Indonesia may have amazing meat dishes such as Bebek Bengil’s iconic fried duck and Naughty Nuri’s legendary pork ribs, but that doesn’t mean vegetarians should feel left out. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was ten years of age, and since then I’ve come to the realisation that many of Indonesia’s dishes cater are quite vegetarian-friendly. In fact, except for Ketoprak and Bakwan Jagung, the rest of the dishes on this list are vegan as well.
Vegetarians in Indonesia have it easy when it comes to eating. Vegetable dishes (sayuran) are considered a staple part of our diet, and tofu and tempeh are always available for your daily protein intake. It should be noted that many Indonesian food – including vegetarian and vegan – contain small amounts of dried shrimp paste (terasi). Unfortunately, this is just one of those things that vegetarians will have to turn a blind eye on as it’s almost impossible to discern which contains terasi and which don’t (small tip: if a food item says “sayur” on the menu, I’ll bet you ten blocks of tempeh it’s vegetarian).
One of my favourite dishes in the entire world, the mere mention of Gudeg once resulted in me knocking down several chairs in excitement during lunchtime back in my schooldays. It’s a deliciously sweet dish made from jackfruit that is boiled in palm sugar and coconut milk for several hours. Served with rice, it’s as soft as a fluffy cloud and tastes just as exquisite. There are several variations of the Gudeg, all coming in varying degrees of sweetness and moistness. My favourite, though, is the sweet and dry red-coloured Gudeg Yogyakarta. Gudeg is a vegan dish, but is often served with chicken and eggs – although you could always order it without them.
2. Sayur Lodeh
At its heart, Sayur Lodeh is simply vegetable soup cooked in coconut milk. However, it is so much more than that. Believed to be able to ward off danger and disaster according to the Javanese culture, if this is true then we should be safe and sound as its goodness makes it easy for one to consume it without keeping track of how much one has eaten it. Sayur Lodeh can be a wee bit difficult to describe as it tends to vary from one cook to another, yet its common ingredients include young jackfruit, melinjo beans, chayote, long beans, tofu, and tempeh.
One of those dishes that’s best eaten by the roadside at a hawker – regardless of hygienic risks – Ketoprak is easily recognisable from its thick, garlicky and creamy peanut sauce, akin to that of the Gado-Gado, which is poured over ketupat (rice cake), rice vermicelli, bean sprouts and fried tofu. Ketoprak is often served with sweet soy sauce as well. If it weren’t for the boiled egg that comes with it, this dish would be completely vegan. Be careful with the crackers that are often served alongside it though: they’re often made from fish.
4. Bakwan Jagung
More of a snack rather than a main course, Bakwan Jagung deserves a spot on this list mainly because it’s so scrumptious. Made from corn, flour, eggs and vegetables, this fried corn fritter can be found just about anywhere, while almost every household has its own recipe of the dish. They’re deliciously greasy – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Also known as Perkedel Jagung, this is one simple snack that one could never get enough of.
Also spelt “cap cai”, Capcay has its roots in Indonesia’s Chinese – or Peranakan, as they’re more appropriately known – community. Although it means “assorted vegetables” in English, some may add chicken or seafood into the mix but you could order it without any additional meat. Its cooking method involves stir frying vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and carrots and cooking them in a salty clear sauce that is thickened by corn flour. Each recipe tends to vary from one to the other though.