We spent a month traveling in Indonesia and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to find a variety of vegan options. Although we only visited three islands in the archipelago – Java, Bali and Lombok – we certainly got a good taste of the country’s cuisine.
All across Indonesia tofu and tempeh are staples and they show up in numerous appetizers and main dishes. For us, it was a bit difficult to get used to the flavor and texture of tempeh, a fermented soy bean cake that was invented in Indonesia, but the taste slowly grew on us, especially when it’s marinated and fried crispy. By the end of the trip we couldn’t get enough!
A number of other ubiquitous meals can easily be made vegan, such as gado gado and nasi goreng, just by omitting the egg and cracker (made with fish). Keep in mind, however, that although the concept of vegetarian is widely understood, extending the dietary restrictions to include eggs and dairy (not to mention honey) was more of a challenge at restaurants and home stay breakfasts. For example, “no milk” may be understood, but locals didn’t seem to extrapolate that butter or cheese should not be included in our meal, too. We learned to simply give them a list of all the ingredients separately and guest house owners were happy to oblige us.
On our travels through Java and Bali, we became frequent patrons to The Loving Hut, a chain of vegan restaurants with franchises in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Singaraja and Denpasar. The philosophy of “Be Vegan, Make Peace” aligns perfectly with our beliefs and it doesn’t hurt that their food is also delicious. Their vast array of Western dishes was a welcomed change to the often-ordered, and definitely enjoyed, Indonesian dishes.
A highlight for our taste buds was our time on Gili Air, an island off the northwestern coast of Lombok. It was there that we discovered traditional Sasak cuisine, including Urap Urap and Olah Olah. Not only are these dishes already traditionally and deliciously vegan, they are also organic and local in that they are prepared using the delicious coconuts growing everywhere on the island.
Lastly, we spent about a third of our vacation in Ubud, located in the south central part of the island of Bali. It would appear that a constant stream of health-minded yogis have increased the demand for vegetarian food in this cultural center and so, restaurants are understandably catering their menus to offer more meat-free options. Some restaurants even went so far as to advertise as “vegetarian” and only upon closer inspection of the menu did we see the fine print that meat options (often outnumbering the vegetarian and vegan options) were also available.
In general, we observed that vegan food in Ubud got put under the same umbrella as “gluten-free” and/or “low calorie” sections on the menu. In short, we found that the majority of those looking for vegan options were mostly interested in veganism from a health perspective instead of a moral obligation to animals. Still, we were happy to find a trio of restaurants on Jalan Sugriwa that we visited daily.
Overall, eating our way through a month in Indonesia was not only delicious, but it was relatively pain-free. We have been to some countries, such as the Philippines, where our only option was picking up packages of nuts and seeds from the local mini-mart. And unlike some of our other trips, we actually gained weight on our Indonesian vacation.