For Aaron and I, one of the toughest parts of traveling is that we are vegetarian. We both stopped eating meat in high school (long before we ever met) and we’ve both stayed true to our herbivorous ways for the past 14 years. Neither of us eats meat or fish and we have to be wary of broths, sauces and bits of meat that somehow always manage to make their way onto our plates. We aren’t vegan, so the fact that we eat dairy and eggs makes life on the road much easier for us. Regardless, navigating our way through a new country and a new cuisine is always a challenge and figuring out what we can and can’t eat is a constant adventure. This is especially true in countries like Indonesia where the concept of vegetarianism is completely foreign and for the most part downright bewildering to people.
So when we first touched down in Jakarta during our backpacking trip 10 long months ago I did the same thing I always do. I scoured Happy Cow and TripAdvisor to find veg-friendly places to eat and that is how I first heard of Burgreens. Not only was it rated #3 out of the over 5,000 restaurants in Jakarta but it was a pure-vegetarian restaurant, something I honestly didn’t expect to find in this city.
I was immediately intrigued and I could hardly contain my excitement as I looked on Google Maps to see if we could walk to the restaurant from our hotel, which was located near Jakarta’s backpacker haunt, Jalan Jaksa.
It turns out Burgreens was nowhere near us.
That was the first time I realized just how enormous Jakarta is. We were located in Central Jakarta and Burgreens was 17 km (10 miles) to the south. It might not seem like a horribly long distance, but given that Jakarta has some of the worst traffic in the world, it can literally take hours to go that distance. Seriously. So, just like that, our hopes of scarfing down what were supposedly the city’s best garden burgers were dashed. We left Jakarta a few days later to never look back…or so we thought.
Little did I know at the time that six months later I’d be moving to Jakarta, a city that had served as nothing more than a pit stop a few months prior. As Aaron and I were settling into our new apartment in Jakarta, one of the first things that popped into my mind was Burgreens. I think about food a lot…what can I say?
It turns out that one of Aaron’s co-workers, who also happens to be a fellow vegetarian – a rare breed among Jakartans – kept telling Aaron about this great vegetarian restaurant that she just had to take us to. She scheduled a date, told us she’d pick us up on Sunday, and that she’d take us to Burgreens! I couldn’t believe that I was finally going to savor those veggie burgers I’d literally been waiting six months to try.
As I soon found out, I was going to have to wait a little longer to wrap my hands around one of Burgreen’s famous veggie burgers.
Traffic in Jakarta is seriously insane. And don’t even get me started on weekend traffic. To put it in some sort of perspective, I’ve learned a grand total of three Indonesian phrases since I moved here: terima kasih (thank you), selamat pagi (good morning) and macet (traffic jam). I have made many a cab driver laugh with my knowledge of the word macet.
It’s tough for anyone to understand how truly horrendous the traffic in Jakarta is unless you’ve been here. That Sunday, Aaron and I were picked up at 12pm. By 12:35pm we had succeeded in exiting our apartment complex and inching a kilometer or two down the road. I looked out the car window incredulously when I realized we were still literally across the street from our apartment building.
Considering Burgreens is located 17 km (10 miles) away from our apartment, Aaron and I knew we were in for a long day. But we were both excited to get out of our neighborhood, which is like a self-contained city that can feel a bit suffocating at times. Plus, we knew there were veggie burgers waiting for us so at the very least we had something to look forward to.
Despite the fact that we were up for an adventure, part of us couldn’t believe anyone would actually be willing to brave hours upon hours of Jakarta’s notorious traffic just to eat at a restaurant. Seriously who in their right mind would spend hours in a car for a veggie burger?
Oh, I guess I would…
So there we were, five us piled into an SUV – me, Aaron and three of his co-workers, who are all native Jakartans. We crept through the city at a snail’s pace as they pointed out landmarks and gave us an insider’s glimpse into this complex city. We rolled past ramshackle homes, glitzy malls, graffitied walls and million dollar mansions.
Roughly two hours later we finally arrived in the tree-lined neighborhood of Rempoa in south Jakarta. Seeing trees was such a drastic change from what I’d seen in the rest of the city, which from my experience is an endless mass of gray, concrete buildings.
Burgreens was like a little oasis and very welcome change of scenery in more ways than one. As we walked into the restaurant I instantly felt like I was back to California. That particular day, Burgreens was hosting a community event – there was a health food cooking demonstration, a booth selling t-shirts made out of plant-based materials (like coconuts!) and a vendor hawking organic cendol (a sweet coconut milk-based Indonesian dessert). It was like being at my favorite farmers market back in Leucadia, California.
There were women wearing flowing skirts and walking around barefoot. There were men with dreadlocks and baggy pants. This was like no place in Jakarta I’d seen. It was like being transported back to my college days at UC Santa Cruz. Aaron and I were back amongst our own. Finally, people who truly understood why we’re vegetarian. People who promoted things like sustainable living and animal rights and understood the importance of recycling in order to help curb Jakarta’s horrific trash problem. I felt right at home but more than anything it was refreshing to know that a place like this existed in Jakarta.
After our long road trip, we were all starving. After a quick look around we ordered a round of burgers. I ordered a sampler of mini-burgers because, you know, I wanted to taste them all. Their patties are made from either mushrooms, a variety of beans, spinach & chickpeas, and potatoes & lentils. All of the patties were crisped to perfection, topped with organic, locally sourced veggies, smeared with either a raw coconut “mayonnaise” or a tangy garlic sauce, and sandwiched between a whole-wheat bun.
Another thing that was pleasantly surprising to me was that Burgreens had a huge selection of raw food dishes. I ordered the the Raw Mushroom ‘Soba’ which looked deceptively like a tri-colored pasta dish but was actually created out of tendrils of radish, zucchini and carrot, lathered in a creamy “soba” sauce and sprinkled with seasoned mushrooms. Aaron ordered the Green Goblin, a superfood smoothie blended with spinach, banana, strawberry, pineapple and yogurt.
It was all delicious. But more than the great food it was the whole atmosphere of the place that made the journey worth it. For me it was like having a little piece of California right here in Jakarta. The only problem with Burgreens was that it’s not located closer to my apartment. It took us another hour and a half to drive back home and by the time we were delivered back to our apartment Aaron and I were both was hungry again.
Have you ever gone on an epic journey just to eat at a restaurant in a foreign country?