16 Apr 21 Must Eat Street Foods In Jakarta
A bustling metropolitan city where cultures across Indonesia come to gather, Jakarta is a treasure trove for those looking to sample some of the best culinary skills the country has to offer, and this is reflected in the street food scene.
From dusk to midnight and dusk again, humble street vendors in Jakarta—hidden to unknowing eyes—have been a reliable source of comfort food to its ever busy citizens for generations. Eating out is part and parcel for most living in Jakarta, it’s a social need for which many would brave the incessant traffic of Indonesia’s capital city.
Must eat street foods in Jakarta are both diverse in options and cultural influences. They range from heavy meals like Madura-style chicken satays to much-favoured nighttime snacks such as the Middle East-inspired martabak (both sweet and savoury)—each one just as unmissable as the next during a visit to the city.
In This Must Eat Jakarta Street Food Guide:
Things To Keep In Mind While Street Food Hunting In Jakarta
Download a ride-hailing app
Though public transport in Jakarta isn’t exactly the most efficient form of transportation, there are app-based ride-hailing options like Gojek and Grab that make travelling from one street food joint to the next a breeze. Be sure to download them on your phone prior to going out. You can even ask the driver for street food recommendations in his local area.
Most Indonesians do not speak foreign languages and have only a very basic understanding of English. That said, in most cases, it’s not really a problem because Jakarta locals are also used to tourists and can overcome language barriers by way of improvised sign language and numbers.
The early bird gets the worm
Many popular street food establishments can run out of stock far before closing time and some are incessantly crowded, especially on the weekends. So coming early is always a good bet!
Street Food for Breakfast
1. Bubur Ayam – Chicken Congee
When it comes to an authentic Indonesian breakfast, most locals would immediately think of bubur ayam, or chicken congee. In Jakarta, carts selling warm bowls of bubur ayam can be found in about any of the city’s neighbourhoods. Topped with shredded chicken, nuts, and an array of garnishes – which can be customised according to preference – each bowl is not only delicious, but also nutritious. A perfect start to your day in the bustling city!
2. Nasi Uduk – Coconut Milk Steamed Rice
One of the defining breakfast staples in Jakarta is no doubt nasi uduk, a Betawi-style steamed rice dish that is cooked in coconut milk and a variety of spices—similar to nasi lemak in Malaysia. Accompanying the rice is a selection of side dishes like tempeh, rice noodles, and boiled egg with sambal, which can be customised to your liking.
3. Ketupat Sayur – Rice Cakes With Vegetables
The name ‘ketupat sayur’ is pretty self explanatory. The dish is a combination of rice cakes wrapped in coconut leaves (ketupat) and vegetables (sayur) submerged in a coconut milk-based soup. Topped with egg for protein and pink crackers for added crunch, this dish is usually sold around neighbourhood areas and at West Sumatran eateries.
Street Food Lunch Picks
4. Ketoprak – Vermicelli Tofu Salad In Peanut Sauce
Carts selling ketoprak are usually identifiable from their shape—big and boat-like with cans of crackers for the crucial topping. The dish itself is a lively mix, where rice noodles meet tempe, tofu, bean sprouts and egg, doused in peanut sauce. Adjust the spiciness level to your liking, get yourself a cup of tea (usually free with your order) and enjoy!
5. Soto Betawi – Jakarta’s Beef Soup
While most Indonesian dishes use coconut milk in its ingredients, Soto Betawi is known for its unique use of cow’s milk for its fragrant soup, which is also infused with lemongrass, cloves, cinnamon and cloves. The meat of the dish is a combination of beef meat and entrails—and the latter is definitely worth a try despite appearances.
6. Bakmi – Wheat Noodles With Meat
Your trip to Jakarta wouldn’t be complete if you haven’t had a bowl of bakmi, a wheat noodle delicacy that came alongside immigrants from China many years ago. This food is a staple lunch pick in the city, particularly in West Jakarta where even the simplest of bakmi carts could surprise you with the hideaway quality of their offerings.
Recommended Street Food for Dinner
7. Sate Ayam – Grilled Chicken Skewers
These skewers of grilled chicken coated in peanut sauce is probably one of the most famous Indonesian foods out there. In Jakarta, street carts selling the popular Madura delicacy begin to pop out once the sun begins to set. Achieving the right level of tenderness requires finesse, same with making the peanut sauce, and not all satay is created equal. So reviews from prior diners are your best friend!
8. Nasi Goreng – Indonesian Fried Rice
Nasi Goreng is yet another popular street food option in the city at night. Sold on street corners and restaurants alike, you would notice the presence of the fried rice dish by the resounding clanging of irons as spatula hits wok. Sweet soy sauce, shredded chicken and sometimes even chicken nuggets and slices of sausage are part of the equation, all rapidly coming together under the practised hands of the cook.
9. Nasi Bebek Bumbu Hitam – Spicy Fried Duck On Rice
Sate Ayam isn’t the only Madura delicacy roaming the night in Jakarta, Nasi Bebek Bumbu Hitam is also a must try staple from the Madurese people. The dish comes with a portion of fried duck, rice, an oily yet alluring dose of black-coloured sambal made up of a variety of spices. Have a go at it with your hands while the rice is still hot, you’re guaranteed for a spicy treat!
Street Food Snacks
10. Gorengan – Fried Fritters
Gorengan here means fritters, more or less equivalent to tempura in Japanese cuisine. The variety ranges from simple fried tofu to molen, which is a banana-based treat where the fruit is wrapped in dough and then deep fried. These pocket friendly snacks are easy to find, as they are usually sold out of carts in the parking lot of convenient stores. Give them a try!
