My brother ordered the biggest meal possible

My trip to Indonesia summed up by traditional food and drink

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

They say your taste buds change every seven years and I’m a strong believer in this statement. The last time I visited Indonesia, which was 14 years ago, I was just a kid who had no idea how to even tackle the enormous traditional Indonesian menu. Instead, I remember two things about my last trip when it came to food: walking around the neighborhood with my cousins looking for candy and cracker shops and the one time I got deathly ill from eating from a food hawker stand on the street.

Food-hawker-Indonesia
Mom being mom and pretending she’s cooking behind one of the millions of food stalls in Jakarta

I had the chance to celebrate my last month as a 29 year-old in Jakarta and Bali and I knew my taste buds were in for a treat. Traditional Indonesian and Balinese food ranges from noodle soups to grilled goat, fried fish and more. While American food is growing popularity in Indonesia, I wanted nothing more than a traditional meal whenever I could.

In my family, catching up over a meal is a daily occurrence and there was no difference among my extended family in Jakarta. We couldn’t have a single conversation without chatting about the next must-see restaurant or where we planned to have our next meal, coffee, or dessert.

Here are some photos from just a few of the delicious meals I enjoyed while traveling through Indonesia.

Es Campur
Es Campur is a traditional dessert found on the side of the streets and on the dessert menus of the city’s top, five-star hotels and restaurants.

Es Campur was one of my favorite desserts to order after a meal or on a super hot and humid day. Shaved ice is covered with layers of sweetened condensed milk, grass jelly, coconut jelly, basil seeds, and coco pandan syrup, among many other toppings. The cold and sweet dessert is delicious and extremely cheap.

Noodles from Bakmi Boy
Simple, cheap and delicious: This may have been one of my favorite meals the entire trip

Bakmi Boy is a culinary institution in Jakarta. Hidden down one of the narrow alleyways in the Fabric District, Bakmi Boy has been around for generations serving up its famous Mi Baso, a warm noodle dish topped with chopped chicken and bok choy. Always, always, always order a side of warm beef meatballs and broth and an order of fried dumplings to balance out the crunch factor. The iced orange juice is fresh and believe me when I say that the oranges found in this tropical part of the world are unlike anything you’ll ever find in the states. This entire meal was way less than $10 and I completely regret not making a second trip before the end of our vacation.

Grilled and fried squid...both were perfectly cooked
Grilled and fried squid…both were perfectly cooked
Grilled prawns were enormous and super fresh
Grilled prawns were enormous and super fresh

Sunda Kelapa has been serving up their signature seafood dishes to celebrities, dignitaries, politicians and the normal folk since 1970. My uncle treated us to an evening of prawns doused in sweet soy sauce and butter, squid served up two ways, braised vegetables, and so much more. A bit off the beaten path, Sunda Kelapa is definitely a must-see.

Rambutan-Indonesia
One of my favorite fruits in Jakarta, Rambutan is popped open with either your teeth or fingers. The pear-like fruit inside also comes with a huge pit
World-renowned as the stinkiest fruit to have ever existed, Durian is for the adventurous eater and will definitely linger around long after you've eaten it...if you get my drift
World-renowned as the stinkiest fruit to have ever existed, Durian is for the adventurous eater and will definitely linger around long after you’ve eaten it…if you get my drift

When we weren’t treating ourselves to fried fish or bowls of noodles, I was constantly on the hunt for local fruit. Indonesia is home to dozens of different kinds of bananas, spiny fruit that you have no idea how to open, juicy mangoes and melons, and so many other fruit that you didn’t know even existed.

Go for the weirdest and ugliest looking fruit and I guarantee you’ll find one to fall in love with — I certainly did.

Start your meal with a pot of the local Teh Poci or an Iced Melon Juice
Start your meal with a pot of the local Teh Poci or an Iced Melon Juice

Kampung Daun in Bandung, about two hours outside of Jakarta, was one of my favorite places for a meal. The restaurant and cultural center is set inside of a rain forest and serves up traditional and American food. No matter what you ordered, the sounds of a trickling waterfall or surprise thunderstorms will make any meal magical.

A plate of steamed rice, chicken satay, fried tofu and a mixture of vegetables
A plate of steamed rice, chicken satay, fried tofu and a mixture of vegetables
My brother ordered the biggest meal possible
My brother ordered the biggest meal possible

Every meal is served to you inside your own personal cabana and the service is impeccable. I suggest starting your meal right before sunset so that you can walk through the restaurant by moonlight. You also can’t miss watching traditional candy being made by local villagers at the base of the restaurant. Take your pick from hand-spun cotton candy, sugar-sculpted lollipops, taffy, and more.

One of the many cabanas to have a meal in at Kampung Daun
One of the many cabanas to have a meal in at Kampung Daun
At the base of the restaurant, you'll find men making traditional Indonesian candy from scratch
At the base of the restaurant, you’ll find men making traditional Indonesian candy from scratch
Kampung Daun at night is pure magic
Kampung Daun at night is pure magic

One of the many plates of fried noodles and fried rice we devoured everyday
One of the many plates of fried noodles and fried rice we devoured everyday

I don’t think there was a day that went by where fried rice or fried noodles weren’t served at either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Whether it was cooked every morning my a relative’s maid or served up at a local restaurant, it was a cheap and easy way to fill up for the day.

Would you just look at how many plates this guy can carry?
Would you just look at how many plates this guy can carry?
Dig in!
Dig in!

Padang is an idea that I don’t think would ever make it in the US, mostly because of health reasons and also because it’s just kind of insane. As soon as you walk into the Padang restaurant, the waiter will bring you a plate of one of everything the chef has cooked for the day. Plates range from the ordinary grilled or fried chicken to cow brains, intestines and chicken liver. You eat what you want and the waiter comes back and only charges you what you consumed before bringing your leftovers back and serving it up to the next patron. Regardless, I ate what I could recognize and would do it again in a heart beat.

I don’t think there was an Indonesian dish that I didn’t enjoy and devour. I happen to think that my taste buds were appreciative of going back to its roots and partaking in all of the caloric festivities. While legitimate Indonesian food is hard to find back at home, I’ll be happy to make up for lost time during my next trip to Indonesia.

 

 

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