Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ibu Trish: Vegetarians

Dear Ibu Trish: Can a vegetarian possibly survive in Jakarta? Signed, Hold the Burger

Actually, you can get a surprisingly wide choice of vegetarian food in Jakarta -- but whether it's completely meat-free is somewhat in doubt. When I'm working I'll usually go down to the street and get something like this for dinner:

On the right is a little potato pancake, or perkedel; at the bottom are green beans cooked in coconut milk, and scattered throughout is the incredibly delicious tempeh they make here. I recall tempeh in the States as having all the appeal of wet cardboard, but here (where it was invented) it's phenomenal - especially cooked up crunchy-chewy in a sweet sauce. And of course, you get a nice incendiary blob of chili sauce, if you so desire.

Other warung staples include hard-boiled eggs in chili sauce, eggplant with spicy tomatoes, and various kinds of wild spinach and water spinach. It's all tasty and cheap - usually 30 to 50 cents for dinner, with enough left over to make fried rice for breakfast.

The dubiosity has to do with the fact that the warungs never seem to have enough serving spoons to go around, so the guy will grab one out of the nearest dish of braised beef or whatever, bang it vigorously on the side of a pot, and ladle away. Therefore, the possibility of cross-contamination with meat molecules is high. If you're okay with that, you're in good shape.

There are also carts and warungs all over devoted to gado-gado, or steamed vegetables in spicy peanut sauce -- yum -- which would be the Official Vegetarian Dish of Indonesia, if there were one. And if you like your health food less healthy, the gorengan (fried stuff) carts sell addictive pieces of deep-fried tempeh, tofu and sweet potato.

NOTE: I was mostly thinking of one- or two-week visitors when I wrote this; it may not be a wise longterm strategy, as my friend John points out in the Comments.


mr_john said...

I know about 4 vegetarians in Jakarta, only one of whom is Indonesian...

There aren't many, and to be honest, I wouldn't really recommend it for the new arrival unless you're here on a fancy expat package and can afford to buy nice vegetables and cook them yourself.

The cook the shit out of those vegetables you see there. There's nary a skerrick of nutritiousness left. You need the fats and proteins you get from the meat.

I lived on this stuff for a few months, but then I'm 6'7 and went down from 90kg (200lbs) to 80kg (178lbs I think) and caught typhoid over that period of time. And I eat a lot!

So, yeah... I wouldn't recommend that you live off it unless you're really packing in the calories and nutrients somewhere else.

kopisusu2 said...

Hmm, thanks for the cautionary tale! I'm too lazy to be a real vegetarian, so this isn't my exclusive diet. But it's definitely info to keep in mind.

triesti said...

Wow, you are brave to ate from the kaki lima. Even when I was living in Jakarta I seldom bought food from them. I remember one holiday years back, I had otak² from jalan Sangaji (yummmm) on day one...and I learnt my lesson ;)

Anonymous said...

There are heaps of vegetarian restaurant (warung) in Jakarta. One example is if you go to Duta Mas (Jelambar) you will find several (around 8 last time I counted) cheap vegetarians restaurants.

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