Street Food and Street Smarts

In a recent article in Lucky Peach‘s special edition of street food, it was asserted that Malay street food was basically the same all over, you just had to get out there and try it.

High-fives for encouraging the newcomer LP, but it would be misleading to say that street food is all the same. Or even, that all street food is good.

In Yogyakarta, knowledge about street food operates as a critical organising principle of society. To know where to get the best Tempe Penyet, for example, is more than knowing your street food; it is to be street smart. ‘Wah! This is from Ibu Sri? Their tempe is too dry. The place to go is south of the ring road, just past the mosque on the left, about 20meters in…’ ‘NOOOOOO. That place USED to be good, but is terrible now! The best tempe now is over by the bridge, over in the west.’ And so on, these sorts of conversations about the best tempe/meatball soup/ginger tea can be heard right around the city: this city, and basically, every city in Asia. People are willing to drive to the complete opposite end of the city for the right Tempe Penyet. 

Now, back to the tempe. Tempe Penyet is Javanese for ‘pressed tempe’. (tempe being the unrefined soy bean version of tofu). It is no longer ‘pressed’ but now comes in little triangles, fried after being rolled in a coriander and salt bath. Tempe Penyet is served with raw sliced cabbage, basil, slices of cucumber and sambal chilli sauce. And rice. I cannot express the enormity of my love for Tempe Penyet.


*Jon prefers the Pecel Lele (catfish- lurking behind the tempe)

Since arriving, we have reacquainted ourselves with daily discussions about where to get the best of tempe/organic rice/catfish… The discussions are animated, sometimes tense, and illustrate the absolute integrity of ingredients in a place where food is belonging.




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