No, that is not a picket line. And no, there are no people staging a hunger strike behind those banners. Far from it. In fact, this is where you knock out the hunger pangs when you are in this part of Central Java in Indonesia. Welcome to a lesehan, a roadside eatery where you sit on a plastic mat covered floor and eat with your bare hands!
They say that nothing can be more “local” than eating where locals eat. And so I set out to experience how to eat out lesehan-style when I was in Surakarta last week (Forgive me for using the old name of the City of Solo. It just evokes images of an exotic and remote travel destination far more than Solo does).
But I upped the ante a bit and conspired to have an Indonesian friend, Meity Mutiara, to bring me there. Apparently, Meity and her friends who are not from Surakarta themselves, were raring to sample bebek (duck) in a lesehan so I was happy just to tag along.
Not all lesehans offer the same fare though. So we walked a stretch of a road in Solo where these eateries were aplenty and searched for a place that took Meity and Friend’s fancy. We settled with Lesehan Sukawati and promptly gave our order to the waiter. I ordered Kakap Merapi and Soda Gembira. Before the food was served, the waiter handed out bowls of water. Take note that it’s not meant for drinking though–it’s for hand washing!
Sitting cross-legged on the floor for long periods at a time is not for me though, I would later find. Midway into my meal, I felt numbness in my buttocks and lower legs. I soon broke into a sweat and became anxious that I might have cramps right then and there so I finished my food way ahead of the others. I dared not lose face in the eyes of this bunch, no matter how friendly they were 🙂
- Most lesehans are only open at night.
- Wear comfortable clothing. Short skirts/skimpy shorts are not recommended. You might as well prepare for some wardrobe malfunction too. My shorts got ripped when I sat down in a lesehan in Jogja. Like a true blue Boy Scout that I am, I salvaged my dignity by covering my exposed nether parts with a hanky.
- Bring a hanky.
- If you’re not so much into sambal and spicy foods, make sure that you are able to successfully relay this bit of information to the waiter. Even then, expect that your food will still be spicy!
- Food in these eateries are quite affordable. My kakap merapi and soda gembira fetched for less than 30,000 rupiah or approximately 3 dollars only.
- Stretching for 3 minutes before sitting cross-legged on the floor won’t hurt.