Travelling in a foreign place as a vegetarian, or vegan, can be stressful with each dish feeling like a risk - what if they didn't understand when you said 'no chicken'??
Luckily Indonesian and Javanese cuisine has plenty of vegetarian options and once you know what dishes to look out for you can appreciate and enjoy all the delicious flavours they have to offer; minus the meat!
Around BHUMI Hostel in the friendly neighbourhood of Kotagede there are many places to grab some cheap and tasty street food. Note that most of the smaller stands tend to focus on particular dishes rather than offering a lot of options - if they are advertising chicken satay you're not likely to get a vegetable based dish from them.
One widely available veggie dish is 'Gado-gado'. This is a filling salad dish containing cooked vegetables, boiled potato, tofu and/or tempe, and a boiled egg all topped with a rich peanut sauce. Served at room temperature, it is sometimes referred to as 'Lotek' in Javanese cuisine. A delicious version can be found on Jalan Kemasan, near the corner of Jalan Nyi Pembayun, a few minutes walk from the hostel, for only IDR 12,000.
Another must try is 'Ketoprak', a fresh dish of noodles, beansprouts, vegetables, tofu, and the option of a boiled egg, served with crackers and an amazing spicy peanut sauce. What's great about this dish is seeing it prepared fresh in front of you; sometimes even the peanut sauce is made right there from scratch. One stand near BHUMI that serves a great version of this is about a 5 minute walk down Jl Nyi Pembayun near the corner of Jl Kemasan - and costs just IDR 9,000.
Dishes such as Nasi Campur (mixed rice) can be spotted everywhere but are hard to pin down as they come in many variations. Essentially the dish is white rice accompanied by a number of side dishes; vegetables, meat, eggs, shrimp, tofu etc. So while it is possible to order vegetarian they may be a little confused as to why you want it with all the best bits (in their opinion) removed!
For a wider range of options you can seek out a warung (small restaurant) of which there are plenty in Kotagede, and here you can find a few classic dishes; mainly nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). Traditionally these dishes are made up of rice or noodles with egg and vegetables all mixed up together and tend to be vegetarian friendly; however some places add chicken in so be sure to ask for it with 'tidak ada ayam' = 'no chicken'. Or as I often blank on the right lingo in the moment 'no ayam' also seems to do the trick! If you like eggs most places will also happily prepare an Indonesian omelette (with chilli and onion) served with rice.
Some spots near BHUMI that offer a range of dishes include one directly outside the gates of the hostel, a warung down Jl Nyi Pembayun toward JL Tegal Gendu, plus a few restaurants on Jl Mondorokan.
One restaurant I found with some great vegetarian options is a little away from Kotagede in Alun Alun Kidul (approx 5-6 minutes on a scooter), called Warung Handayani. They are famous for their 'Nasi Brongkos' dish; brongkos being the super tasty sauce cooked with beans/lentils which they serve with rice, tofu and a boiled egg also cooked in the sauce. Ask for 'Nasi Bronkos Telur', telur meaning egg. Another dish to try there is 'Nasi Pecel Tempe'; rice with mixed vegetables, a peanut sauce, tempe, and ketupat (compressed rice cake).
One last tip - I was excited to try 'Nasi Gudeg', possibly Yogyakarta's most popular dish, made of jackfruit cooked for hours in coconut milk and sugar served with rice, krechek stew, and usually chicken or tofu. I ordered the tofu version before realising when it arrived that krechek is in fact a spicy cow skin stew... Unfortunately without the stew the dish is pretty plain so it may be best to avoid.
Useful words and phrases:
Tofu = Tahu
Tempeh = Tempe
Egg = Telur
Vegetables = Sayuran / Vegetable = Sayur
Nasi = Rice
Mie = Noodles
Soup = Sup
Fried = Goreng
Vegetarian = no direct translation! Some understand the term though.
No meat or fish = Tidak ada daging atau ikan.
With tofu and egg = Dengan tahu dan telur.
Beef = Koyor
Chicken = Ayam
Fish = Ikan
Meatball = Bakso
Meat = Daging
by Eimear Doyle