Indonesian Street Food: Protein-Packed Ketoprak

Ketoprak, one of my favorite street foods, may not be as common a sight at the kaki lima (street carts) dotting Jakarta as satay, or nasgor (nasi goreng = fried rice). But given the scale of the city, it’s out there, waiting for you by a clogged canal, randomly neon-lit bridge, or a group of mischievous cats.

Ketoprak — not to be confused with the Javanese theater style of the same name — is a vegetarian dish amply covered in protein; fellow omnivores might want to add some satay to really raise the bar. It consists of peanut sauce, aka bumbu kacang, fried tofu, lontong (banana leaf-packed rice cakes), bihun (rice vermicelli), taoge (bean sprouts), garlic, palm sugar, fried onions/shallots, and if you’re lucky, an egg or two. Slosh all of that fun stuff around, dip in some krupuk, or shrimp crackers, and you’ve got some filling Indonesian cheap eats.

And if you’re like, naively asking for pedas banget — extra spicy — you’ll be glad cucumber slices accompany the meal on the side.

Have you ever tried ketoprak? What are your favorite Indonesian street foods?

If the Word Salad Sounds Too Healthy, Try Indonesia’s Gado Gado

Gado gado (gado means “mixture” in Indonesian) is a blend of peanut sauce with morning glory (aka water spinach), lontong (sticky rice), boiled potatoes, eggs, fried tofu, and bean sprouts, among other ingredients. And yes, it’s a carbohydrate dream or nightmare, depending on how you view them.

It’s a staple at Indonesian restaurants throughout the world, although according to the Wall Street Journal, was only invented in the 16th century in Batavia (present-day Jakarta), once Portuguese and Spanish traders brought over peanuts and chili peppers from South America.

Gado gado, a mixture of peanut sauce, vegetables and carbs, Bali, Indonesia

For a look at the traditional way to prepare this Indonesian food classic, check out my video below. I enjoyed this version of gado gado in Bali, and introduce a few other Indonesian specialties, too.

Selamat makan! (Bon Appétit!)

How to Order Satay in Indonesia

Many countries have their own versions of satay — shashlik throughout the former Soviet Union, kebabs, brochetas — or in Indonesian, sate. Though in each country you will find different proteins awaiting their grilled fates — chicken, beef, lamb, pork are the four most common — to me it’s the spices and condiments with which satay is prepared and served that distinguish the meal. For instance, Azerbaijan has a pomegranate molasses called narsharab, Lebanon toum, or whipped garlic sauce, and Japan, its soy sauce and mirin mixture.

However, in Indonesia, the most popular is bumbu kacang, a sweetened peanut sauce. In second place would be a savory, turmeric-based glop used in sate Padang, named for a city in Sumatra.

With the backgrounder out of the way, let’s say you’re walking by the street stalls of Jakarta or Bali and come across a sate kaki lima (street vendor, but meaning “five legs”). Here’s a primer (with a video to boot) for how to customize and order your desired plate of satay.

indonesian satay street food
Chicken, Beef, and Lamb Satay, at Nurshabat Street Stall in Bali, Indonesia

-sate ayam (chicken)
-sate babi (pork)
-sate daging (beef, but it also means meat)
-sate kambing (lamb)

Now, if you want the sate as is — you know, with all the fat and cartilage — you can utter satu porsi sate ___makasih (one portion of ___ satay, thanks!).
And if you want just the meat? Try daging aja, and add a tanpa lemak for good measure. That means “just the meat,” and “without the fat.” Tanpa = without.

Want a mix of the different proteins? Say campur campur (“cham-pur cham-pur”). Campur means mix, so you can use it for fruit shakes, sambal (hot sauces), whatever you fancy.

At some point, the vendor might ask berapa tusuk? (how many skewers?) n.b. tusuk gigi means toothpick, quite a useful invention once you’re done gnawing away at the skewers.

I hope that this Indonesian satay primer will help you in your travels!

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