Finding vegetarian food in Indonesia can be hard at the beginning but I will show you few tasty options. Once you know some useful words and names you will manage to find what you want. Different people have different opinions about Indonesian food. Unfortunately, for me Indonesia is one country in the end of the list with good food. Why?
Eating habits in Indonesia
Eating habits in Indonesia as in many developing countries are not healthy at all. In the climate where they have amazing rainforest and can have fresh and organic vegetables and fruits all year long? They don’t eat veggies much, and awareness on how to prepare them in a healthy way doesn’t exist. They love to deep-fry anything: fruits, veggies, meat, fish or sweets. Organic farming is not popular in Indonesia, there are several eco – farms, though. I spent amazing time in one of them – Kaliandra in Java island, and their ideology and attitude is very impressive. They were honestly very conscious about the environment protection and sustainability.
I spent 3 months in Indonesia and in the end of that time I developed 2 strong aversions, which stayed with me for a long time. One depicts sound of the frying food, since I was totally fed up with it after eating it over and over. Second, to instant noodle soups, which is very popular snack or breakfast. I don’t even consider instant soup to be food, to be honest. However, too many times I just had no choice. When there was nothing else in poor villages, or the host from Couch Surfing wanted to be hospitable and share food, I didn’t want to refuse. I happened to eat it way too many times, and next time someone will offer me instant soup for breakfast I am going to cry.
Another thing which made my life in Indonesia difficult was chilli, which is basically in every meal, but I just cannot eat it. Even when I was saying “no chilli” or “gak cabe” in Bahasa, they were bringing me less spicy version but still with chilli, and still spicy for me. Indonesians adore sambal – which is like a tomatoe/peper paste – very spicy!
Juice? Yes, in Indonesia you can get juice pretty much everywhere, which is great. But it will be a little piece of fruit with water, ice, lots of sugar or condensed milk. Another habit is adding sugar to everything. Not only sweets as I am used to, but also to regular meals or drinks. They believe a pinch of sugar makes every dish better. Not to mention widely used soya sauce or oyster sauce, which are used in almost every meal as a spice. Even if your meal looks vegetarian, be concious that there is probaby oyster sauce in it.
You are asking, so what’s good in Indonesia? COFFEE! Indonesia is famous for its great coffee, which you will surely taste, but please be aware of the luwak coffee which is made from the poo of one cute animal mostly kept in the cage. I don’t recommend buying it without being sure of the source of the coffee.
Indonesians love rice chips called Kerupuk. You will see it along most of the meals. Rice is often mixed with some flavour, like fish or shrimps and dried on the sun in a form of a little circle. Those are deep-fried and served as snack alone or with meals.
As you see eating healthy in Indonesia in a hard task, same as being vegetarian, since chicken is often not considered as meat. But don’t worry. I will tell you what to eat and how to order it and you will be fine. Moreover, touristic restaurants will serve you variety of vegetarian food in Indonesia, since they know what bule “whities” like. After all those complains I am telling you, there is hope. Few meals made me survive in this country, and I was repeating to eat them over and over.
Vegetarian food in Indonesia
Gago – gado
Gago – gado means “mix – mix” and was my favorite dish in Indonesia. It’s basically a salad with peanuts sauce. It’s hard to define the ingredients as it was different each time I had it. The main products are vegetables though, steamed not fried, which come with a peanut sauce. This delicious combination was usually along with tofu or tempe, as well as egg or lontong (rice cake as it’s rice steamed in banana leaf with coconut milk). It’s the only one from vegetarian food in Indonesia which I will keep doing by myself. I am actually planning to develop my own recipe because it’s simple, healthy and super delicious. Keep checking my FOOD section to find some more recipes.
Lotek / Pecel / Ketoprak
All these are very much like gado – gado with slight differences. Lotek or Pecel are as well veggies with peanut sauce, where lotek will also include potatoes. Ketoprak is made of fried tofu, boiled rice vermicelli, lontong or ketupat (rice wrapped in banana leaf), smashed chili, garlic, ground fried peanut, water, salt, palm sugar, sweet soy sauce and vegetables such as been sprout, sliced cabbage and cucumber. It was together with peanut sauce and cracker (kerupuk), sprinkles with fried shallots on the top. Ketoprak is a dish from Jakarta, however you can find Lotek and Pecel in other parts of Indonesia.
Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng
Respectively, fried rice or fried noodle are most popular dishes around Indonesia. They usually come with meat but of course you can mention that you want only vegetables. However, don’t expect too many of them. It will come with kerupok or slices of cucumber as well as fried egg. As for noodles it can be yellow wheat noodles, bihun, rice vermicelli or instant noodles so be aware.
Oleh Oleh – vegetable curry
Oleh Oleh is a name of a vegetable curry. However, depending of the part of the country it can simply be called curry, the name oleh oleh was widely spread in Lombok and Gili Islands. Curries can have many different versions as well. They come with different veggies; they may come with tofu or temple if you choose so. Curry can be yellow with turmeric, but usually just whitened with coconut milk. No matter what, it will come with rice, as most of the foods in Indonesia.
Tempeh or Tofu
The great thing about vegetarian food in Indonesia is widely spread tofu and tempe (soya beans in a special fungus). Unfortunately, those are mostly served deep-fried too. Whenever you see those names on the street stands or warungs you can expect to get some delicious vegetarian option. They both can be served with rice and veggies under names Nasi Tempeh or Nasi tahu. Tempe Sayur is a vegetables curry with fried tempe and rice. When tempe goreng will be tempe fried with veggies.
Gudeg – is famous meal of Yogyakarta. The secret of it is a jackfruit which was baked. Even though it’s kind of sweet, it’s served as a proper lunch meal or dinner with rice and tempe or egg. It may sound a bit weird but believe me it’s very tasty. Yogyakarta’s food is famous for being very cheap and delicious, so prepare your taste buds!
Serabi – is called a rice cake or pancake and can have many variations as well. It’s popular food in Bandung, Java. Rice put in the clay pot on the fire and mixed with ingredients of your choice. You may choose it as salty version or sweet. Salty can have some veggies, cheese or egg and sweet can be with fruits or jam. It comes with mayonnaise as it makes it sweeter. It can also be without rice, more like pancake, when the dough is made out of flour and milk. I also saw Serabi as a dessert. In this case there were little rice cakes baked in the clay pot. They consist of coconut milk so it’s pretty yummy!
Cap Cay – stir fry vegetable dish originally from China however, it’s common food in Indonesia. Ingredients uses to make cap cay are cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrot, baby corn, mushroom, leek chopped garlic and onion with salt, sugar, soy sauce water, maizena (corn stretch), oyster sauce, egg and etc. Simple meal if they wouldn’t add so much salt and sugar in it, would be perfect. As vegetarian food in Indonesia is not popular, it was often with chicken in it, so be sure to let them know when ordering. Cap Cay is popular all around Indonesia and it was often the only vegetarian option available.
Obviously, that’s not all vegetarian food in Indonesia. I presented you the most common I was eating. When I was doing research while traveling about vegetarian food in Indonesia, I found many beautiful articles and all food looked so interesting and delicious. In reality I didn’t find it this way at all. I found Indonesian food quite monotonic, unless I was in a touristic place, where they try to make it more various as the expectations are higher too. Otherwise, everywhere in local restaurants (warung) you will see fried rice (Nasi Goreng) and fried noodles (Mie Goreng).
How to get vegetarian food in Indonesia? Handy dictionary
Those are few useful words and phrases in Bahasa, which helped me to order vegetarian food in Indonesia. Usually, I was just showing it, to be sure the waiter understands, when I was not about the pronunciation.
eat – makan
food – makanan
drink – minuman
small – kecil
delicious – enak
vegetables – sayur
try – coba – handy when you see a dish and you have no idea what it is, say coba and they will give you a spoon to taste.
a little – sedikit
no chilli – gah cabe
not spicy – gah pedas
sweet – manis
gula – sugar
no sugar – gah gula – useful when you want to order coffee, tea or juice without sugar
without meat – tanpa daging
how much? – berapa
thank you – terhima kasih
one – satu
two – dua
three – tiga
Paradise for vegetarian food in Indonesia – Bali
If your destination is Bali, forget about all you have just read. Bali is a unique island of Indonesia, not only because of Balinese culture, but also because it’s healthy lifestyle oasis. It’s very touristic place, full of short time visitors as well as expats. Bali is famous for yoga or meditation retreats so all those healthy lifestyle freaks are here! The capital of these is Ubud where you will surely have no complains about food. You can find all types of curries, from different types of veggies or even with pineapple or durian.
What’s more, first time I saw vegetables sate in Indonesia in Ubud. Sate is basically barbeque on the wooden stick, but across the country you will find chicken, rarely fish and only in Bali you will find grilled veggies. It’s paradise not only for vegetarian but even if you are a picky vegan or raw vegan you will surely find organic food in Bali. Moreover, Bali is touristic enough so that people speak english around and the menu in the restaurant usually has english version.
Let me know your opinion about Indonesian food in the comments below. Don’t forget to recommend your favs to inspire other travelers.