Most Indonesians eat a substantial meal of rice, meat and vegetables three times a day, but they are also in the habit of constantly snacking in between. One of the delightful conveniences of living in Indonesia is that food is available almost everywhere. Small roadside stalls known as warungs serve all sorts of treats and vendors pushing food carts are similar to mobile canteens.
These brightly painted two-wheeled trolleys travel the streets day and night serving hot and cold snacks to locals wanting to ease their pangs of hunger in a no fuss manner. In Bali, the majority of street cart food vendors are young males from East Java and other neighboring islands who have been lured by the tourism industry. However, without the necessary skills and qualifications required to obtain work within the hotel sector, they become sellers in order to support themselves.
Almost anyone with a bit of initiative can make their own food cart, yet it is a competitive trade and very few generate enough money to make regular trips home to visit family and friends. The majority of food sold from these food carts is not traditional Balinese fare, but are of Chinese and Javanese origin. The most popular carts belong to the bakso vendors who sell a hearty concoction of clear hot soup consisting of meatballs, shredded cabbage, noodles, chopped celery and spicy chili sauce.
Basko is a favourite afternoon snack especially for students who live away from home in boarding houses, as it makes a filling and inexpensive meal for those on a tight budget. The bakso vendor wheels his mobile kitchen through streets and back alleys announcing his arrival by clanging a spoon against a ceramic bowl. Workers rush out from their offices and shops when they hear the sound of the bakso man.
They are eager to purchase a bowl of steaming hot meatball soup, which makes a tasty snack before heading off home. Another afternoon treat served from a cart is rujak, which is a mixed salad of unripe sliced fruits such as mango and pineapple that is slathered in a chili sugar sauce. The combination of sweet, bitter and spicy favours is really quite unusual and this snack is definitely not recommended for those with a sensitive stomach.
Often women in the early stages of pregnancy crave rujak as it is believed to ease bouts of nausea. Other carts to enjoy a healthy evening trade include the sate vendor who sells delicious grilled sticks of skewered chicken pieces served with peanut sauce and rice steamed in banana leaf. Another relatively healthy snack is that of lightly fried pieces of tofu served with steamed rice and boiled bean sprouts topped with a spicy peanut sauce.
Most food cart vendors can forge out a meager livelihood if they are prepared to roam the streets to seek out hungry customers. Some sellers have regular routes that they travel daily and become known to the members of the local community. However, other vendors take a different approach and park their carts in public areas such as the beach, central park or close to the night markets hoping that customers will stop and buy.
Usually quite a crowd gathers around those vendors who sell fresh coconut juice or fresh cobs of barbequed corn with spicy butter. Other roadside treats include roasted peanuts, fried bananas and iced drinks. Unlike many western nations where licensing and strict hygiene standards have been set for restaurants and food handlers, there is little or no control over the street carts that are individually operated.
Of course this leads to the question ability of cleanliness and freshness of food. Nevertheless, most locals don’t seem to mind this and continue to purchase these cheap and convenient snacks.