When I first traveled to Indonesia, we typically grabbed a cart and went grocery shopping the same way Americans do. Grocery stores are the same set up, and while I’ve traded cantelope for jackfruit, there isn’t too much to say. Traditional markets are, however, quite different! They generally cut out any middle man. The produce is more fresh, cheap, and also probably not quite as hygienic. But, we take the good with the bad and I’ll walk you through the market just around the corner from our apartment in Bandung. It’s generally good for picking up things like fresh flowers, spices, vegetables, and small utensils for our home. We steer away from the meat.

Indonesians squat over piles of spices and produce to bag and buy
Squatting over produce to pick over the best

This is what you’ll mostly find. Large canvas or blankets with piles of produce for you to pick over. Since a lot of local food vendors rely on these markets, it’s best to get there early. This is the Sunday “late” crowd and by late I mean around 10am. If you want the good stuff, the best and most fresh, you probably need to come around 5 or 6am when it has just been delivered from the farm.

 

One of the biggest staples of food is the dried fish. They attract no flies, and are GREAT as snacks, to throw in a soup, or… even add to a stir fry. To be honest I haven’t quite experimented with this one.

Selection of dried fish in bundles, in baskets, spread out.
A selection of dried fish for sale

Dried fish vendors were for some reason, the most friendly and amicable people at the market.

A table of dried fish in baskets laid out under a blue tent tarp
Dried fish vendor let me take a shot of his goods when asked politely

If you need the real thing, you can find it. These guys were swimming up a storm in their small pool. One thing I truly enjoy about food in Indonesia is how fresh your food is. In America we have this huge “farm to table” effort and in Indonesia, there just isn’t enough food or infrastructure to really do it otherwise.

A swimming pool of fresh fish in a rusty and withered pan
A swimming pool of fresh fish

This is a shot of the road the market is on. It stretches for about a half mile with tent after tent, and mindless amounts of drivers trying to get through on the crowded street. Bandung, and Indonesia in general, is really built for motorcycles. A growing middle class and dispensable wealth is taxing the streets with cars and trucks that would have been rare just a mere 20 years ago. Also, everyone loves Hello Kitty here. I’m pretty over it.

Shot of the numerous motor drivers on the market road
Excuse me? Can I just pass through

Motorcycles are the dominant form of transportation. We pass close, and fast. Generally if I veer out my toes just a few inches out I could get a nice tire burn if I so wanted. I say you’re not truly on your way to being Indonesian until you get a nice burn from the exhaust pipe after riding in the back. Good times.

Shot of motorists on a packed street in Indonesia
More Packed People

Don’t have your own car or motor? You’re in luck! You can of course get an uber, but you might be better of hiring a becak (bay-chahk). These are bicycles mounted with a passenger car to take you short distances here and there. They’re really popular for people coming from the market. You can generally find them crowded together smoking a cigarette under their eaves. Indonesia is super sentai, aka relaxed, so you might mistake them for being on a break. They’re not. Happily interrupt their nap, their glazed eyes, their lazy heady response as they climb out of their vehicle and ask you where to go.

Two becak drivers sit in their becak waiting for a customer
Waiting to collect a customer

I really like looking at the colorful paint jobs they generally apply to the different becaks.

Becak

If you want to get some spice in your life, here is where you go. I was pretty confused by this layout until we finally got the guts to approach the vendor and ask what she had. It turns out these are all different spice mixes that the vendor blends and sells in a bag. We chose the Rendang blend which was SUPER salty but delicious. It was also way cheaper (1.000 rupiah) for a bag of this fresh ground spice over the normal MSG laden bags of processed spices which are 3-8x more expensive.

Eight transparent tubs with colorful spice paste mixes
Spices brought together to make different recipes

Cassava, potatoes, pinneapple, and oranges. All can be available here! Generally prices are pretty cheap, and jump by as much as 50% when you are not seen as a “local”. Also people will develop relations depending on your accent and ethnic clan. For example, we live in a Sudanese rich area but often receive slight discounts when buying goods from other Javanese. My husband’s accent is so thick and clear that there is no mistaking him, especially since he learned Javanese before Indonesian.

Man squats next to baskets of produce for sale
Lookin good veggies

 

Baskets and hanging bags of fruit
Fresh strung fruit

Baskets of produce and spices wait in the sun

I’ve seen more parts of dead animals than I ever have in my life. I can now identify cow stomach, muscle, liver, and more than ever before. Every day we pass these freshly butchered chickens on our way home. Every day I think “No thanks” as they buzz around with fresh flies. I’m just not ready yet to go there. For pretty good sanitary reasons too though.

 

Chicken hanging from hook under tarp
Ayam anyone?

Our last trip through the market was to get some fresh flowers. It’s not pictured but our favorite piece is Sedap Malam that flowers at night. We were getting some wrapped for our new apartment last week when I snapped a picture of these guys.

Ogah ogah!
Ogah ogah!

There you have it! Now you know what to expect from a traditional market. If you’re like me, you’re a little less puzzled about what to expect on the streets of Indonesia.

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