Street food vendors are a common sight in Batam and throughout Indonesia. They are usually wheeled carts of various descriptions that are rolled into place on a favorite street corner or location, often at night along certain roads. One might sell bakso, a brown soup with meatballs and very thin rice noodles. Or they might offer up local sweets or fruit drinks. Or chicken and beef sate and sticky rice.
A type that I have long avoided, however, primarily because I really wasn’t sure what they were selling, are the carts offering various kinds of chips. Yes, like potato chips. In fact, these carts usually have several varieties of fresh-made potato chips, some coated with hot sauce, some with other flavors. I have recently taken a liking to these snacks.
One in particular I like are the banana chips, fried slices of banana. Very tasty as a snack and probably far better nutritionally than a U.S.-type potato chip, which I avoid due to their fattening qualities. Thanks to a friend, I’m now experiencing even more of these chips, and I still don’t know what they are in some cases.
Take, for instance, my recent foray out to the street in front of my apartment, where a block down there are at least eight of these chip carts, usually with one or two women in the hijab scarves who will try to hail you down as you walk by. I was looking to restock my banana chips and also was looking for a sweet chip I had recently tasted. It’s a basic flour tortilla with a caramel-like coating.
This was last night. I had trouble locating a cart with the sweet chips, although they all had banana chips. At each stop, the women would try to sell me on other chips, not knowing I had a particular one in mind. You can even taste the chips before purchasing, usually in units of a half kilo or kilo.
Finally, I found a cart with both chips and proceeded to ask for a half kilo of each. Since I had already purchased banana chips in this area, I knew what the prices were – Rp 20,000 for a half kilo – so I didn’t dicker about the price.
To my surprise, the woman asked for Rp 70,000 for the two bags of chips, roughly US$5.50. Now, one thing I hate here is when the locals try to take advantage of us bules in such a way, so I immediately reacted. I laughed, said “You’ve got to be kidding,” and tossed the bags onto the cart, saying “Keep it,” as I walked away. Not the most politically correct way to act here but being taken advantage of is not necessary and will certainly not bring me back for more.
Today, I decided to try again – on the same street, with the same carts. Again, the people at the carts did not know what I was looking for – the sweet chips – and tried to sell me everything else from their colorful arrays of chip selections displayed in glass. I kept looking, carefully avoiding the cart that tried to overcharge me the night before.
Finally, I found what I was looking for. The nice lady at the cart also initially tried to overcharge me but this time I negotiated first. She wanted Rp 30,000 per half kilo of both the chips I wanted but I told her only Rp 20,000. She smiled and nodded OK.
While I was waiting for her to load my haul into plastic bags, she kept handing me “tastes” of other chips. One was a brown bird’s nest type of thing and I couldn’t quite figure out the taste. Another looked green under the fried coating, was salty and may have been fried seaweed. It was tasty, whatever it is, and will be asked for next time.
I paid the Rp 40,000 for the two bags of snacks and headed home, content that I had conducted this little bit of shopping properly this time. Negotiate first, but if you can’t get what you want, walk away. The price will almost always come down.