10 Delicious & Popular Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Before I moved to Jakarta, I was really worried that being a vegetarian in Indonesia was going to be really frustrating.  I had already spent two months traveling the length of Java and Bali, subsisting on a steady diet of nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice), which got really old, really fast.  Back then it appeared that the concept of vegetarianism was incredibly foreign to most Indonesians and their food seemed disappointingly meat-centric.  It took living here for me to realize that there are a ton of delicious and popular vegetarian foods in Indonesia.  Who says traveling as a vegetarian in Indonesia has to be difficult?

10 Popular Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia:

Bakwan Jagung

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Since I moved to Jakarta, bakwan has become my #1 guilty pleasure.  This is one of the more popular vegetarian foods in Indonesia; it is all over the place and is widely available at food stalls across the country.  Bakwan are pretty much corn fritters, but they are prepared differently in various parts of the country.  They are typically made with corn and rice flour, which is mixed with corn, carrot and cabbage and spiced with fingerroot and kaffir lime leaves.

Depending on where you are in the country, bakwan might also be referred to as dadar jagung, bakwan jagung or perkedel jagung.  (FYI, jagung means corn, so when in doubt look for that word.)  Bakwan are commonly served with raw, spicy chilis (see above).  I never thought I would be one to just snack on raw chilis but it is actually incredibly good (and spicy)!  Vegetarians be careful not to buy bakwan undag, as it is prepared with shrimp.  The shrimp are usually on top, so they’re easy to spot!

SAYUR LODEH

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

This popular soup is prepared with a coconut broth and chunks all sorts of fresh ingredients…think corn on the cob, unripe jackfruit, chili peppers, long beans and tempeh.  For vegetarians, it’s important to note that some vendors will make this soup with animal-based broths.  So if you’re super paranoid (like me) it’s best to ask.  But I’m assured by my Indonesian friends that it is most often purely vegetarian.

Sayur Asem

Sayur asem is very similar to sayur lodeh.  This tart soup can be found everywhere from street vendors to 5-star restaurants.  What’s great about sayur asem is that it’s made with a tamarind-based broth and it is rarely prepared with any animal-based ingredients.  It is the tamarind that gives this soup its signature sour flavor.  Like sayur lodeh, sayur asem is often prepared with young jackfruit, green beans and corn on the cob.

Gado-gado

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

When I was backpacking around Indonesia, I could not get enough gado-gado.  This has to be one of the best vegetarian foods in Indonesia because, well, anything with peanut sauce is just really freaking good.

I wrote a detailed post all about gado-gado, but to sum it up it’s an Indonesian “salad” made up of fresh veggies – usually carrots, green beans, cucumber, cabbage and some sort of gourd – tempeh, tofu and a hard boiled egg.  All of this is drenched in a creamy peanut sauce and the result is heavenly.  Gado-gado is ubiquitous in Indonesia and there’s no doubt that vegetarians and non-vegetarians will snack on this dish many a time during their Indonesian vacation.

A note to vegetarians: gado-gado is usually served with krupuk (crackers), which are often flavored with prawn.  I always just put them to the side.

Tempeh

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

When I first came to Indonesia I was ecstatic that tempeh plays such a large role in Indonesian cuisine.  I’m sure not everyone shares my enthusiasm for tempeh, but I think most vegetarians and vegans can understand my excitement.  Tempeh is everywhere in Indonesia: it is fried up and sold by street vendors as a common snack, and it is also featured in many Indonesian dishes.  The nice thing about local buffets is that there are bound to be numerous tempeh dishes, which means eating local is pretty easy (and really cheap!) for vegetarians.

Tahu Berontak

stuffed tofu

Like tempeh, tahu (tofu) is cooked up everywhere in Indonesia.  Tahu berontak is a really popular snack and it’s incredibly addictive.  Street vendors stuff huge hunks of tofu with anything from cabbage to carrots to bean sprouts and deep fry them until they’re deliciously crunchy.  This dish is often served with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Onde-onde

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Onde-onde are puffy, ball-shaped pastries and are commonly filled with lotus, mung bean or red bean pastes and coated in sesame seeds.  I can’t say I’m a huge fan of onde-onde, but everyone else seems to love it!

