“Should I or shouldn’t I” is one of the big questions we all ask ourselves when presented with the chance to try some local street food in a foreign country. Nothing will ruin a holiday faster than 4 days in the hotel bathroom making like Linda Blair in the exorcist. But, all is not lost!  

Food safety

There are a lot of factors at play in making the right decision – the region or town you are in, the type of food outlet, the type of food on offer and how it’s prepared. Here are a few simple tricks that can help you avoid food poisoning in a foreign country.

  • Look at what, where and when the locals eat and follow suit.
  • Look for places where you can see the food being prepared.
  • Wash your hands! Most bugs picked up abroad are from contact with contaminated surfaces.

Funny enough, sometimes street food can be safer. I lost count of the number of times friends and colleagues have told me they were sick after eating at a hotel or western restaurant. In contrast, with over 13 years of living and travelling in developing countries, I have only been sick twice (and one of these was from KFC!). Eating street food opens you up to a whole new range of travel experiences.

Nasi Bungkus

Today I’m going to introduce you to one of my favourite Indonesian street foods, Nasi Bungkus.

Nasi Bungkus is the original take away, it literally means “Rice wrap.” It’s white rice along with side dishes for one person, wrapped in paper or banana leaves, (so it can be taken and eaten elsewhere). A staple in most parts of Indonesia, its used for school lunches, gatherings or a family picnic by the beach.

In rural areas, banana leaves are used as a wrapper because they emit a fragrant aroma when exposed to hot food and tend to keep the rice moist. Otherwise (in the bigger towns) they use high quality food wrap paper.

You can choose the type and amount of side dishes, options include vegetarian (tofu, nuts etc), beef, chicken, fish, eggs or the local Bali specialty – Babi Guling (roast pork). One or two types of soup or vegetable dishes are often added by vendor without the need to be asked. You can choose the level of spice (sambal) from very mild to paint peeling.

How does it work?

Nasi Bungkus is meant to be eaten by hand, although if you ask, the vendor can usually fashion you a spoon – coconut shell works the best!. Too many vendors now are packaging it in plastic bags, make sure you make a point of asking for no plastic.

The shape of the rice wrap depends on the method of wrapping, but it is usually rectangular in shape with the bottom of the package containing rice looking slightly enlarged and heavy. When buying more than one, the vendor will generally use different coloured elastic bands to identify the type of side dish inside. There is also a code in the way the patchwork at the top of the wrapper is created.

Watch a clip of it being prepared on our you tube channel!

Where do you get it?

You can find Nasi Bungkus at local warungs, street vendors, on the train or in small food stalls near the bus or train station. As I mentioned earlier, look for where the locals eat, especially the stalls that are popular with families (taxi drivers are more use to eating street food and won’t be so fussy). Outside Indonesia, Nasi Bungkus is known in Malaysia (where its wrapped in banana leaves and called Nasi Lemak), Brunei and Singapore.

If you are coming to Indonesia, do yourself a favour and go in search of this magic food option. Its tasty, cheap and the vendor will enthusiastically show their appreciation for you business.

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