I have to feel very ambitious today to write about street food in Jakarta.
It’s pretty much like planning to write about French cheeses in 500 words: Too much information, too little time… So I won’t aim to be exhaustive, but only give a short overview of the street foods in Jakarta.
A huge majority of Indonesian never set foot in a restaurant, and even a meal in a Rumah Makan (basic eatery) is not always common. However, eating in street stalls, because it is very cheap, can be considered almost as common as eating at home. In fact, you will see in Jakarta’s smallest streets that a woman cooking at home may sell some of her dishes, while buying another dish to someone’s other house.
Street food is one of the most authentic Indonesian experience you can have in Jakarta, and with so many places to choose from, it is also the easiest way to integrate for expats and practise your bahasa Indonesia. You will sit elbow to elbow with the other customers and since expats are not always a common sight, you won’t have any difficulties to engage in some chitchat. Eating in the street is also quite lively: You often have some singers or musicians trying to make a few rupiah as well as street vendors approaching you..
One of the most famous areas in Jakarta to eat street food is in Jalan Sabang, about 1 km North of Plaza Indonesia and 200 meters from Jalan Jaksa. If you are a tourist, there is a big chance that your hotel is nearby so don’t hesitate to grab a cab, it is perfectly safe and everyone knows where it is.
In Jalan Sabang, you have a small mix of all the kinds of street food available in Jakarta:
The Kaki Lima (5 legs) are small wheeled carts that usually only offer a few kind of dishes: Bakso (meatball), soto (soup), ketoprak (rice with tofu), etc.. and also desserts and drinks: Pisang Goreng (fried banana), fresh juices… The portions are small and you are served quickly since the food has already been prepared. It’s extremely cheap, Rp. 3000 to 10,000. You may have to pay a few thousands rupiah more if you look like an expat, but consider it as a tip!
If you are looking for a full meal, you can also have, usually half on the sidewalk, half on the road, some stalls with plastic chairs. They have very colourful banners with a list of all the dishes they prepare. It is a bit more expensive, from Rp10,000 to Rp20,000 for a meal, plus Rp5,000 for a drink.
In Jakarta, the ones you are the most likely to see are Nasi Uduk (Rice cooked in coconut milk), Pecel Lele (catfish), Ayam Bakar (grilled chicken), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), and of course Mie Goreng/Mie Rebus (Fried/Boiled noodles) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice)!
In all these places, you can always have take-away, they will put your food inside a paper and you can eat it at home in your own plates if you worry about hygiene. If you don’t like spicy food, really insist in the fact that you want to “cabe” at all (hot pepper) because saying” not so spicy” for an Indonesian and an expat is not the same thing!
At last, Jalan Sabang is actually famous for its “sate”, a sort of chicken or goat kebab with a spicy peanut sauce. Not my favourite, but surely one of Jakarta’s street food most popular dishes!
Jalan Sabang is not the only place to have street food in Jakarta but it has an excellent reputation. Actually, once you’ll have settled in a neighborood, I hope you can try and explore some of the stalls around your house. If there is a place we should know about, please share with us!