As a vegetarian, growing up and traveling in Indonesia poses very little problem. I lived in Indonesia until I was 16, and when I was 12 – I announced to my family that I no longer would eat meat. My parents were like, “Uh huh. Just eat the side dishes then.”
Even though meat dishes are common, they’re usually eaten with side dishes that are vegetarian friendly. As a family, we were already eating mostly vegetable anyway. We ate a lot of tofu, tempeh, labu (gourd), and eggs. Not to mention that there’s plenty of fresh tropical fruit abound: mangoes, mangosteen, duku, papaya, pineapple – so much fruit!
All of the food on this list are vegetarian-friendly Indonesian food I grew up with and I always make it a point to have them every time I visit my family. Now that I live in the States and I can’t cook to save my life, I miss Indonesian food so much.
Vegetarian Food in Indonesia
1. Bakwan Jagung
Corn fritter. Deep fried, doughy, corny fritter. Eaten hot with rice, chili sauce on the side. Mom knew to have these waiting for us after she picked us up from the airport. Heavenly!
2. Sayur lodeh
A type of vegetable soup/stew with coconut milk based broth. There are many different varieties, but the one that I’m used to has a type of gourd (labu siam) in it along with other vegetables such as tofu, long bean, egg, and chili sauce. Eaten over rice or rice cakes, this is a staple food during the big Muslim holiday at the end of the fasting month, Idul Fitri.
3. Keripik tempeh pedas
Another favorite. Thinly sliced tempeh, fried, and doused in spicy, sweet sauce. Eaten with hot, white rice, and usually served as a side dish or add-on for many of the soups/stews listed here.
4. Jogja gudeg
Young jackfruit, boiled until soft, and marinated with coconut milk and sugar. The resulting look and texture is just like beef. Slightly sweet and savory. Usually eaten with a bunch of other side dishes like boiled egg, tofu/tempeh, and chicken.
A traditional dish of Yogyakarta, it can be found in many street food stalls lining the city’s famous Malioboro Street in big enamel pots.
5. Tahu bacem
I would eat a whole bucket of this when I was a kid! You get a piece of tofu (or lots of tofu if you’re making it for me), then have it sit for hours in a concoction of sugar, coconut milk, and about a dozen spices until the it absorbs all of the flavor.
Fried just before serving, it’s a delicious and flavorful surprise especially if you’re used the (more) bland way tofu is often prepared in the western world.
6. Lontong Cap Gomeh
Another type of coconut milk based vegetable stew, served with or over rice cakes. I try not to eat too much of it because of the coconut milk, but it’s sooo good. You usually get to choose what you have it with. Options include: tofu, egg, crackers and chicken for the non-veggie.
7. Sayur asem
It’s the Indonesian’s answer to Thai’s Tom Yum soup. Translates to roughly “sour vegetables”, it’s a light vegetable soup that gets its sour taste from tamarind. It usually contains peanuts, corns, ‘melinjo’, some leafy greens and long beans. By itself, this dish doesn’t impress, but eaten with something fried (like corn fritters, for example)… it helps cleanse the palate and adds a little zing to your meal.
8. Telur Belado
Fried boiled eggs covered in sweet chili sauce (balado sauce). Balado sauce often used with other types of meat as well. It’s a very flavorful chili sauce made with shallots, garlic, lime, and sometimes shrimp paste.*See note below
9. Mie Tek Tek
Stir fried noodles with eggs and veggies. It’s so simple, yet so delicious. In Jakarta, this is sold by vendors who go around neighborhoods with a cart. To announce their presence, they hit 2 wooden sticks together making “tek tek” sounds, thus the name “mie tek tek” or “tek tek noodles”.
10. Gado gado
Freshly made peanut sauce poured over assorted boiled vegetables. Sounds simple enough, but the peanut sauce either breaks it or makes it. Recipes call for various spices such as shallots, brown sugar, garlic, and other ‘secret’ ingredients that make one gado gado establishment different from the other. Eaten with rice cakes, crackers, and fried shallots it can be had either as an appetizer or a main meal.
Like ‘Mie tek tek’ in #9, Gado Gado has made it to the big league from its humble beginning as peasant food and can easily be found from street card vendors to fine dining establishment.
Indonesian snacks and sweets
Whenever you get a chance, I recommend visiting the market and check out Indonesian traditional snacks and cakes. Made usually with rice flour, coconut milk, palm sugar, with bits of cassava, yam, or banana – they’re very unique, vegetarian, and delicious.
Vegetarians won’t go hungry in Indonesia, that’s for sure.
* Strict vegetarians: Be wary of shrimp paste (terasi) that’s ubiquitous in Indonesia. It’s easily hidden in soups, stews, and other innocent looking vegetable dishes.
I go home to see my family once a year and on each visit, I try to see parts of Indonesia I’ve never been to. Some of my favorite include Belitung Island, Sumba, and Flores. Although being born in Java, I’m partial to this island as well. See all of my Indonesia posts, here.
[…] turned to Google and asked it for some Indonesian recipes to see what I got. I ended up using this 10 Favorite Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia post for inspiration. Though not everything there was vegan, it was a good starting […]
i love food and i think noodles and rice would be nice
Thanks for the list, I'll be using it!
Gado gado enak!
YUM YUM YUM!!!
I have never tried any of them, but Mie Tek Tek does look amazing 🙂
This post makes us really hungry!! And really excited about going to Indonesia 🙂 Good to know that we won't starve there – thanks for introducing us to these yummy dishes!
Oh, you'll love Indonesia. I'm not saying it just because I was born there, really.
Absolutely love tempeh any way it comes, but fried it's nice too when mixed through rice. Also love jackfruit curry which might be what is called gudeg. It's often intimidating to rock up to a stall and not know what you are going to be served, but when you know there is no meat involved, it becomes a less intimidating situation. 🙂
It all looks quite yummy 🙂
Try sambal goreng tempe, it's lovely 😀
Quite true. I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm allergic to shrimp. It's a bummer I had to return many dish (well, or let somebody else eat it), because shrimp paste is everywhere.
So is my brother! But he must have a much lesser allergy condition than urs, coz he surely loves that sambal terasi.
Aahhhhhh, I miss Indo food so much!
Sayur asem is our favourite. We usually order it in Ayam Suharti with the chicken and tempe. I will add rujak manis to the list. Tahu isi and tahu petis, or gorengan in general. Sambal goreng tempe too. Haha, so much delicious food!
You're so lucky! I've seen fresh jackfruit in Chinatown so in case you haven't already, and assuming your town has one, might worth checking it out. I can't cook but there's a pretty authentic Indonesian food about 30 mins away. Unfortunately, their veg option is very limited or very expensive.
I loved the tempeh in Indonesia! Great list of food, I see that I've missed a few of them, gotta try them next time I go back there!
Jack hates tempeh! I only like tempeh when it's prepared in a certain way, such as deep fried and doused in chili sauce 🙂
Tempe with nasi goreng is so delicious.
Thanks for the post. My mouth is watering right now looking at the pictures and the descriptions. It's reassuring to know a vegetarian like me won't go hungry in Indonesia.
Tempeh always seems to disappoint but wow does that keripik tempeh pedas ever look good.
Wow, didn't realise there were so many veggie dishes in Indonesia. That'll be helpful next time we visit. We did find fish or shrimp paste a big problem in Asia though.
Awesome roundup of Indonesian vegetarian food. I'm glad to see you included two of my favorites: gudeg and gado-gado. First time I had gudeg was in Jogja and I was hooked after the first taste. We tried making it here in the US but we can never find fresh jackfruit and canned just never tasted right. My wife makes gado-gado at least once a week.