One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
The secondary purpose of my trip to Yogyakarta was to eat as much Indonesian food as possible. I figured I’d work up an appetite after watching the sunrise at Borobudur and wandering through temples at Prambanan.
There was little else on my itinerary. Jogja isn’t known for much beyond those main tourist attractions. I found the city to be pleasant and relaxing. It was also full of street food vendors. I found that some of my food notes have different names from what is online.
There were, however, a few hurdles to achieving my goal of stuffing my face for a the few days I had in Indonesia. The first was the heat. I’m just not as hungry when the weather is hot and humid — I can’t eat that much in such weather. The other hurdle was the enormous breakfast I was served at Tiga Lima Homestay — despite being one person, they served me breakfast for two because that’s apparently how many people are supposed to stay in one room. I can’t complain about two servings of fruit and coffee, but the extra sandwich that was stuffed with an omelette was too much.
There was a third issue that some might consider a problem, but not understanding Bahasa didn’t deter me from ordering just about everything I saw while wandering the city.
My first meal after arriving and getting acquainted with my surroundings was duck. I mean, how could I pass up an outdoor eatery called Quack! Quack!? Note: Google tells me that this restaurant is now closed.
Of course, I had to order bebek remuk, a spicy shredded duck dish. The duck itself was dried and crispy and there was a chili sauce to dip the pieces, and it was really spicy — I was grateful for the side of cucumber to cool my tongue.
As I wandered the streets near my hotel in an attempt to not get lost on my first half day (I had to wake up at 4 am to catch the sunrise), I stopped at a few street food vendors. I didn’t recognize any of the food and asked what was being served. In some cases, the vendors spoke enough English to tell me the main ingredients, but it was usually just repeating the name of the dish. Considering everything on the street cost less than a dollar, I just tried it all.
One of the easiest snacks to find on the streets of Jogja in the evening is satay. There’s usually a vendor on every corner with little skewers of meat. And it’s the cheapest food around at about 50 cents for 20 skewers (I ordered 10 because I really didn’t need 20).
Another great street snack is lompia (sometimes spelled lumpia). This is a fried spring roll with a choice of filling for about a quarter. I have no idea what was actually in mine, but it was good enough that I almost went back for a second one.
One of the early street foods I tried was batsuko (though articles online call a similar dish bakso). This is a meatball soup with noodles and fried wontons. It is quite good, but meatballs in much of Asia are not what Westerners expect. They tend to be much harder and somewhat spongy. However, the broth and the mix of spongy and crunchy textures made this a satisfying snack.
There were only two meals that I ate that I wasn’t impressed with. The flavors of both dishes were good, but the texture was not one I enjoyed. The first was a dish called gado gado — I asked the vendor what it was and the response was “gado gado.” Well, for about 70 cents, I could take a chance.
Other than the shrimp crackers that come with it, gado gado is a bit of a mushy meal covered in a peanut sauce. It has hard boiled egg, potato, and tofu. I’m not the biggest fan of peanut sauce, and this version was too sweet for the weather — I felt weighed down after eating it.
The other dish I didn’t care for was nasi gudeg, which I found out is a local specialty. I tried this because it’s made with jackfruit — I had never had cooked jackfruit before and wanted to try it. What I didn’t know is that this dish uses unripe jackfruit, which may make a difference in flavor and texture.
Nasi gudeg certainly tastes better than it looks (I know the virtue of ugly food). Like the gado gado, it’s a sweeter flavor in Indonesia. As the jackfruit is boiled for a long time, the dish has a slightly glutinous texture with a bit of the meat-like texture of the jackfruit.
I have had fresh jackfruit, which has a wonderful sweet flavor. The texture, however, takes some getting used to.
Some more of the vegetarian food I tried included terong goreng sambal — fried eggplant with chili. It reminded me of a Chinese dish but with better flavor. This was tender eggplant with a balance of sweet and spicy.
On the final night I had some simple stir-fried spinach with fried shallot (similar to kongxin cai in China) along Malioboro in the evening when much of the street is turned into temporary restaurants.
I didn’t know there was so much more along the street. Had I not eaten shortly before getting to the area, I would’ve loved to get more food along the street (I was also trying to ensure I’d have enough money for a taxi to the airport the next morning without having to go to another ATM).
I was still a bit full from the spicy fried rice at a stand down the street from my hotel. I had passed the place a few times and it smelled good, plus I was tired from wandering around and getting lost earlier in the day. It might not have been the best meal I had in Yogyakarta, but it was still good and spicy.
Had I not only had three days in Yogyakarta, I would have eaten a lot more. It took time for me to find where to go for late-night food as most vendors don’t set up shop until after sunset.