Food writer May Tien samples the tasty morsels on offer at the latest pop-up food venues.
One thing I miss most about living in California is the abundant supply of good eats around every city corner. In San Francisco, there are routine events like “Off the Grid” and popular intersections in the Financial District where established food trucks gather to catch the lunchtime crowd. In Los Angeles, there is the annual ‘LA Food Fest’ for the one-stop-for-food-trucks milieu amongst a slew of artisan food businesses, beverage makers and restaurateurs. In fact, with so many varieties and locales for trucks in Southern California there are dedicated websites to track where each truck is located at any time on any given day.
For a city as food-obsessed as Jakarta, however, it has long been a slog to find good mobile eateries. Businesses set up shop and just as quickly disappear into the concrete landscape, and surprisingly, many don’t bother to post a location or contact details. I guess in this urban jungle, you don’t need much advertising as there will always be enough people to stop and buy some food; but that doesn’t say much for the taste or convenience. Most customers are happy to travel (just a tad bit) to their favourite trucks, if they know that the trucks will be there with their favourite meals on offer.
Here in Indonesia, cleverer food operators have tapped into the shipping-container-as-eatery, allowing for businesses to operate in a semi-permanent location without the hassle of a bricks and mortar restaurant and the constant updating and marketing via social media and corporate websites that trucks require.
Popular food delivery services operate well with these establishments; most delivery drivers in Jakarta know these eateries well and can be seen making small-talk, checking their phones or smoking cigarettes as they wait for orders.
After trying various trucks and shipping container eateries, I have compiled some of the best mobile eats on offer in Jakarta. I was lucky in that I found many of them during a pop-up located in the parking lot behind the Plaza Senayan mall.
Sudestada on Wheels
Don’t cry for me, Argentina – the truth is I love your matambre! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist inserting this campy “Evita” shout-out.) Sudestada on Wheels is a cute, revamped, bright orange, Volkswagen campervan that churns out the most amazing Argentinian sandwiches. Working mostly with South American style beef cuts, Chef Victor Taborda whose resume reveals many a Michelin-starred restaurant, has created a small menu consisting of incredibly delicious sandwiches. Homemade ciabatta bread with seasonally fresh greens sits alongside the star of the sandwich: the beef. There is one chicken sandwich, but my favourite is the matambre, a cut of meat that is adored in Argentina and rather hard to find here in Indonesia. It requires a lot of attention and skill to cook. Yet, under the highly-trained hands of Chef Victor the matambre is an incredibly tender, succulent and flavourful cut of meat served with tangy coleslaw. Don’t forget a splash of hot sauce!
You no longer need to travel to the Cipete restaurant of the same name to satiate your Indonesian rice bowl cravings. The food truck services as a special catering van and for big events to showcase Djempolan’s tasty rice and noodle bowls. If you like spicy Indonesian food, this is where you’ll get your fix. I tasted the ‘Nasi Amarah Dewata,’ which is a bowl of coconut rice with beef tongue lawar, pulled turmeric chicken, green sambal and a piece of crispy chicken skin. It was full of flavour and intense; and very representative of the kind of rice bowl you’ll encounter on the streets of Jakarta.
Based on the historical Hainanese-style coffee shops that were all the rage in Southeast Asia during the mid-twentieth century, Lau’s Kopi is now available at various locations via their food truck. If you crave sweet kaya toast or milk teas, then this is the place to get your afternoon fix. They also serve a wide variety of rice bowls. Their ‘Nasi Goreng Yangchow’ is always true to form as is their ‘Nasi Ayam Kungpao.’
This chain of popular martabak makers have one, big thing going for them: their sweet martabak is very, very good. If you happen on one of their outlets or trucks, you must try the durian and Nutella versions. They also offer a limited savoury menu, but the sweet martabak will not do you wrong with some hot java to wash down the springy sponge cake concoction.
Sahara Food Truck
Twitter feed: @saharafoodtruck
‘Lamb on wheels’ should be this truck’s motto. They serve everything from lamb fried rice to a lamb curry and paratha to barbecued lamb with French fries. With their highly-specialized menu and focus on solid lamb dishes, it will be difficult to not stop by their eclectic van to try it out.
The Halal Boys
I don’t know if this place is associated with the famous truck in Manhattan, but it certainly has the same appeal and taste… all the way down to the white and red sauces that they serve. Perhaps it’s the ingredients, but there is a difference although that doesn’t mean it’s not as good or satisfying as the NYC version. The Halal Boys only serve three items: lamb over rice, chicken over rice or a combo of the two meats over rice. That’s it. A serving is well and truly enough for one, and the secret to the best meat-rice experience is to always ask for extra sauce.
Featured image via The Halal Boys Jakarta