Batam, located in the Riau Islands, is a small island in Indonesia with a bustling and vibrant city! Indonesia's cuisine is highly underrated, possibly as it is not yet a part of the wider global food scene.
The majority of traditional dishes may appear to be centred around meat and seafood, but take a closer look into the local menu, and you will find a huge array of vegetable meals suitable for vegans. Keep reading to find out more.
Think spicy sambal, salty yet sweet peanut sauce over green vegetables, the home of the humble tempeh and an abundance of fresh tropical fruit - that is vegan food in Indonesia. The best part of Indonesia's food culture is that the majority of dishes are assembled to order, made as you choose, with as much or as little ingredients that you want to pay for.
This makes life easier for vegans, vegetarians or anyone else on a particular diet, as you can simply ask the food seller not to add the ingredient you don't eat; such as egg. The next best thing? The price! Street food or even a meal at a Warung (restaurant) will be well priced and meals usually cost around $1.00 with a cup of hot kopi (coffee) for 50c. In Indonesia, you can always find a range of fresh fruit everywhere you travel!
A special thanks to my local friend Sabrina for hosting me and showing me around. Batam Island is easily accessed by ferry from Singapore, but it is not frequented by western tourists, so the local experience would be a great opportunity for you to learn how to navigate this new location.
Ready to learn more? Let's start our Vegan Food Guide for Batam Indonesia.
In this article, I want to share what I learnt about street food in Indonesia and give you some examples of how you can manage a vegetarian or vegan diet whilst visiting this destination. Traditionally, the local cuisine is centred around rice and meals bring the family and community together.
Overall, "vegan food" is not yet at the forefront, but it is still possible to find. Tourist hot spots such as those in Bali are fast becoming some of the more popular destinations for plant-based restaurants, wellness retreats and healthy living. Remember that Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands, the type of food you can find is incredibly different from place to place.
No matter where you go, the street food will help you stay on a backpacking budget, but be ready for some interesting flavours and a decent amount of spice! The desserts and sweets are part of daily life, with no shortage of options, made with ingredients such as coconut milk, grass jelly and banana. Herbal drinks like Jamu, based on turmeric and ginger, are healthy and delicious. My top tips are simple; eat where the locals eat, avoid food that isn't cooked fresh to order including the self-serve street stalls, and remember to stay hydrated!
What To Order
Fresh Coconuts - Es Kelapa
These are your best friend when you are travelling in extreme heat and humidity or for when you find yourself fatigued. Coconut water is hydrating and is packed with vitamins.
Vegetable Fried Rice + Tempeh + Tofu - Nasi Goreng Sayur + Tempeh + Tahu
A simple mix of rice, vegetables with tempeh or tofu on the side. Tofu is commonly prepared with garlic and turmeric giving it a bright yellow colour. This is the staple dish that you will likely eat during your stay in Batam if you want to eat both local street food and vegan.
You can swap out the rice for different varieties of noodles called bihun or mie which are rice or flour noodles.
Indonesian Mixed Green Vegetables + Peanut Sauce - Ketoprak
Messy and interesting street food served steamed rice cake called lontong. This dish tastes better than it looks and has a sweet peanut satay flavour from the sauce. When you order this dish it will include soft tofu, crunchy bean sprouts, a boiled egg, chilli, palm sugar and sambal.
The vegan option is simple as you can ask for no egg and add extra tofu. Ketoprak is a local vegetarian dish which is famous in Jakarta.
Sweet treats and fried snacks are also available though they are not often vegan due to having egg fillings and being fried in ghee. Traditional sweets are more popular in regions such as West Java but you can still find local stalls in Batam and in the food court areas of the shopping malls.
Sweets are usually based on coconut and palm sugar and can be filled with steamed banana and sold wrapped in a banana leaf.
Key Dessert Words:
Milk - Susu
Coconut Milk - Santan
Oil - Minyak
Coconut - Kelapa
Egg - Telur
Coffee - Kopi
Tea - Teh
Butter - Mentega
Don't forget to try the local Kopi! The coffee is super sweet and can be served hot or iced for around 50c. You can pay three times that at the local cafes, but some of the coffee houses are amazing and worth checking out.
Some of the best coffee I had was at the roadside stall or in the local warung; especially relaxing once the afternoon rain sets in.
In Batam, it is common to see many chain stores of coffee in the mall, but I don't recommend them over the traditional blends. The atmosphere of having a cup of coffee or tea with smiling people and watching the world go by from the roadside is ideal for any traveller!
Kopi in Indonesia is commonly served with sweetened condensed milk because without it it can be bitter. If you can't get used to the coffee, try the local ginger tea it's amazing! As a vegan, I adjusted to drinking coffee in Batam without milk and found it really wakes you up in the morning!
Dining Out In Batam
Finding local Indonesian food can be a challenge if you are vegan, I found that each restaurant had an option but you may feel that it becomes predictable if you stay longer than a few days in one place. Vegetarian dishes are much easier to order as you have more options when it comes to incorporating egg and dairy. The coastline of Batam Island means locals enjoy an array of seafood and this is certainly prominent in the cuisine.
Vegan food is always worth the challenge and it is exciting when you are able to overcome any barriers you face when ordering vegan dishes. Another option is to enjoy the multicultural hub of cuisines available in Batam and search for Indian restaurants or Malaysian curry houses, which typically serve a large variety of amazing vegetable dishes.
If you are wanting to eat at fast food chains you can find them in the main city area and at the malls including KFC, A&W, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, McDonald's, popular chains of bubble tea and bread and bakery shops are also common.
In Indonesia, everyone enjoys gathering together around a home-cooked meal after spending the day at the market, preparing the food and cooking for hours to create traditional cuisine. If you get a chance to visit Batam Island, make sure you pass up some of the tourist hot spots and instead enjoy what the local people have to offer; kind and welcoming hospitality.