With 141 million people on this central Indonesian island of Java it seems like the city never sleeps. Moreover, it seems like one sprawling city. Driving for 90 minutes in on direction and 60 minutes in the other was just continuous houses and people.
Every street and alley way is packed with vendors of all kinds. Walking down the alley we lived on, there was eateries, soldering shops, pot repair shops, bike repair shops, gum and snack shops, and a bunch more I couldn’t identify. I say shops loosely. These were not buildings to go in and isle browse. At best these were shacks extending over the sidewalk making street just wide enough for a car.
Sometimes the eateries were a bench in front of someones house. Sometimes they were a mobile hand push cart with a pot of hot water heated by a propane tank, with a glass box full of noodles, meatballs, and some vegetables.
We walked down Maliboro street. This main drag has department stores and malls. However, the street itself is very wide with wide sidewalks. This means street vendors take up all the available space. A few banners with their menu, some stools, a hot pot or wok and voila, instant eatery. Shoulder to shoulder the eateries were intermingled with knickknack shops. A McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and a Burger King seemed exotic, but not too out of place on this street. (After a long bus ride, the cool air conditioning, fries, burger, and a McFreeze was welcome. It was also Kylie and Alyssa’s first McDonalds experience. Who knew we had to go to Indonesia to eat at McDonalds). Sharleen got a hot tip on a food she wanted to try Gudeg, as in: “What the Gudeg is that.”
She found it delicious. It was more like porridge-comfort-food. Her food buddy, Kylie dove in as well. Absolutely fearless! Both loved it!
Alyssa found a Lumpia cart that was the center of attention for the area. She had to wait nearly twenty minutes for them to get through their orders.
The real action starts at night. Many of the storefronts close. In our local alleyway, the metal shops closed and little rectangular grills came out to make satay for sale. Small battery powered florescent lights or candles illuminated the push carts. Tables, carpets, and stools were spread out for people sit on. The streets remained busy. One restaurant that Sharleen wanted to try opened at 9PM and closed at 2AM.
The barbecues and open furnaces for cooking in some of these street eateries were powered by burning coal. Cooks sat near and fanned the flames while cooking soups, satay, fried noodles, or rice. Food was distributed in batches when one cauldron or batch was finished. Sharleen asked our tablemate: “So many people are eating out, does anyone cook in?” Her tablemate laughed: “I don’t think so.”
Not all “street” food is street food. Some restaurants open up to the street serving “fast food” on the go. We ate at Blengers. You walk in, write your order, and pay. The assembly line puts it together and passes it off to one of the giant wok chefs. They cook it up and dump it into a plastic bag (if liquidy) or onto a sheet of paper (if it is a rice or noodle dish), where it is wrapped up and passed on to you.
A few words to the wise who want to eat street food near Marlboro Street (or any of its associated ally-ways).
- Lines are good. It means that people ate there before and want to eat there again.
- Bring cash. Everyone has a phone, but no one deals in plastic. Sorry Visa-Mastercard you’re not all that.
- Suspend your sensibilities about hygiene and sanitation. Maybe you’ll eat on a rice mat on the ground or a table. If you get a plate or utensils, they may have been cleaned by being wiped off with a rag that was used to wipe off the last 100 plates, forks, or chopsticks. Would you rather have it rinsed with untreated water? Some places did have a three bucket wash system and others expected you to use your fingers.
- Looks can be deceiving. Good looking food may taste awful and bad looking food may taste great.
- Some of the corners we ate in were akin to a home cooked meal in someone’s kitchen: Hot and prepared by someone’s mother or grandmother. Some places displayed their food like a buffet, how long has it been sitting out? Hot is good.
- If things come out squirting with you moaning on the pot, find solace that the food was great on its way in. A little microbial (probiotic) warfare in your tummy could be a good work out (your gut may have needed some gastrointestinal push ups).
- If you are a vegan like me, it is a good time for a fast. Actually, I tried some stink beans (Click Here), and lived to talk about it.
Some other tips:
- Ayam = Chicken
- Bakso Soto= Meatball soup
- Mie Goreng = Fried Noodle
- Nasi Goreng = Fried Rice
- Tahu = Tofu
- Gudeg = Slightly unripe stewed jack fruit
- Tepung = Stew
- Terima Kasih = Thank you (Suk sem ah = Thank you in Balinese)
- Sama Sama = You are welcome (Ma wale = Thank you in Balinese)
- Soto = Soup
- Warung – Restaurant
- A smile is a universal gesture that goes a long way.