Fried chicken, fresh snapper, glistening squid, packed spring rolls, the click-hisssss of a Coke can being opened. Indonesian night markets are places of wonder and heat. Heat in the air, heat of the flaming grills and the heat of the food.
During the day, the area is not only deserted, but entirely empty. Like a concrete car park without any cars. An unusually open space in a town crammed with buildings, banana palms, warungs and shrines.
But, after sundown, the space turns into an intoxicating labyrinth sprung up from nowhere, filled with little stalls crammed with rice, noodles and fried everything.
If you find yourself drawn into Sanur’s night market, you’ll have a heady mix of nasi campur with tempe, rice, mind blowing grilled chicken leg and spice that will cleanse your soul. Right in the middle row you’ll find a stall selling spring rolls for 2000 rupiah (10p) each and you can munch away as you wonder the market.
The night market opposite the harbour on Gili Trawangan is dusty and bare all day; not a single stall, just a juice place and two restaurants at the edge. Come dark, this place is teeming with people wandering the stalls, haggling over tuna, squid, grouper and red snapper or ordering chicken satay with extra sauce.
Don’t stand too close to the corn stands while you’re waiting though, great waves of heat will have you soaked through before you’re even set your teeth in the juicy, spicy cob.
Behind each stall are one or two long, school cafeteria-like tables and accompanying wooden benches. In the middle of the tables are napkins if you’re lucky, mainly to wipe the sweat from your brow. Sometimes just a roll of toilet paper which works just as well.
Despite being vagrant and hungry, the copious stray cats on Gili T will sit on the benches but never on the tables. They mew and gaze at you but will never go for your food; these plaintive creatures have manners.
Tarpaulins sometimes provide cover over the market if it rains, but with each stall just having one lightbulb, the market is dark.
This lends itself to everyone peering in at the food, their intrigued faces lit gently.
In power cuts, the market clamours with whoops and banging and a few prepared shoppers light head torches and continue perusing. With the returning electricity comes cheers and celebration and the haggling and enjoyment carries on.
Despite Western rumours, night markets are not anymore likely to make you sick than anywhere else.
The food is cooked to perfection and served faster than in any restaurant, not to mention you get to watch you food being prepared with great anticipation. The smells at a night market are compelling and competing; it’s easy to find the stall for you by following your nose.
Dark, busy and filled with sound, night markets are the heart of a town after sunset. You enter curious, hungry and indecisive and you leave dizzy with pleasure and satisfaction. When the market spits you out, you pause on the cooler street outside for a moment to recover your senses.