Wherever you go in the Emerald of the Equator, the sight of friendly cooks strutting their stuff at roadside warungs will be enough to pull you in.
A warung is a type of small family-owned food stall or café in Indonesia and is an essential part of daily life in Indonesia. Traditional warungs are made from wooden, bamboo or thatched materials. More permanent warungs are made from bricks and concrete, some family-owned businesses are attached to their homes. Some smaller portable warungs are made from tin or zinc, and some modern versions may even use fiberglass.
Pretty much wherever I have been in Indonesia, I have seen a multitude of warungs. Medan and Padang were particularly filled with these roadside vendors, and clearly the capital Jakarta also has many famous locations that are full of warungs serving up delicious Indonesian street food. In particular, I discovered the kerak telor, which is a kind of Indonesian crepe, at a warung, and I would never say no to some cakalang fufu in Makassar (and other parts of Sulawesi), which is basically skewered tuna. Even Banjarmasin, in the depths of Borneo, has some incredible warung cuisine, although there a lot of the warungs seemed to be floating on the river, rather than beside the highways!
There are many kinds of warung and of differing sizes. Some take the form of a small shop that sells cold drinks, cigarettes, krupuk, and a few snacks for the road, while the larger ones are essentially cafés. A warung that sells food refrains from international brands and global snacks and instead typically sells local food, such as bakpao (steamed dumplings), pisang goreng (fried bananas), nasi goreng (fried rice), or mie goreng (fried noodles). Aside from famous Indonesian dishes, warungs may sell a selection of soups, steaks, fries, or sandwiches for the tourist trade.
I have spent a lot of time in Indonesia over the past two years, and I always enjoy eating from a warung. I know the quality of food will be better from a larger warung such as a café (plus the addition of alcohol), however the romanticism of the purchasing street food from the “real” warungs on the side of the road is too much to resist! The charming owners of these warungs really are delighted that you have chosen them from which to get your breakfast or lunch. Some warungs do not sell drinks, merely the food itself. If you are eating something spicy or hot, such as ayam taliwang, a bowl of gudeg (delicious from Jogja, but way, way too hot for me), or anything covered robustly in sambal, then you need some Bintang to wash it all down with!
Consider this advice when approaching a warung to spend your Rupiah!