Feeding  The Nation

Traditional Snacks Words by Azhari Hidayatsyah

As a nation, Indonesia is home to great diversity, from its natural resources to the many cultures found across the archipelago. It is also home to one of the world’s most diverse culinary scenes, thanks to its history as a melting pot for trade between different nations of the world. The country’s geographical location made Indonesia a strategic site for world trade, and so it is no surprise that its cuisine has flourished to offer an extensive selection of delicacies.

The assimilation of foreign food cultures over the centuries has also given birth to traditional snacks often referred to locally as ‘market snacks’. Street food that uses coconut milk among its ingredients is an example of Chinese influence modifed to Indonesian tastes.

According to history books, traditional snacks used to be sold exclusively in places of trade such as markets or ports. Coconutbased snacks are an example of the mixing of Chinese influences with flavours more suited to the Indonesian palate.

However, with the development of food technology, these snacks have become increasingly difcult to fnd as more sophisticated bread producers take over the modern trade market. It is as though most people view the snacks as being suitable for consumption at certain times of the day only, such as early morning for breakfast, or as snacks that are only found in markets.

With this in mind, traditional snack producers have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce these delicacies, emphasising that it is high time they were more widely consumed and loved, even amidst the increasing popularity of more modern bread producers. Monami Bakery, for example, opened for business in 1966, and has since successfully reintroduced Indonesian traditional snacks to the modern trade. Today, Monami Bakery runs 34 stores spread across the Greater Jakarta area serving high-quality traditional Indonesian snacks.

Hans, a successor to this bakery business, says preserving this portion of Indonesia’s culinary heritage is his main goal in continuing to produce the different kinds of cakes and pastries available at his stores. Hans added that it has become difcult for consumers to fnd traditional snacks that are nutritious and of good quality, especially in and around the capital’s business districts, citing the growth of modern bakeries in mall and ofce buildings as a main factor. According to Hans, they sell 2,000 cakes a day across outlets located within these strategic areas of the city.

Lemper is the most popular snack. Made from a mix of sticky rice and coconut milk, this dish stands out for its versatility, qualifying both as a snack to be had at any time of the day and as a breakfast meal.

According to research, the name lemper comes from the Javanese phrase ‘Yen dilem atimu ojo memper’, which means ‘one should refrain from being prideful upon receiving praise’.

In other words, consuming lemper should serve as a call for us to live as humble human beings. It is also worth noting that lemper is one of the delicacies typically served during traditional Javanese events, such as wedding parties. The use of sticky rice as its main ingredient also serves as a symbol of friendship, wherein those involved are to be as inseparable as the grains of rice in a lemper.


Another famous street food is bika Ambon, which, according to M. Muhar Omtatok, a historian and cultural expert of the Cerita Medan Community, originates from the bika or bingka cake. Over the years, the snack has enjoyed various modifcations from the Malay cake bingka. Some have tried the use of nira or tuak enau to serve as new types of baking powder, which gives the cake its unique texture and flavours that are akin to martabak manis, another popular Indonesian dessert.

According to one story, this snack rose to prominence on Jalan Ambon Sei Kera in Medan, North Sumatra. Another story says that bika Ambon was brought by Ambonese who travelled to Malaysia, then stayed in Medan to produce the snack. Soon enough, bika Ambon became more popular than local dishes sold in the city’s traditional markets.

Not limited to lemper and bika Ambon, there’s another street food available called kue lumpur. Some say that the cake came from bakeries run by ethnic Chinese owners; however, other sources say it was brought into the country by the Portuguese. There may be some truth to the latter theory as Portuguese Christmas pastry bears the same flavour as Indonesia’s kue lumpur.  The kue lumpur we know today has evolved into different types and forms, with various toppings and main ingredients that each offer a unique sensation in the mouth.

There is also klepon. This street food originated in Central Java, and is made from glutinous rice flour and then formed into small green and sometimes pink balls. The snack will give you a surprise when you bite into it: you will taste the sweet sensation of liquid palm sugar and savoury taste of coconut shreds.

The combination of the sweet and savoury of klepon symbolises the togetherness of friends and family. Indonesia is also home to other lighter traditional snacks, such as rengginang, a cracker-like snack typically made of dried rice. After being dried, rengginang undergoes a natural baking process by being left under the sun. Rengginang can be savoury, sweet or plain. If you’re familiar with kerupuk or crackers, rengginang is made using a nearly identical process, where the dried batter is fried prior to being served.

Raka Masduki, a young man from Rengasbandung, Cikarang, is passionate about the preservation of traditional Indonesian snacks. Through Biaji Rengginang, Raka is looking to maintain rengginang as a favourite among young foodies by serving them with an appealing array of flavours such as premium chocolate, premium green tea, spicy original, terasi, rendang and cheese.

Created to appeal to a millennial audience, Raka said his goal is for rengginang to be known despite the popularity of other modern snacks, emphasising that young Indonesians should be proud of their traditional roots. Today, Biaji Rengginang has ofcial resellers across cities in Indonesia.

Even with the rise of modern delicacies, Indonesian traditional snacks remain a favourite for many. Tasty and affordable, they are hard to resist.

Azhari Hidayatsyah

Azhari Hidayatsyah is an alumnus of the Faculty of Humanities, President University, Java. He started his career as a freelance writer and now acts as ASPAS regional – Digital Manager of Milleniabedding.com. He is also one of the founders of the Culturenesia tourism website.