Indonesia: Sate hunger with streets' finest

By Diana Plater

Diana Plater ditches the hotel buffet for authentic, cheap and sumptuous street cuisine.

Roadside food vendors in Java and Bali sell sate, meat barbecued on bamboo sticks. Street food is made fresh everyday and often sells out by 2pm. Photo / Creative Commons
Roadside food vendors in Java and Bali sell sate, meat barbecued on bamboo sticks. Street food is made fresh everyday and often sells out by 2pm. Photo / Creative Commons

Sick of that bland hotel food? Well, take to the streets, my friend - especially if you're in Indonesia.

I've found in my travels that you're more likely to get "Bali belly" from the hotel kitchens or buffets than most street stalls, and the street food is amazing.

It's tastier, has more flavour, is less complicated and is almost always spicier. But if chilli is too much for you, you can often get it or the spicy sauces on the side.

Beware those dollops of hot sambal or red sauce.

Unlike some restaurants, street food is made fresh every day. And it's a lot cheaper - sometimes $2.50 to $6.50 gets you a full meal.

And even chefs from some of the fancy restaurants recommend the street food. Be quick, though - the best stalls sell out early and freshness is based on turnover.

Sate is a particularly popular street food in Java as well as Bali. It's sold from smokey street-side carts and is basically barbecued meat on bamboo sticks - chicken (ayam), beef (sapi), pork (if in Bali), lamb (kembeng) and fish (ikan).

Sate lilit is mashed-up fish and coconut on a lemongrass stick with spices, roasted and served with salt and chilli. Sates can be made from goat and rabbit.

Usually vendors get up around 3am and go to the markets to buy ingredients. They can sell them to cafes and restaurants or set up their own stalls, often leased space in front of shops. And sometimes by noon or 2pm all the food is sold. They spend the afternoon cleaning up and preparing sauces, such as sweet soy sauce or peanut sauce.

As well as temporary stalls, all sorts of food is sold at warungs (tiny restaurant shacks). No two places will serve the same nasi goreng (fried rice) or nasi campur - steamed white rice (nasi putih) with an assortment of items such as meat, chicken and fish, and sometimes tofu (tahu), tempe, peanuts (kacang), with a wide selection of cooked vegetables including kangkung, the stringy green plant cooked with garlic and chilli.

Teh panas (plain hot black tea) complements nasi campur and helps the digestion.

They also sell soto ayam (chicken soup) and rudjak made from cucumber, pineapple, papaya, mango, tamarind and prawn paste. Another favourite is gado gado or cabbage salad.

Warungs always sell sweet and savoury snacks made from peanuts, coconuts, bananas and sweet potato - good with a beer at the end of the day.

A popular tourist drink is the arak madu (arak, water, honey and lime). Then there's always kopi (coffee), usually like tea made without milk.

About 1000 different cakes are made in Bali. Special cakes are made for ceremonies but only certain people can make these. One popular dessert is pisang goreng - bananas fried in flour.

You can find vendors riding bicycles carrying boxes of food, which they advertise by ringing their bells. From drink carts vendors fill a plastic bag with sugared water and add jelly pieces for Es campur (mixed ice).

Stalls or restaurants also specialise in babi guling (spit-roast pig) stuffed with chilli, turmeric, garlic and ginger.

Sumatran or Padang food is usually sold in specialist restaurants, which is a bit more expensive.

Another local Balinese food is nasi jingo, named after a man who sold nasi (rice) in Denpasar. When he died, people copied the food he used to make.

Many locals coming home from work are too tired to cook, so prefer to eat in warungs. And food in Bali doesn't need to be heated up in a microwave - it stays hot for a while and even when it's cold you can still eat it, or so say the locals.

As one commentator said, nobody could understand street food better than locals; they pick places that don't bother their stomachs or make them sick. Ask the taxi driver or shop assistant for recommendations.

Ask for fresh or just-cooked food, often safer than food left out for hours at hotel buffets. Made's Warung in Seminyak is popular with tourists, but it's more expensive than the other warungs.

If you are really unsure of what the food is, just ask for something Balinese or Indonesian to eat. It's worth it.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas, with codeshare partner Virgin Australia, flies to Bali from Auckland via Sydney and Brisbane.

Further information: For Balinese recipes and details of a local cooking school, go to indo-chef.com. For general travel information on Bali and Indonesia, go to indo.com.

- AAP

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