I wouldn’t technically call myself a country collector (I’m at 146 in case you did wonder), but running YPT and doing the trips that I do certainly puts me into contact with the odd person chasing the holy grail of the 193 club (UN members, that is). East Timor (or the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste), as country 192 of 193, makes it an attractive must for many a person, and thus a good YPT tour.
So, what’s the skinny of Timor-Leste? Long story short, it’s a former Portuguese colony that, when the Portuguese left, was invaded by Indonesia. To put it lightly the Indonesians were not very nice, and the Timorese people suffered a lot before gaining independence in 2002.
History lesson over; take the indigenous Timorese culture and add a healthy dash of Portuguese and Indonesian influences, then factor in its status as South-East Asia’s youngest and least-visited country. Following so far?
So, what’s the food like?
Fine dining in Dili?
There are no real fine dining options, but they do have a big Aussie expat community and a bunch of Aussie restobars littering the beachfront of Dili serving classic stuff like burgers etc. Timor Backpackers was my favourite place, for the live music and the Monday-Friday happy hour, if nothing else – 2 for 1 drinks always make me happy.
Is there street food in Dili?
There’s a particularly famous street food market in Dili, which is less of a market and more beachside BBQ with tons of different vendors serving all kinds of fish, meat, buffalo, and ice-cold beer to wash it down whilst listening to the waves wash up. If you need to use the toilet whilst eating street food in Dili, there’s a massive toilet called the sea.
What can you eat outside of Dili?
We visited Baucau, which is technically the second largest “city” in East Timor. It’s a glorified village at best, to be fair. Getting there is a nightmare as the roads of Timor-Leste are pretty fucked right now, but there’s a fish BBQ place halfway between Dili and Baucau that does the job.
What’s the eats like in Baucau?
I can split eating in Baucau into three different parts. There’s the homestay in Baucau which had chicken up to the grand standards of the Colonel – yes, Mr Sanders himself. Then there’s the street market, which serves great street food. And finally then there’s fine dining at the Benfica restaurant!
The Benfica restaurant is the most famous restaurant in Baucau simply because it’s the only restaurant, pretty much. On our visit, they forgot to put the fridge on… food was so-so.
To summarize the street food of East Timor
The Timorese people are some of the most screwed-over people on the planet, so you can’t really blame them that they spent 40 years more concerned with getting freedom than cooking up a culinary storm. But free they are now, and Timor is a great place to see, if not only to help the wonderful Timorese. And yeah: the street food of Timor is coming along OK too.