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Jakarta: To learn a city, look to street food

By Bea Pantoja

"Will you find clean and brightly-lit hawker centers, or sticky tables underneath a tarp roof?" writes former Jakarta resident Bea Pantoja. "Regardless of what awaits, the street food experience isn’t one to be missed."

HIT THE STREETS. What's there to eat in your city? All photos by Tess Pantoja

HIT THE STREETS. What's there to eat in your city? All photos by Tess Pantoja

To really get to know a city, you have to hit the streets. Beneath the shadows of the city skyline, the roads beat out a rhythm of daily life.

Some cities race without stopping, as though Armageddon will begin if anyone dares to slow down. Some move languidly, the afternoons pocketed with silence as people stop for a midday coffee or fall to the spell of energy-sapping heat.

MORE THAN FOOD. From mobile carts to large food centers, there's something to discover at every turn

MORE THAN FOOD. From mobile carts to large food centers, there's something to discover at every turn

Street food is, then, one of the best ways to really understand a city. You can tell when the city is about to come to life by the way charcoals on the brazier flicker, and oil begins to simmer in bats. You can tell if sanitation is more a suggestion than a rule, in how many times oil is changed or whether dirty dishes are washed with running water (or simply dunked in a basin in the back).

Will you find clean and brightly-lit hawker centers, or sticky tables underneath a tarp roof? Regardless of what awaits, the street food experience isn’t one to be missed.

Jakarta has a rich and diverse street food culture. Kaki lima – mobile carts that sell small dishes merienda (afternoon snack) fare, usually fried - are a familiar sight outside schools, offices, and around the neighborhood. For bigger meals and late night hangouts, look to popular street food centers in areas such as Sabang, Bloc M, or Pecenongan Street.

As in the Philippines, dining is a communal activity in Indonesia and it’s not unusual to share a table with strangers. Cheap, filling, and full of flavor, street food is popular with Indonesians from all walks of life.

BEHIND THE COUNTER. Where the magic happens

BEHIND THE COUNTER. Where the magic happens

In these roadside kiosks, famous Indonesian dishes including nasi goreng (fried rice), satay (meat skewers), and mie ayam bakso (noodle soup with chicken meatballs) compete for attention alongside local favorites such as martabak (stuffed pancake) and Medanese bakpao. If you know your Chinese, Malay, or Middle Eastern cuisine, their influence on Indonesian street food cuisine is quite clear.

Though extremely tasty, street food in Jakarta is not for the faint of heart – or for the faint of stomach! For one thing, Indonesians take their spices very seriously. Chili consumption is practically a national pastime: unless you specify otherwise, they’ll assume you’re a champ.

Even if you can handle the heat, street food in Jakarta isn’t renowned for its cleanliness. Come equipped with a cast-iron belly and a formidable immune system.

I’m still jealous of friends who can inhale platefuls of nasi goreng gila (literally “crazy fried rice”) at 3am without breaking a sweat. On more than one occasion I’ve had to restrain my appetite, since my body is somewhat inadequate at defending me from bacteria-related illnesses. Start off easy with street food that doesn’t contain meat and is served in disposable containers, then work your way up.

Here is a sampling of common dishes you will find on the streets of Jakarta. From after-school snacks to butter-rich desserts to recognizable Asian standbys, Jakarta’s street food culture truly has something for everyone.

Satay

SATAY. How many can you eat?

SATAY. How many can you eat?

Like many other Southeast Asian countries, satay is a staple dish in Indonesia. Since Islam is the dominant religion, pork satay is not as common as in the Philippines. Popular meats are chicken, beef, goat, and mutton.

Gorengan

SNACKTIME. In another part of the world, a bag of potato chips. In Indonesia, gorengan, anyone?

SNACKTIME. In another part of the world, a bag of potato chips. In Indonesia, gorengan, anyone?

Gorengan (fritters) is a general term for an assortment of fried snacks, taken from the word goreng which means “to fry.” These are typically sold in the roaming kaki lima, and make a perfect snack.

Common types of gorengan include: tempeh goreng tepung (crispy battered tempeh slices) pisang goreng (banana fritters), tahu goreng (fried cubes of tofu), sweet corn fritters, and one of my personal favorites, bakwan (battered vegetable fritters).

Bakpao Medan

BAKPAO MEDAN. An Indonesian take on Chinese buns

BAKPAO MEDAN. An Indonesian take on Chinese buns

This Indonesian take on Chinese steamed buns are a popular snack for people on the go. They can be filled with traditional fillings like beef or chicken, or sweet fillings like nuts, chocolate, and beans. Every region prizes its own version, but the bakpao from Medan is highly regarded for having soft, airy dough.

Kue Ape (Ape Cake)

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APE (CAKES). The green color is from pandan flavoring

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APE (CAKES). The green color is from pandan flavoring

I used to buy a bag of these flat, strange-looking cakes after school to nibble on till dinner. A colorful snack that is as fun to eat as it looks, kue ape (pronounced AH-peh) has a crispy, crepe-like edge and a soft, chewy center made of coconut milk, flour, and sugar. The green color comes from pandan flavoring.

Its resemblance to a certain female anatomical part has earned it the nickname of kue tete, which needs no translation.

Otak Otak Ikan

OTAK-OTAK. Prepare for a sensory explosion

OTAK-OTAK. Prepare for a sensory explosion

Otak otak is a savory fish cake wrapped in banana leaves then grilled over charcoal. Though fish cake is popular across Southeast Asia, Jakarta’s otak otak ranks among the best in the country. Dip the cake into a spicy peanut sauce, Jakarta-style, and prepare for a sensory explosion.

Martabak

IN PROGRESS. Some vendors have secret recipes for their versions of martabak

IN PROGRESS. Some vendors have secret recipes for their versions of martabak

Street vendors and citizens alike take their martabak very seriously, with some shops keeping their famous recipes for the giant stuffed pancake a closely guarded secret. Our family headed to Martabak 65 in Pecenongan Street for the best martabak in town.

GOOD EATS. Nutella in your martabak – why not?

GOOD EATS. Nutella in your martabak – why not?

Martabak telor (savory martabak) usually contains egg, chives, and ground meat. Martabak manis (sweet martabak)can have a mix of nutella, chocolate, shredded cheese, or condensed milk – don’t skimp on the margarine! While not the healthiest of dishes, it is one of the tastiest. Bring company.

Mie Aceh (Aceh Noodles)

WARM UP. A flavorful bowl of noodles hits the spot

WARM UP. A flavorful bowl of noodles hits the spot

Street food vendors enjoy creating their own versions of classic Indonesian food. Dishes like mie goreng (fried noodles) and soto ayam (spicy chicken noodle soup) are universally loved and sold almost anywhere, but they’ll taste different every time!

Visitors might also like to try mie Aceh, yellow noodles sautéed with shredded vegetables and meat in a thin curry sauce. Definitely a dish for chili-lovers. Named after the Sumatran region, mie Aceh is traditionally served with krupuk (prawn crackers) or crispy emping (belinjo crackers). I’ll take those over chips any day. – Rappler.com

Bea Pantoja is a freelance writer always looking for the next beautiful story to tell. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and is now based in Manila. She blogs over at dalagaproject.com

 

 

 

source:

http://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/travel/57330-jakarta-indonesia-street-food

 

 

 

 

 


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