Home to over 267 million people, Indonesia is one of the biggest nations in the world with more than 17,500 islands.
It’s been a popular travel destination for decades, but now many expats are relocating there to teach English and work or study. Supermarkets tend to cater for expats with imported products, but what if you want to shop like a local?
Where do locals do their grocery shopping?
Convenience stores are still the preferred way to shop in Indonesia as people like to shop closer to home. They are often fairly limited in what they sell but on the plus side some are open 24 hours a day (mostly in big cities like Jakarta).
The main players are Indomaret, Alfamart and Alfa Midi. Indomaret is probably the most popular out of these as it offers a wider variety of fresh produce and meats.
Other tiny convenience stores you’ll see are Circle K (especially in Bali), 7-Eleven and Lawson. Often you’ll see tables and chairs outside 7-Eleven stores which are a popular spot for teens to hang out.
And in rural Indonesia, traditional grocery stores– family owned ‘mom-and-pop’ stores and wet markets – remain the dominant grocery solution. Street markets are an integral part of Indonesia’s culture and can be found everywhere.
Another frequented store in Indonesia is the speciality baking store. These stores stock bulk ingredients for baking, and locals go here particularly at the end of the annual Ramadan fast to stock up on ingredients for the biscuits that they bake for their guests. It’s not only baking ingredients they sell but also cake decorations and baking equipment like cookie cutters, trays and baking paper.
How often do people go shopping?
Most locals go to the grocery store every day. Almost all neighbourhoods have a morning market where people buy their meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, flowers and spices. There are also mobile sellers who go door to door with fish, chicken, bread and vegetables, which you can have delivered everyday if you like.
Are supermarkets popular?
Almost all Indonesian cities have a number of shopping malls. These usually have a mix of international shops and local stores and supermarkets.
Indonesian supermarkets try to set themselves apart from convenience stores by appealing to customers on a middle to high income. From organic and fresh products to imported goods, these retailers focus on offering healthier alternatives and superior quality for those who are willing to pay a premium price tag.
What you need to know before you go shopping
Learn to bargain
Bargaining is not an option in supermarkets. However, in non-formal settings it can be seen as an art – a delicate process of compromise! Before starting your negotiations, the best approach is usually to open with an offer of half the advertised price and meet somewhere in the middle. It’s worth keeping in mind that vendors may have families depending on their income, so try not to take bargaining too far. In general if an item doesn’t have a price tag, you can assume it is safe to bargain.
Know your numbers
It’ll come in handy if you know your numbers, especially when asking for the price. You can always use the calculator on your phone if you don’t understand the answer, as printed numbers will be understood (the numbers sound differently when spoken, but our numbers are the same when written down).
Keep in mind that often fruit and vegetables have a specific price per kilo, so the vendor may not be open to bargaining in that case. It’s more common to bargain for things like textiles and souvenirs.
Withdraw local currency
It’s a good idea to withdraw local currency, the Indonesian Rupiah, to use at markets in case they don’t take credit cards. As of 2023, $1 USD is roughly 15,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah).
Top things to buy in Indonesia
Indonesia is known for its home-grown coffee. Sumatra has its famous light-bodied Mandheling beans; Aceh produces an aromatic blend of arabica & robusta coffees; Bali boasts smooth medium roasted blends sourced directly from family farms; while Jakarta offers up rich Arabica brews that are perfect for any occasion.
Aromatic spices are an essential part of the Indonesian cooking experience. Formerly known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonialism, this part of Asia boasts an array of tantalizing flavours. You’ll see it all, from nutmeg and clove to galangal, pandan, turmeric, coriander and pepper. Ginger reigns supreme among them: freshly picked from gardens or squeezed for a dash of juice on dishes; this fragrant root always adds delectable dimension to local cuisine.
Indonesian cuisine would not be complete without the signature flavours of sambal, a condiment made from frying together chilli and tomato. Sometimes shrimp paste is added, depending on your region. No meal is truly finished in Indonesia until it’s been seasoned up with sambal.
What’s in a typical grocery shop?
Fish and seafood, fruits, rice and noodles are the largest categories consumed in Indonesia.
