Guy’s Guide: Vegetarian in Indonesia? Try One of These Delicious Local Dishes

Peace, Love and Nasi Goreng may be great on a T-shirt, but if you find yourself in Bali for longer than a weekend, the vegetarian-friendly, fried rice staple can get tiresome not to mention greasy. With a whole archipelago of cuisine to explore however, eating vegetarian in Indonesia is rather easy delicious. The set-menu vegetarian option at Locavore in Ubud? A must.

#1 Gado-Gado

What: Gado-Gado literally means “mix-mix” and is a staple dish found throughout Indonesia. Although everyone has a slightly different recipe, you’ll usually find bean sprouts, tofu, tempe, long beans, potatoes, a boiled egg, morning glory, soybean cakes and lontong (a compressed rice cake) mingling under a spicy peanut sauce made with sweet palm sugar, garlic, chilies, salt, tamarind and a squeeze of lime. Yum.

#2 Orek Tempe

What: The fermented and compressed soybean that has traveled the world — giving (literal) life to vegans and veggies — tempe (or tempeh) actually has its origins in Indonesia. Of the many traditional ways to eat it, orek tempe is a spicy fried tempe with shallots, onions, chilies, and a good slather of sweet soy sauce. It’s more a snack or side, but add some gulai daun singkong (fried cassava leaves) and some rice, and you’ve got a protein packed lunch or dinner.

#3 Oncom

What: The poor cousin of tempe found mainly in West Java and the capital region, oncom is another version of the fermented soybean but additionally incorporates the waste byproducts of other (vegetarian-friendly) traditional food manufacturing processes; soybean tailings when making tofu; coconut after it has been pressed for oil, and cassava tailings when extracting the starch. With many different dishes made from oncom, try and track down some combro (pronounced chom-bro) for a spicy, deep-fried ball of fermented goodness.

#4 Martabak Manis 

What: So you got up at 5 am to surf only to discover there were no waves; your bike ran out of gas on the way home, and once back at the villa you realised that you left your keys at the beach…Martabak manis can fix that. Also known as terang bulan, this doughy, thick pancake is served dripping with butter and oozes melted chocolate and condensed milk (sometimes with cheese thrown in for that salty/sweet vibe). Variations on the original can include red velvet, green tea, Nutella, Toblerone, Oreo and M & M’s. Served hot, it’s even better after a night in the fridge.

#5 Ketoprak

What: Somewhat similar to Gado-Gado, this Jakarta originating dish is heavy on the spicy peanut sauce. The centrepiece of the dish however, is sliced and fried tofu with lontong, cabbage, cucumber, vermicelli noodles and bean sprouts. Sprinkle a little fried shallots on top and add some puffed rice crackers (krupuk), and you’re in for a delicious tofu-heavy meal.

#6 Gudeg 

What: Considered one of the national dishes of Jogjakarta, gudeg is made from young jackfruit boiled and braised in coconut milk and palm sugar with bay leaves, lemongrass, galangal, coriander, garlic, shallot and teak leaves added for flavour and colour. Different cities make different versions, but the classic Jogja gudeg is heavy on the teak leaves giving a darker brown colour to the dish. It’s an extremely aromatic and sweet stew and can be served with additional tempe, egg or tofu if you want to liven it up even further.

#7 Sayur Asem & Sayur Lodeh 

What: Similar to Thailand’s Hot and Sour soup, sayur asem and sayur lodeh are vegetable broth soups with the former made from a base of tamarind and the latter a base of coconut milk. Both incorporate a variety of local vegetables including young jackfruit, green beans, corn on the cob, stink beans and eggplant. Somewhat of an acquired taste to really crave a bowl, the sayur asem as a refined version has wound up on many a Balinese fine dining menu for its unique and local flavour.

#8 Urap

What: Learn it, love it, order it on repeat. Salad as you may know it isn’t exactly popular in traditional Indonesian cuisine and it can sometimes be a challenge to find something light and clean to eat after your breakfast Nalu Bowl. Meet urap — a lightly steamed mix of water spinach, spinach, basil, bean sprouts, carrot, young cassava leaves, papaya leaf, cabbage and long beans (or whatever veggies are laying around really), topped off with a spicy dried coconut dressing made from ground shallots, chilies, tamarind juice, ginger, garlic, palm sugar and salt. You, nomad, are welcome.

#9 Nasi Uduk

What: In the same family as the Malaysian nom-nom nasi lemak, nasi uduk is a fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk with lemongrass, pandan leaves, coriander seeds, bay leaves and cardamom. It’s not really a main dish, but order some fried tempe and a little sambal, and you’ve got yourself a well balanced (and super affordable) meal.

#10 Salak (Snake Fruit)

What: A favorite complimentary snack in the fruit bowl of your villa (if it’s not, you should request some), the slightly alcoholic tasting Salak fruit is native only to Indonesia. Somewhere between an apple and pear, with a little mangosteen thrown in, salak is also known as the Fruit of Memory due to its high levels of potassium and pectin. It also has some good anti-diarrheal properties which can come in pretty handy with all that sambal.

Bali is always good on the belly.


Alexander Doerr

Adding a little Yang to the Wanderluxe Yin, this nomad can often be found riding his 1978 Vespa through the streets of the Big Durian. A lover of Javanese vintage, running, strange tropical flowers and brutalist architecture, he hates papayas, but is working on it.

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