Indonesian street food gets a modern makeover

Savour a burger made with noodles in Jakarta.
Savour a burger made with noodles in Jakarta.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Fancy a burger made with noodles? In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, you can have that treat.

From a restaurant serving pizzas and burgers made with local noodles to a social media star giving street food a touch of haute cuisine, a new wave of innovative chefs are putting a modern twist on Indonesia's traditional fare.

New eateries have sprung up rapidly in recent years in Jakarta, offering a wide array of foreign food to cater to a growing consumer class that has emerged after a long economic boom.

But rather than focus entirely on cuisine from overseas, some chefs have fused the new influences with age-old Indonesian fare.

One eatery offering fusion food is Mammamie, whose name is a playful take on an Italian expression of shock combined with the local word for noodles - "mie".

It uses the country's favourite instant noodles Indomie - cheap blocks of fodder in colourful packaging that are sold at almost every grocery store and supermarket - to make Western dishes.

Among the most popular are "mizza", a pizza whose base is made of noodles, and "merger", a burger which has buns fashioned from Indomie. It also serves burrito, quesadilla and sushi dishes made with the noodles.

Cafe owner Muhammad Luqman Baehaqi, 39, said he is trying to appeal to young Indonesians who are keen to try other cuisines, but still enjoy Indomie. The small cafe can seat about 20 people on chairs designed to look like Indomie packing cases and has a distinctly hipster vibe, with young office workers enjoying dishes that cost about US$2 (S$2.80) to US$4 under an image of late Apple founder Steve Jobs.

While the Mammamie cafe uses Indonesian ingredients to spice up Western dishes, Jakarta chef Dede Akbar is taking local dishes as his starting point and seeking to make them more classy.

In his brightly decorated kitchen, the 34-year-old carefully placed two blocks of tempeh - a traditional soya bean patty - onto a plate.

He blowtorched a hard-boiled egg and added small flowers as a garnish before artistically dripping sauce across the dish.

Satisfied with his creation, he took out a camera and snapped photos before uploading them to Instagram.

It was his popular Instagram account, Warteg Gourmet, which has about 40,000 followers, that catapulted him to fame.

Wartegs are modest stalls or kiosks selling cheap food, often occupying cramped spaces on street corners where blue-collar workers stop for a bite.

But rather than drab dishes for people earning low incomes, Akbar said he celebrates warteg food as it has "different textures and a wide range of colours that we can play with".

He was inspired to make haute cuisine warteg-style food after becoming annoyed at the careless presentation of dishes at the traditional streetside eateries.

What started off as a hobby became an obsession. When he received many invitations to be a "food stylist" at events, he quit his day job as an advertising agency art director to become a full-time chef.

He hopes his efforts can help raise the profile of humble Indonesian street food, which is not as well-known as local cuisine from other parts of Asia such as Thailand.

"I want to make Indonesian food more appreciated by Indonesians in general and recognised internationally," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesian street food gets a modern makeover'. Print Edition | Subscribe