What to Expect in a Lesehan in Yogyakarta

It’s really easy to dine among and like the locals in Indonesia; just pop into one of the lesehan for a meal. Lesehan simply refers to trading or dining on a woven straw mat. It’s a common practice on the island of Java and in Bali. There are no special rules:

  1. Take off sandals (why would you wear any other footwear in this country?)
  2. Sit cross-legged on the mat
  3. Order a local speciality, like bebek goreng (fried duck) or a simple mie goreng (fried noodles)
  4. Wait for food to arrive. Chit chat, smoke, do as you and your friends please
  5. Eat (photo taking is optional)
  6. Remember to pay

Pop-up lesehan

If one is in Yogyakarta, as I was a few weeks ago, finding one is a piece of cake. Plenty of lesehan stalls pop up along Jalan Malioboro, the main shopping boulevard, in the evenings. It’s dirt cheap and very casual. Observing locals catch up over street food and rough tobacco was a nice break from navigating the sweaty mass of batik shoppers, motor vehicles and horses.

Malioboro lesehan
Lesehan along Jalan Malioboro

Despite the number of hotels along that stretch, one hardly ever sees tourists under those tents. The lack of air-conditioning may be a factor; perhaps the Asian acquiescence to doing things on the floor also makes outsiders uncomfortable. All over the continent, we sit, eat, conduct business and sleep on it like it’s second nature to us. It may even be healthier. I’d say that from a minimalist point of view, it’s nice to not have to buy and pack up chairs.

Admittedly some stalls look sketchy, and there are so many along the entire street that it’s difficult to pick one. Placed in that position, I’d pick the most popular-looking joint. According to locals there is no difference in quality among the stalls anyway.

Lesehan elsewhere in Yogyakarta

For those willing to venture further for something that looks less dodgy, there are permanent lesehan along Jalan Wijilan, close to Yogyakarta’s keraton. The best part is that these stores specialise in gudeg (stewed jackfruit). I followed the wisdom of the crowd and went where the most scooters were gathered.

Jalan Wijilan
The gudeg lesehan shops along Jalan Wijilan

After a good walk to get there from the hostel, I was mindful of the grime that was on my feet and ankles. At home I can rinse myself if I feel the need to, but not here. It took a few seconds to forget about it and ease myself at the table.

No such worries when the food arrived on the rattan tray. The sweet jackfruit, spicy beef chicharon and tofu platter tasted like home-cooked food from another mother. There was no lack of sweet drinks to provide relief from the heat. This complete meal cost less than US$2.

Gudeg

While you’re in Yogyakarta, you should definitely visit Borobudur, especially at sunrise.