Cendol

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

This super sweet dessert is found in a few countries around Southeast Asia, but it is particularly popular in Indonesia.  It’s made from coconut milk, a brown sugar syrup and topped with green pieces of jelly.  The jelly might sound weird to some but I assure you, it’s really good!

Exotic Fruits

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Being a vegetarian can be tough in a lot of countries, but the amazing selection of fruit makes being a vegetarian in Indonesia so much easier.  My personal favorites are dragon fruit (especially red dragon fruit) and mangosteen (it’s so sweet it tastes like candy!).  There are just absurd amounts of amazing and even downright bizarre fruits to choose from in Indonesia.

Grilled corn with sambal

10 Popular & Delicious Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia - The Travel Lush

There’s just something about freshly grilled corn that I can’t get enough of, especially when it’s slathered with seasoned butter and spicy sambal.  Sambal is a spicy sauce concocted from chili peppers, ginger, garlic, shallots and more.  Indonesians appear to put it on virtually everything…a habit I’ve picked up since moving here.  Vegetarians traveling in Indonesia need to be careful that the sambal isn’t made with shrimp or fish paste (you’ll be able to smell it immediately).  When it’s not, sambal is the best thing ever and tastes particularly good on piping hot corn!

See?  Being a vegetarian in Indonesia isn’t so bad.  It helps that there are a ton of popular vegetarian foods in Indonesia to choose from.  For anyone out there who’s interested in learning more about Indonesian food (especially all of you non-vegetarians out there), Katie over at From Shores to Skylines created a wonderful guide to Indonesian food, which I highly recommend.

Have you ever been to Indonesia?  What were some of your favorite foods?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

43 thoughts on “10 Delicious & Popular Vegetarian Foods in Indonesia

    1. I think it’s important to try new foods too, which is why being a vegetarian can be so frustrating. I typically feel like I’m missing out on so much! But in Indonesia there is a good amount to choose from. I’ve been able to eat fairly well here 🙂

  1. Oh how I miss tempe… the Indonesians definitely do it best! I couldn’t get enough of it on our travels to Java and Bali. I loved Indonesian food (although we did begin to get a bit sugared out by the end of our time in Java, especially in Jogja where they love sweet things).

    Those ’emping’ crackers that are served with gado-gado in Java are addictive, as is burbur sum sum (that yummy coconutty rice flour custard with palm sugar syrup).

    I think Indonesia is a great places for vegans and vegetarians – we never went hungry and mainly ate local food which is always a treat.

    A seriously hunger-inducing post Justine!
    caryl recently posted…Why it’s Good to Travel as a Vegan

    1. The tempeh in Indonesia is so good and fresh. It’s definitely better than the stuff I would buy at the store back in the states. I don’t think I tried hard enough to discover all of the veg-friendly foods on offer when I was backpacking around Indonesia. But since moving to Jakarta I’ve realized just how many vegetarian and vegan options there are here. And they’re available everywhere!

  2. OMG. I know I have already complained ad nauseum on my own blog about how Mexico is the land of meat and no vegetables (so weird since it was my understanding from shopping in U.S./Canadian grocery stores that many vegetables are grown here… maybe they are exporting them all?!?), so I was legitimately salivating going through this post. I LOVED those corn fritters, and really, what I wouldn’t do for corn that is actually sweet and crisp, rather than chewy and starchy as it seems to be here in Mexico. I would probably even go for a plate of gado gado, a dish I DID NOT like when we were in Indonesia. The peanut sauce was obviously brilliant, but I hated how bland and boring the veggies were—the ones I tried were always boiled within an inch of their lives, which is my least favorite way to enjoy veggies!

    I know you are missing Mexican food now that you are in Indonesia, but I guess the grass is always greener, eh? 😉
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Getting the Last Laugh at Bryce Canyon

    1. Steph, the corn fritters are so good! I kind of wish I would have never tried them because there are times when I literally eat them every day, and clearly that can’t be good for me. I’ve even taken to making them myself, which means there is an endless supply. I love them and I admit that I have a problem.

      That’s bizarre to me that the corn is so crappy in Mexico. I would think that with all the corn tortillas they would have an endless supply of excellent corn there. But I guess not! Hey man, the grass is definitely greener…what I would do for some real tacos…and cheese…and guacamole…and salsa. I literally dream about Mexican food, so I feel your pain about missing food!

  3. It’s awesome that you have so many veggie-friendly foods in Indonesia! I love that these vegetarian foods are simply integral to the culture. (That’s not as true about Spain, where many vegetable-based dishes pile on ham or tuna.)

    At first glance, I thought that cendol was a salad or some other greens! And the spicy bakwan sounds so delicious. I’d love to visit Indonesia and try all of these unique foods!
    Cassandra recently posted…Media Naranja

    1. It is interesting that these foods are eaten by everyone here. I suppose it’s because a lot of Indonesian can’t afford to eat a lot of meat, since it’s more pricey, so things like veggies and tempeh have become staples of the cuisine. Ha, that’s funny about food in Spain. I’m sure traveling there would be a bit challenging for me because Spanish food looks delicious. I’d want to eat it all!

      1. well, tempeh actually originated from Indonesia, it’s form Java Island to be exact. So, it’s no wonder if tempeh in indonesia more famous and more fresh than in another country. it has been recognized in Java since 17th century. In Indonesia you can find different type of tempe dish, such as tempe bacem, tempe mendoan, tempe kering (Dry tempe), soup tempeh, perkedel tempeh, tempe sayur lodeh, tumis tempe, sambal tempe, tempe penyet, and many more of them

        1. Yes, the tempeh in Indonesia is so good! As a vegetarian, I am so glad that it plays such a big role in the cuisine here 🙂 I’ve tried a lot of tempeh dishes here, but I’m not sure what they’re called! Sambal tempeh sounds especially good though!

  4. Oh wow, so yummy!! I tried gado gado in India but I would love to try the authentic kind in Indonesia! I am also very interested in those corn fritters they look quite delicious. I am glad you were able to find so many tasty veggie options. It’s always a nice surprise when you go somewhere exotic and there are so many local items to eat! And tropical fruit is a weakness for me, I can’t get enough when I am somewhere with new fruits!! Thanks for sharing your advice, it’s good to know I can eat some good food whenever I make it to Indonesia 🙂
    Katie
    Katie @worldwidevegetarian.com recently posted…What I Saw in Delhi

    1. I’m so obsessed with the corn fritters that I made my own last night. They are so good and really easy to make! When I was traveling here I really did assume Indonesia was not at all veg-friendly. But after living here I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot out there if you just look. Oh, I love tropical fruits too. I love being able to discover all of the new and weird ones…there are so many!

  5. Great post! You’re right, it is possible to find some meatless dishes in Indonesia – but it’s not always easy! A personal favorite for me is Gulai Nangka (Jackfruit Curry). But, depending on how strict a vegetarian you are, realize that pretty much all Indonesian dishes, like Sayur Lodeh and Sayur Asem, have terasi (shrimp paste/sauce) or tiram (oyster sauce) in them!

    1. I just googled that jackfruit curry and it sounds so good. I would love to try it. It’s amazing how many different foods there are in this country. Indonesia is just so big and diverse! Yes, the shrimp paste is the hardest thing to avoid. I’ve detected it in my food on many occasions and just push those items to the side. Being a vegetarian can be a big pain in the ass 😉

  6. I didn’t realize Indonesia was such a gem for vegetarian food! Everything on this list sounds amazing, especially the Bakwan Jagung and Sambal. I miss Southeast Asian fruit so much, and I’m not sure why I didn’t try mangosteen while I was travelling there.
    Ashley recently posted…Why I’m Afraid to Return to Edinburgh

    1. It is possible to find veg food if you look. But as Luke pointed out in a previous comment there is a lot of shrimp paste to be avoided! Regardless, I find that I’m able to eat at a lot of local buffets, which are really popular here. The bakwan are so good and mangosteens are amazing! You have to try one next time you’re able!!

  7. Yum, this all looks so delicious! I’m not vegetarian myself but I’m not a big meat-lover so I often go with the veggie options, especially in Asia where it’s all about the fruit and veg for me! I should be going back to Indonesia in a few months and I’m really excited to try all the ones I haven’t tried before on this list!
    Camille recently posted…World Thirst: 5 Exotic Teas and Coffees You Should Try

    1. They are all so good Camille! Well, except for the onde-onde. I’m not so sure about that one. You have to try the bakwan when you come back here. They are so good. I just got back from Bali where I tried one that was completely different than what I’ve had in Jakarta. They are such an addiction 😉

  8. The Indonesian food looks incredibly delicious. I miss so much the Asian food and since we’ve returned to Europe it’s not easy to find some authentic restaurants that serves proper Asian food. I’d love to have some Sayur Lodeh right now which I’ve never tried before, plus those mangosteen look so good and mouth watering, want!
    Franca recently posted…More Than Just Haggis – Vegan Restaurants in Glasgow

    1. Indonesian food is really good. It tends to get overshadowed by Thai and Malaysian food, but in my opinion Indonesia has some amazing dishes. And, for me personally, it’s really nice to have so many vegetarian options 🙂 I love mangosteens! I always miss them when I’m back in the states. The fruit in Southeast Asia is the best!

  9. You can visit jogja and try another foods and drinks like gethuk, gudeg, wedang ronde, wedang bajigur or delicious Kopi Jos! Black coffee with smolder carbon :3
    Jethra recently posted…Diet Paleo

    1. I’ve never heard of any of these Jethra! It just goes to show just how many different dishes there are in Indonesia. It would take a lifetime to try them all!

    1. I had the same experience as you, Wendy. Before I moved to Jakarta I spent two months traveling through Java and Bali. I feel like all I ate was gado-gado and nasi goreng. It got really old, really fast. It seriously took living here for many, many months for me to start to realize that I could actually eat a bunch of local foods. Of course maybe the situation is different in Jakarta than in other places in Indonesia. But I’ve been to Bali multiple times since moving here and been able to eat at local, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The tempeh dishes are a life saver. But I have accidentally picked ones that have fish sauce a few times. It is a bit hit or miss. As far is which ones are vegan I’m not positive, but I think each and every one of these is. You do have to be careful about the sambal. For the most part it is made with fish or shrimp paste. And I don’t think the jelly in the cendol is made with gelatin. As far as I know it’s just rice flour and pandan, but I could be wrong about that!

      1. Thanks Justine. It’s funny, when I first went veggie I read that tempeh was Indonesian, and I’ve always wondered if it was really true because I just can’t remember eating it there. I actually hated the food in Indonesia, but I’m sure my experience would be completely different if I went back now. Far from being a limitation, going vegan has actually helped me to discover local specialties that I would have completely overlooked before.
        Wendy @ The Nomadic Vegan recently posted…The Nomadic Vegan’s Guide to Greece

        1. That’s so funny. I had no idea tempeh was a thing here either when I was traveling around. It might be a bigger thing on Java than other islands. But it is for sure everywhere in Jakarta. And during my trips to Bali I’ve started noticing it a lot. So I think it’s really common. You’re right, be a veg or vegan makes you get really creative!

  10. Hi, Justine. FYI, indonesia is originally a vegetarian friendly country. each region has their own signature food and they sure have a a plant based choice in it. the other food choiced you should try are Lotek, Gudeg, Pecel, Es Pisang Ijo, and maaany more!

  11. Hi, I stumbled across your blog and have been fiercely scrolling through all of it! I just began my 4-month exploration of Southeast Asia and I’m currently in Indonesia. This is my first time on this side of the world and, as a vegetarian and budget traveller, this post was a godsend! (I keep accidentally ordering chicken, this is when I wish I learned bahasa Indonesia and not just Spanish). Thanks for all the great writing and advice!

    Caitlin

    1. I’m so glad to have helped. When I was traveling around Indo I had no idea how much veg-friendly food there was. I just kept ordering nasi goreng. But there honestly is a lot, especially considering the popularity of tempeh. Haha, stop ordering the ayam! Good luck and have some bakwan for me 🙂

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