Rice holds a special place in local gastronomy – and not just for lunch and dinner, it can also be eaten at breakfast time, along with dessert! Sweet potato, taro and cassava are also popular. You won’t see much pork in conservative neighbourhoods (or alcohol either). In fact, most neighbourhoods are conservative with 87% of the population identifying as Muslim.
Inspiration for your shopping list
Indonesian cuisine is famous for its distinctive flavours, combining sweet and sour ingredients such as kecap manis (a type of sweeter soy sauce) and limes or tamarinds.
Learning to cook a few local dishes is a great way to immerse yourself in culture. Here are three favourites you might want to put on your menu.
This national dish is a good place to start, a simple fried rice. It takes many forms but the main ingredients are rice with meat, vegetables, spices and eggs. Often shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, chili and tamarind will be added.
Originating in Java, Soto is a soup found all over Southeast Asia. It’s a broth served with bits of meat, boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. Some regions add coconut milk and turmeric, others add fish cakes, potato fritters and shallots on top of the bowl.
This fried banana is an Indonesian culinary experience that you won’t want to miss. With slices of bananas and plantains deep-fried in cooking oil, it can be covered in breadcrumbs and honey for crunchy sweetness – the perfect snack.
The most affordable supermarkets
SuperIndo is Indonesia’s largest supermarket chain with 180 outlets across Indonesia. You’ll be able to get just about anything here and you’ll save money too.
Farmers Market has 36 outlets spread across various cities, ranging from Jabodetabek, Surabaya, Malang, Balikpapan, Samarinda, Pekanbaru, Dumai, Palembang, Semarang, Gresik, to Ambon. They focus on fresh local products and attract middle income earners with their reasonable prices.
The South Korean supermarket Lotte Mart is gaining in popularity with 50 stores now operational across Indonesia (in fact, it’s not just Korean food that is loved by Indonesian youth, but also K music and pop culture, but we digress).
Lotte Mart sells lots of local products so you’d be forgiven if went there and didn’t realise you were in a Korean supermarket. Make sure you try their seasoned fried chicken- a favourite with young Indonesians. It even has its own pizza brand, Cheese & Dough. Chefs from the Indonesian stores have been sent to Lotte Mart’s Food Innovation Centre in Korea to learn the pizza recipes.
Hypermart has been providing Indonesians with a wide selection of daily necessities since 2004, and they have recently stepped up their game by giving customers the option to shop online. With over 30,000 items available at affordable prices, you can now pick them up from your nearest store (there are numerous locations in cities across Indonesia) or get it delivered to your house.
If you are looking for specific ingredients from overseas, then you’ll need to find an upscale supermarket. You won’t find these in small cities or towns.
Ranch Market has a wide selection of fresh, organic, gluten free and dietary items – as well as daily necessities. With an emphasis on living healthy lives, their slogan “It’s A Balanced Life” and they target upper middle to higher income customers. They have 16 locations throughout Jakarta & Surabaya.
Grand Lucky hypermarkets are located in Jakarta and Bali and are full of bakery items, imported snacks, fresh meats and even home appliances. They also have mini-restaurants next to the checkout counter serving their famous large cheesy pizza.
There are 19 Hero supermarkets spread throughout Indonesia in major cities. They offer high quality and healthier products. You’ll have to go to their stores in person though as they don’t offer online shopping.
Kemchick’s in Jakarta
For over five decades, Kem Chicks has been the go-to provider of a unique supermarket shopping experience for Jakarta’s affluent customers. Located in Pacific Place and Kemang, this popular store offers an incredible range of international products from American cereals to European cheese as well as Indonesian favourites all available under one roof.
They don’t have an online store though, so you’ll have to go in person (but that’s ok, because they have cool in-store experiences like coffee brewing and picking organic vegetables).
Carrefour has hypermarkets all over Java and Bali (they are now in Medan, Palembang, Makassar, Batam and Pontianak too). This French chain has a wide range of local and imported foods as well as electronics and furniture too. They have 84 outlets across Indonesia.
The Food Hall
Situated across some of Jakarta’s main shopping malls, this renowned grocery chain is highly rated by customers on TripAdvisor – and it’s easy to see why. Whether it’s local produce or imported items from overseas, it has everything, even a plant section! They have 32 stores in Jakarta and Bandung and target upper middle to higher income customers.
