For two weeks we’ve been slowly exploring Java and its culinary traditions. The streets are full of food vendors, but to be frank we are not thrilled. The warungs, or primitive street side restaurants, and pedang kaki lima (mobile stalls) are the main fare here. Kaki lima means five feet – according to Wikipedia the name comes from their width or the sum of the “feet” of the stall and its owner.
Most food stalls offer deep-fried food that’s usually served at room temperature. Aside from any consideration of the quality of oil used or its dubious health benefits, which mean little if anything to most Indonesians, what’s offered has a rather uniform taste, so choosing one is little different from any other. Most common are fried banana, cabbage, tofu and tempeh (fermented soya beans). Other staples include chicken, eggs and fish. All these are served with the spicy sambal made of crushed red or green peppers and large amounts of white rice.
Deep-frying is a means towards preserving food in the hellishly hot and damp climate. The food is prepared in the morning and remains good for many hours afterwards. Some stalls offer bakso – meat or fish balls in clear broth with noodles and a bit of greens on top.
Goreng – it’s the keyword for anything fried. It seems that it relates to both deep-frying as well as frying on a pan or wok. The most common examples are nasi goreng, the orange-colored wok-fried rice, and its cousin, mie goreng, or fried noodles.
Restaurants and the more exclusive warungs, not necessarily much more expensive, can offer a more pleasant alternative. Fish or chicken is covered in spices and herbs, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed, making a very delicious dish.
Above is a tasty tilapia prepared using this method, with sides of garlicky steamed greens, soya sauce and karedok – a salad with spicy peanut sauce. After the meal we felt elated, even without the dessert or any alcohol…