By MITZI WILSON
The man preparing my meal looks up from behind the glass and smirks.
“Pedas?” He asks.
I nod, perhaps too enthusiastically as he throws a handful of chillies into a pile of peanuts. Picking up a mortar and pestle, he grinds the nuts together to form a chunky paste. I am about to taste my first Gado-gado, Indonesia’s famous, all vegetable salad.
A travelling vegetarian is often challenged when the hunger pangs strike, especially when language barriers get in the way. But the good news is, it’s pretty easy to be a vegetarian in Indonesia’s capital, and not just by sticking to the staple meal of fried rice or Nasi. The bad news is that the concept of ‘vegetarian’ isn’t really understood, so when ordering a meal, you have to explicitly say that you don’t want any chicken, beef, seafood or pork.
So what is there to order without any of these in the first place? Here are some of the more vegetarian friendly meals on offer in Jakarta:
Tahu Telor or Tofu omelette is often served in a bowl, drowning in sweet soy sauce and sprinkled with curly onion shavings. The tofu, egg and sweet soy sauce marry perfectly and if requested, the spicy hit will leave your lips tingling long after. Add a mango juice, some rice crackers to lap up the remaining sauce and you’ll have a savoury meal worth writing home about.
Jasmine Tea and Kelepon
Translating to ‘Melati’ in Bahasa, Jasmine tea lets off an aroma that is sure to evoke post holiday nostalgia. With a spoonful of honey, it’s the perfect mid morning pick up. While meandering the aisles in the local Carrefour supermarket, I raided the snack section and picked up a plastic container full of Kelepon, green sticky rice balls covered in coconut and bursting with palm sugar. I took my new snack back to my Jakarta hotel and enjoyed with a steaming cup of Jasmine tea.
Nasi Special and Cah Kangkung
I couldn’t bypass a serving of the famous Nasi Goreng. Found at almost every Indonesian restaurant in the city, the Nasi special comes with a fried egg resting on a mountain of fried rice. Combined with Cah Kangkung, a delicious bowl of stir fried green water cress and a frosty Bintang beer, this is the ultimate Indonesian main meal.
Craving dessert? Hit the streets in Menteng in the evening and you’ll notice a gradual influx of red table cloths and mobile cafes on wheels or ‘Warungs’. Here you’ll find Sweet Martabak, a decadent and delicious pancake sandwich made of condensed milk, cheese and chocolate.
Whether you are sitting down at one of Jakarta’s air-conditioned restaurants or pulling up a plastic crate beside a Warung on wheels, the food in this busy city is cheap, colourful and if you ask for it – fiercely spicy.
After a few mouthfuls of Gado-gado, I promptly approached the counter and ordered a bottle of water from the man who served me initially. The combination of fresh veggies, fiery thick peanut sauce and crunchy rice crackers made me realise how much of a chilli amateur I really am.
Next time, I think I’ll hold the ‘pedas’, thanks!
Mitzi Wilson writes for lastminute.com.au, a website that believes that what you put in your memory bank is far more important than the contents of your piggy bank! When she’s not searching for healthy vegetarian meals, she’s people watching, shopping and dreaming of her next trip. Find your hotels in Jakarta here.