The Japanese-owned department chain, Sogo, has stores in Jakarta, Bandung, Medan and Surabaya. All 13 Sogo supermarkets are located in malls.
The most popular websites for online grocery shopping in Indonesia
These online stores are popular in Indonesia for getting groceries and basic household items, especially since the pandemic with more people opting for contactless delivery.
Tokopedia is is Indonesia’s go-to online shopping platform. From clothing to food and even digital services, it offers just about everything you could ever need. It covers 99% of Indonesia, so if you are staying in a rural area you’ll still be able to use it.
Order online: https://www.tokopedia.com/
International giant Shopee is considered the largest e-commerce platform in South-East Asia and is a popular shopping app for Indonesia mothers, according to a survey. Shopee is different from other apps in that it withholds payment from the seller until after delivery.
Order online: https://shopee.co.id/
Another giant in Indonesia is Lazada, offering a wide range of groceries with fast delivery. In fact, if you need fast delivery and don’t mind spending a bit more, Lazada is probably the way to go.
Order online: https://www.lazada.co.id/
klikindomaret is a one-stop destination for all things Indonesia. Like Shopee and Lazada, you can shop from their wide range of products covering items like food and personal care supplies to the latest fashion must haves or electronics & media.
Order online: https://www.klikindomaret.com
Interestingly, many grocery stores now offer online shopping through WhatsApp (it’s the 4th most-used channel with people wanting to buy directly from sellers). You just text your order directly to the store.
If you’re running low on groceries and don’t want to make a trip to your local supermarket, then you should check out Happy Fresh, a fulfillment service from supermarket/shops. Personal shoppers will pick up your groceries from a variety of locations like Lotte Mart, Ranch Market, Food Hall or whatever is closest to you. They offer 60 minute delivery.
Order online: https://www.happyfresh.id/
This online platform brings healthy, farm-to-table products right to your door – featuring high quality fare sourced directly from Indonesian farmers and producers. You can get vegetables, meats, fish and eggs to fruits and other staples here.
Order online: https://www.sayurbox.com/
It’s not just Sayurbox that offers fresh produce from farmers at competitive prices. You can support local agriculture while shopping for groceries with Tanihub. This group of companies has set out to help the agricultural sector by connecting farmers and suppliers directly with buyers. That means you can get fresh produce, meats, fish, fruits and more delivered from your community to your house.
Order online: https://www.foodsolutions.tanihub.com/
Errand Running Services
If you want groceries from several places, then GrabMart and GoMart are errand services where you can order through their app and someone will do your shopping for you and bring it to your door.
GrabMart is all about convenience. With their signature 1-hour delivery service and app integration, they’ve revolutionized daily errands for customers in Indonesia, delivering to hundreds of postcodes throughout the country.
Order online: https://www.grab.com/id/en/mart/
GoMart is an instant delivery service from the Gojek company. They offer a vast selection of products (staples, fresh produce, snacks, baking supplies, baby care, they have it covered). Their personal shoppers will pick up your order and deliver it to your house within one hour. GoMart is available in cities all over Indonesia.
Order online: https://www.gojek.com/gomart/
Leave room for Indonesian street food
As fun as finding ingredients in a colourful Indonesian market is and learning to cook local cuisine, be sure to enjoy some street food or visit a Warung – the traditional and unique eating experience. It’s pretty much a roadside stall, typically consisting of an outdoor table sheltered under tarpaulin or canvas with cloth dividers. Generally only serving one or two meals, many warungs have become renowned for particular dishes.
Satay is a pretty common one. It’s an iconic Southeast Asian street food, with roots stretching back thousands of years. Originating in Java and influenced by traders from the Middle East, Satay is now found everywhere. The diced meat is marinated or seasoned before being grilled on a barbecue stand – there’s something for everyone; chicken, beef, goat (or even tofu) served up alongside peanut sauce and ketupat: rice cakes wrapped in palm leaves. A great snack while you’re out getting your groceries!
I’m an educator and writer living abroad. I love languages, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.