11. Maklor & Cilor – Macaroni Pancakes
Maklor or makaroni telor (macaroni egg) and cilor aka aci telor (tapioca egg) are mini pancakes doused in powdered seasonings, commonly found near schools. It’s admittedly not the healthiest snack, but it’s definitely a quintessential part of street food in Jakarta—and they taste nice! A tip is to customise the seasonings according to your flavour preferences, whether that means to go easy on the spice-level and sweetness or to kick it up a notch.
12. Kerak Telor – Traditional Spicy Omelette
Kerak telor, an omelette and sticky rice treat, is a time-honoured specialty in the city, and vendors often appear at cultural festivals with their cooking tools slung on a stick across their shoulders. Topped with a shredded coconut and dried shrimp, the simple snack is a reflection of the country’s history, as it is said to have been created to make up for the lack of quality of the glutinous rice during the colonial era.
Sweet Street Food
13. Rambut Nenek – Hand-Pulled Cotton Candy
Arbanat, or more famously known as rambut nenek—which roughly translates to grandma’s hair in English—is a common sighting in Jakarta. It’s a type of cotton candy treat, where the pale, hair-like strands of candy are sandwiched between a type of colourful crackers. If you’re lucky, you might encounter a rambut nenek vendor playing a rebab (Indonesian String Instrument) to attract people into buying the treat. When you do, there’s no need to hesitate, go and try it!
14. Roti Bakar Bandung – Sweet Grilled Bread
At its core, roti bakar is simply bread that is grilled over a pan—what makes the ones from Bandung attractive is the way that it’s toasted. The bread is rectangular and thick, slathered with margarine that adds flavour and is absorbed into the bread upon grilling. Sandwiched between the slices of bread is a type of jam or chocolate sprinkles, the latter of which is a definite must try for the irresistible flavour combo of melted chocolate and margarine.
15. Martabak – Sweet or Savoury Stuffed Pan Fried Bread
Martabak comes in two variants: sweet or savoury. The sweet one is a thick, stuffed pancake that comes with a variety of fillings, ranging from classic options like chocolate sprinkles and cheese to more experimental ones like melted Toblerone. Pecenongan street in Central Jakarta is a great place to go if you’d like to go to the hub and explore the diversity of the treat, but martabak’s popularity is so widespread that you can find it everywhere in the city.
Vegetarian-Friendly Street Food
16. Mendoan – Crispy Fried Tempeh
There are a lot of vegetarian-friendly options when it comes to street food in Indonesia, many of which use tempeh for their main protein source. For mendoan, the soy-based protein is thinly sliced, coated with dough and then deep fried. Each portion usually comes with three slices of mendoan, accompanied by spicy soy sauce and green bird’s eye chilli.
Gado-Gado – Indonesian Salad With Peanut Sauce
Once more, like many Indonesian dishes, peanut sauce is a main component in gado-gado. What makes it a bit more healthy is the content, which is a salad of lightly-cooked spinach, green beans and cucumber, among others. The taste can vary quite a bit depending on who makes it, so be sure to look up which eateries or restaurants serve the best gado-gado in town!
18. Asinan Sayur – Indonesian Salad With Pickles & Peanut Dressing
At first glance, asinan sayur may seem very similar to gado-gado. It’s also a vegetable salad that uses peanut sauce as dressing, but the two actually taste very different due to the pickling involved. The two also vary in vegetable options and peanut sauce recipe, with asinan being lighter on the palate in overall and is often spicy by default.
Most Popular Street Food Drinks
19. Es Cendol – Coconut Shaved Ice Drink With Green Jelly
Not only popular in Indonesia, es cendol seems to be a delicacy that is equally enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia. And for good reason—the iced dessert drink, consisting of green rice flour jelly in a glass of coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, is a true and tested delicacy, perfect to combat the hot weather of Jakarta.
20. Es Cincau – Coconut Shaved Ice Drink With Grass Jelly
Es cincau is a close cousin to es cendol, but instead of rice flour jelly, the star here is the grass jelly cubes. Nowadays, there are many variations of the drink as alternatives to the classic palm sugar and coconut milk syrup. There’s one with milk, another with coconut pandan syrup and complemented with chunks of bread, and even one with cappuccino!
21. Sari Tebu – Sugarcane Juice With Lime
Often enjoyed chilled with a touch of lime juice, sari tebu is a classic and popular drink in the city. It’s made out of sugarcane juice, extracted on the spot with a special juicing contraption. Known for its health benefits and refreshingly sweet taste, the drink also offers a glimpse into Indonesia’s history, as sugarcane has long been cultivated in the tropical country as one of its popular products.
Jakarta Street Food FAQs
What are some famous street foods in Jakarta?
Jakarta is simply brimming with options when it comes to street foods. In addition to the options mentioned above, famous options also include siomay, nasi kucing, es doger and many, many more.
Is the street food of Jakarta expensive?
It really depends on your definition of expensive, but street food here is generally very affordable, even at famous street stalls. We recommend not buying it at restaurants as even when it’s still not that expensive, it’s likely overpriced and not as authentic.
Where's the best place for street food in Jakarta?
Famous street food stalls in Jakarta are pretty wide spread across the city. But there are locations, particularly long-standing markets that host a number of good options all in one place.
Among them are:
- Glodok in West Jakarta
- Pasar Baru in Central Jakarta
- Blok M in South Jakarta
Jakarta loves its food and nothing captures the diversity of its people as well as its plethora of street food. It brings city locals together regardless of their background, providing a moment of comforting respite amidst all the hustle and bustle. So if you want to get to know the culture of the city and its people together, your experience in the city won’t be complete until you’ve tried Jakarta’s most famous street foods!