Making smart food choices in Indonesia

The Australian dollar is generally pretty easy to convert from Indonesian Rupiah: AUD$1 = IDR10,000.

Having previously worked as an ESL teacher in China, I know how critical budgeting is to make the most out of an expatriate salary.

After a few weeks of familiarizing myself to the local prices of food here in Indonesia, it seemed increasingly possible that I could keep my daily spending on food to a maximum of AUD$10 or IDR100,000 (US$7) a day.

The wide range of prices for food and drinks here is remarkable and there is a stark difference between the price of the local and foreign/western menu. In my first few weeks settling into Jakarta, I regularly joined my colleagues for lunch at restaurants that were slightly on the more expensive side. It didn’t take me long however to figure out that prices were up to 3x higher than most standard Indonesian restaurants.

  • Rendang and ice tea could cost up to IDR80,000 (US$5) at a nice restaurant but could be found in canteens and at a rumah makanan padang for IDR30,000 (US$2).
  • A Vietnamese beef and vegetable roll within a shopping center could cost up to IDR100,000 (US$5) whereas you could easily find yourself some beef or fish bakso with vegetables for only IDR35,000 (US$2.5).
  • For chicken fans, KFC is an option and prices are low but I was able to find a local joint that sells fried chicken with sauce of choice, greens and kerupuk for only IDR16,000 (US$1). That’s only AUD$1.60!
  • I could go on but when I mentioned the wide range of prices in Indonesia, this is what I mean.

My goal of IDR100,000 was very achievable and probably even more achievable if I wanted to cook at home and for a short period I decided to see how I could go on a cheap, Indonesian-only diet but when I made the sharp change I found that my digestive system wasn’t able to catch up. During certain intervals, trips to the toilet were more frequent than regular and there was definitely an occasion or two where I suffered from bloating which required some loosening of my belt.

Fast track a couple weeks later, I now realize that this experience was identical to the experience I had with food when I was working in China. Whilst eating a diet of local-only food is fantastic for my taste buds and my wallet my body needed time to adjust to the bombardment of exotic spices and new flavours, as well as the different quality of meats and the way they are cooked and stored. My digestive system has now adjusted well and I am able to consistently spend less than IDR100,000 a day (except for Fridays when I occasionally treat myself to something special) which in fact includes my cost of transport because I live close to my office!

For more about budgeting see “Cost of Living in Indonesia”.

If you’re interested in how much I spend on my accommodation, see “Finding an apartment in Indonesia”.


Do you want to try these affordable Indonesian dishes?

Excite your taste buds and apply to teach and travel with EF today!