What’s a Kaki Lima?

February 10, 2013
Category : On The Road

A kaki lima (translation, “5 legs”) is the name given to the street vendors in Bali who push their food carts around the neighbourhoods selling cheap, made-on-the-spot food mostly to the local people.  There are those 5 legs

We might see some slight variation these days but generally, the cart has 3 legs (wheels) and the human pushing it has 2 – hence “kaki lima”.

To workers who have no place to store a lunch box in their workplace and to those who live in small, rented rooms with no cooking facilities, they provide an indispensable & affordable service.  It goes without saying, that each cart and its vendor have their own personality and offers its own special dish.  As they come down the street – depending upon what they are selling – they announce their arrival by either tapping a spoon against a bowl (ting-ting-ting), letting the steam from their cooking pot out to sound a whistle (tweeeeeeee), clunking a stirrer against the side of a metal pot (clok, clok, clok) so that, even from afar, you’ll be able to tell if the noodle-man, the soup-man or the cake-man is heading your way.

Some of the carts are pristine, some a little battered and some are beautifully artistic but it’s the quality and price of the food that they’re appreciated for and that’s what keeps them in circulation. 

The Men and Their Machines

These photos are just a few examples of the different types of kaki lima one might see plying the streets of Bali on any given day selling fruit, iced drinks, soups or noodles. Very hard work but still a moment to pose & smile! They are as much a part of Bali as the 5-star hotels.

8 Photos

(Click on the image to see an expanded version.)

It’s also interesting to note that the people who operate the carts are not Balinese.  This is a job that “outsiders” take on, the majority of the people working them coming from Java.

Operating a kaki lima isn’t an easy profession, especially these days.  Apart from walking the streets for hours in the extremes of our tropical weather, needing to share just a little of the road with impatient and dangerous drivers makes it a risky business – and all for just a small profit at the end of a long day.

We headed out around town on a quiet Sunday afternoon to see who we might find at work with their carts and came across an interesting cross-section.  Not one person lacked a smile and didn’t enjoy a brief chat. A Smile With Your Noodles

We’ll bet these people are the ones who know EVERYTHING that goes on in any given neighbourhood.

Need some “inside information”?  Ask your local kaki lima!  And order up a bowl of soup while you’re getting the goss…….


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