On Gili Trawangan, there is no greater collection of street food than what can be found at the tiny Indonesian island’s night market. Originally started as a once a week affair (Wednesdays during the busy season), the night market on Gili T has grown to be 4 nights a week and the size of the market itself continues to grow as more vendors participate.
This amazing and eclectic mix of locally flavored barbecue, sweets, seafood and beer is the night time staple of this busy tourism and party destination. Vendor’s and their staff, attend to their booths closely throughout the evening as hoards of hungry tourists pack into the square for get a taste of some truly local flavors.
Centrally placed, the market’s home is a small public area made of concrete and hard packed dirt. Several trees encircle the area that is no larger than half a football pitch. Vendors’ shops line the far boundary towards the interior of the island and the barbecue stalls are strategically placed near the beach walk, to allow its rising aroma to lure in hungry people.
In the daytime, this dusty town square appears dull and lifeless. A miniature replica of Bali’s Mt Batur volcano is constructed of folding tables and chairs and shoved off to the side to keep the square free of any obstructions. The sound of children playing and shopkeepers negotiating with visitors to the island fill the air. As the late afternoon approaches, tourists flock to the beaches and swings in order to witness the Gili T sunset. It is at this point that the locals go to work to disassemble the wonky mini volcano, and the shape of the night market begins to come into place.
The Gili T Night Market opens for business to the evening’s first rush, just after dusk. Many of the small meals make a great base for a night of drinking, and keeping it light is easy to do at this market. Tourists flow through the market on their way to the bars.
What ya got cookin’?
Skewers of meat/ fish are by far the number one seller here. They come slathered in an extremely spicy satay sauce, or a milder Indonesian barbecues sauce. Local vegetables round out the kebab choices. A scoop of steamed white rice is optional.
A typical meal and a bottle of local Bintang beer will cost less than 100k IDR, or about 7 USD, or 350 PHP.
While most of the food here is delicious and worth trying, the freshness of the seafood options are unrivaled. A vendor had a whole yellow fin tuna on his table which was caught earlier in the day. He was slicing steaks and cubes for skewers off the fish to order. I do not think you can get any fresher seafood than that!
Many of the market’s salespeople really shine with warm greetings. These outgoing personalities work hard to stand out of the crowd and can dramatically impact where people decide to order. Because of that, a welcoming presence of the locals is always felt throughout the market.
With food in hand people find their way to an open spot on one of the market’s wooden tables lit by the greenish-blue hue of compact fluorescent bulbs; each, dangling from temporary wires and poles. Strangers crowd together, converse, and exchange stories over their meals.
The second Wave
The night buzzes on after the initial rush dies down. The fluttering ball of insects revolving around the streetlights grows larger as the evening progresses, but their higher elevation, and the combination of smoky grills and powerful fans at ground level, help clear the air of pests while visitors are browsing and eating.
The depleted number of meat and fish skewers are replenished by hustling vendors. They restock and prepare for the second wave to arrive from the bars and clubs.
By 9 or 10m, the smell of barbecued food attracts hungry partyers in from the beach walk. It is the late night crowd that stumbles in from the bars, looking to get their hands on a juicy morsel of local bites, for cheap, as most traditional restaurants have already stopped serving food.
The vendors just outside of the night market benefit as well. Many ice cream / gelato shops are visited by the overconfident tourist who is looking for some relief from the very spicy Satay sauce. .. and also those that want a cool sweet dessert in the humid summer night air. Cart drawn corn vendors, and souvenir stalls dot the roads along the outside of the night market, picking up the extra business from the increased foot traffic.
Winding Down While the Sun is Coming Up
By sunrise, the entire square would be emptied and cleared of tables and chairs. Only a pile of trash and cases of empty glass bottles await pickup. The temporary volcano has risen once more as part of its daily routine.
If it was not for the smell of stale beer and the stacked trash, you would not think that this area was a bustling center of nightlife on the island, just hours before. Ugliness of the awkward morning after aside, the night market on Gili Trawangan is a cannot miss destination when visiting the Gilis. Save some room for street food. Enjoy!