foods also taste quite good. Mie goreng is fried noodles, while nasi goreng is fried rice. Both can be a meal in themselves as they are served with different mixtures of meats, seafood, and vegetables. The noodles, and most dishes, come with a bit of chili spice mixed in, so you may not need to add any extra sambal to your dish. Both dishes look very similar to Chinese fried noodles and fried rice. The Indonesians like to use the thinner rice noodles, known as Bihon, for their mie goreng. I like them too as you are not eating lots of heavy, fat noodles. The nasi goreng is made with white rice. You may be able to find a brown rice version at an ex-pat restaurant, but it would be a very rare occurrence.
Ikan goreng is fried fish. I like how the Indonesians cook/serve their fried fish. They fillet it on one side, keeping the meat still attached to the head of the fish. The fish is battered then deep fried, and as it is cooking, it curls a bit. If you go to a shopping mall and eat a food stall, you will probably get a plate with the ikan goreng, some white rice, and vegetables with chilies. Many Indonesians eat with their hands, so go ahead and tear off a piece of the fish, dip it in some sambal, add a pinch of rice and enjoy.
Soto ayam and Bakso are two similar dishes; both are a type of soup. Soto ayam, is the Indonesian version of our chicken soup, this one made with thin rice noodles (think bihon), has a very flavourful broth with coriander and garlic, and other spices, and topped with some fried garlic or shallots. A good meal in itself. Bakso are beef meatballs in a clear broth. There are many variations on the bakso broth, which can contain various combination of vegetables (usually has spring onions), fried garlic/shallots, and thin rice noodles.
Sapi lada hitam, is beef cooked with black pepper. You can also get ayam lada hitam, which is chicken cooked with black pepper. This dish is peppery, so be forewarned. Small chunks of beef and usually bell peppers are stir fried, with a black pepper sauce containing soya sauce, Indonesian ketchup, garlic and other spices. I really like this dish. It is always very flavourful, and one that you probably want a cold beer with. I will discuss wine and beer in Jakarta shortly.
Gado-gado, meaning mix-mix, is an Indonesian salad consisting of slightly boiled or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs served with a peanut sauce dressing. The dish also comes with peanut sauce, and shrimp crackers (krupuk). Usually you would eat this dish along with another meat dish like the sapi lada hitam, or ikan goreng.
There are many more very tasty Indonesian dishes that I could talk about, but these should get you going, once you arrive in Indonesia. I will write a separate article on fruits and desserts of Indonesia. Stay tuned.
Beer and Wine
Indonesia does brew it’s own beer, called “Bintang“. Bintang is the Indonesian word for “star”, and you can recognize the beer as there is a big red star on the front of the beer car. It is a light bodied pilsner. Nothing exceptional, but good to drink if it is cold, and you are eating spicy food. It is also quite inexpensive, I think around CAD $2 a can.
Wine is a different story. It is very expensive, and not as easily found as beer. The only restaurants that will have wine, will be the ones setup and run by ex-pats, usually Australians. The wine selection generally is heavy on Australian wines, as they are the closest major wine producing country to Indonesia. I did check the prices of bottles of Australian wine in some local grocery stores, and the prices were about double the price of prices here in British Columbia. So the locals would probably not be purchasing these wines; An ex-pat luxury. Lindemans, Rosemount, Saltram, and Thorn Clarke are a few of the Australian winery wines I did notice on my trip. You are allowed to bring in 1 litre of wine when you enter the country, so you may want to consider bringing in one 750 ml bottle.
After all this eating, while you are in Indonesia you may want to check out the Museum Layang-Layang, and learn about Indonesian kites. Check out my review of Museum Layang-Layang.