In Indonesia, a warteg is a casual, down-to-earth street food joint, where you can get an array of dishes doused in brightly-colored sauces, intensely flavorful and scooped from a shop window array of stainless steel dishes. Dumped unceremoniously over rice, a dish at the local warteg is dependably delicious, but hardly atmospheric: the only way to eat is usually to scarf it down while standing, or else perched on a roadside plastic chair as vehicles chug by with puffs of smog and dust.
But one Instagram-savvy chef hopes to give warteg cuisine a makeover. Meet Dade Akbar of Warteg Gourmet. “Warteg, short for Warung Tegal, is well known as an all-time favorite, out-of-home home-cooking street-side eatery for commoners,” describes Akbar. “Warung basically means kiosk, and Tegal is an area in Java where people from this area started this phenomenon.”
“Their key characteristics are their humble and communal layout, with a vast choice of dishes available, big servings and very accessible pricing,” Akbar says. While they may have a devoted following, wartegs—like many establishments optimizing on cost or efficiency—have a reputation for also being unhealthy.
“The food is mostly fried, and the amount of white rice that goes with it contributes to a lot of sugar in our diet,” Akbar explains. “Wartegs have become a staple in our community, especially for the less financially fortunate. However, eating at a warteg is always considered to be dirty and cheap. It is not an experience that you would put on your Instagram feed.”
Until Warteg Gourmet, that is. With close to 30,000 followers, the viral Instagram account makes warteg fare palatable to the eyes as well as to the mouth in order to rally the enthusiasts and sway the skeptics. With Dade’s artistic presentation, a meal that may have cost 15,000 rupiah (US $1.15) can look like a plate from a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“I think dishes with traditional everyday ingredients like tempeh, dogfruit, and kerupuks always gain attention,” says Akbar, who cooks, plates, and photographs each Warteg Gourmet dish. “Most of the followers don’t even believe even these local and cheap ingredients can turn into something like haute cuisine.”
His secret ingredient? “Eggs. Because there’s so many ways to perfect an egg dish, and they all can turn into a beautiful ones at that.”
A few of the most mouth-watering images below: