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Indonesia – a volcano and cave adventure on Java

Travelling in Indonesia - tips for vegetarian travellers

With a reputation for having a diverse range of cultures, one might expect that getting veggie food in Indonesia would be easy? The simple truth is that whilst there is a good range of excellent veggie food to be had, unless you have a good guide to look after you, or a fair grasp of Bahasa Indonesian, you may find your self struggling. And if you're vegan, you may well be best self catering. In Java, there is a strong culture of putting chicken, fish or "meat" (type seemingly #ff0000!) in just about everything, and our experience was that even when one had explicitly asked not to have fleshy additives, food would sometimes arrive with chunks of meat/chicken in it!

Eating veggie seems to be hardest in West Java, and gets progressively easier as you traverse to East Java. Get as far as the more touristy island of Bali (where English is also far more widely spoken) and you should find your vegetarian life gets easier. That said, with the help of our guide we did always manage to eat veggie, and much of it was excellent. So if you're a veggie travelling to Indonesia, here, in no particular order, are a few things to look out for:

Nasi / Nasi Goreng.

Rice / Fried Rice is eaten just about everywhere you go in Java - for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Most places can serve you up a dish of rice and some stir-fried vegetables without a problem, so long as you can get the message across that you don't want meat! If you're successful in asking for veggie, there's a fair chance a fried (or sometimes boiled egg) will arrive with your Nasi.

Mei / Mei Goreng.

Noodles (plain and fried) are the other main staple food, available just about everywhere, and similarly served all day. Many outlets have some form of noodles on offer, many are veggie, but again, it is always necessary to check.

Crackers - rice, cassava and, errr - prawn!

So having achieved "veggie" with your Nasi or Mei, don't be at all surprised when they arrive with a generous portion of prawn crackers! It would seem as if fish and shellfish are considered as somewhat different entities. The prawn crackers are easy to spot, of course. A pleasant alternative are rice crackers. These fried rice-noodle "baskets" are often available bagged up and in large jars. The protocol seems to be to help yourself, and declare what you've had when you go to pay. Look out also for the yellow cassava chips - a crunchy and tasty alternative.

Tahu (tofu)

Will likely become a key part of your diet whilst in Indonesia, and is readily available across Java, usually fried, and usually excellent. The one to look out for, especially in Central Java, is "Tahu Sumedang". Named after the region in which it is most commonly found, this very tasty version of deep fried tofu is usually served as an inexpensive roadside snack. If you see a small trader with a makeshift-looking stall advertising "Tahu Sumedang" - try it, it's fantastic. It's served in a basket with a handful of fiery hot green bird's eye chillies - you have been warned.


Served across Java, Tempe is made from part-fermented soya beans, usually made into savoury "cakes" and either mixed in with other vegetables, or served deep fried. It's rather good actually. If a dish contains Tempe (or Tahu) there's a fair chance it will be veggie - but you do still need to check!

Ikan and Ayam (goreng)

Many places you see will advertise Ikan and/or Ayam (goreng). These are fish, and chicken (fried) so you may be wanting to avoid them!


An often wickedly-hot and very tasty chilli and tomato relish served with most dishes. You'll soon get a taste for it, but ask to see if it contains shellfish (udang).


Known as "chou chou" in the little French island of La Reunion, Labusiem is an extremely versatile squash-like vegetable. We had an excellent dish made of this and chilli. Sadly, it is often viewed as "too cheap" and not commonly available.

Gado gado

A traditional dish of fried vegetables in a peanut sauce. This tasty dish is, in theory, veggie, but it is not unusual for small pieces of meat to have been added - yet again, you'll need to check. Usually served with rice and (prawn!) crackers.

Chinese restaurants

Many of the larger towns in Java have Chinese restaurants. If you're struggling to get local veggie food, check out the Chinese restaurant and you'll usually find something that fits the bill.