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Australia's Indonesian community illegally selling food through Facebook

Home businesses often sell unique and authentic Indonesian food.
Home businesses often sell unique and authentic Indonesian food.

Photo: Facebook Group, The Rock

Despite Indonesia being one of Australia's closest neighbours, there are very few Indonesian restaurants in our capital cities compared with Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. But thanks to social media, a lucrative 'private' trade in home-cooked meals for Indonesian expats is thriving.

A sample of Indonesian traditional food advertisement on Facebook
A sample of Indonesian traditional food advertisement on Facebook

Photo: Facebook, The Rock group

Inggita Shintowati is currently living in Sydney, and says she misses Indonesian food because dishes such as durian pancake are harder to find than nasi goreng.

Along with many other Indonesians living in Australia, Inggita found individuals on Facebook who are selling homemade Indonesian dishes.

The pre-order advertisements provide photos of the food, prices, and delivery or pick-up information.

"I order from them once or twice a month, it really depends on what they are offering," Inggita says.

"Their menus keep changing."

Earning thousands of dollars a week

One seller from Melbourne, who did not wish to reveal her identity, said she had been selling food on social media for several years.

"I usually open pre-order food once or twice a week, and when I was in Sydney sometimes three times a week," she said.

In a typical day, she sells almost 130 portions of food, with prices ranging from $8 to $12 per portion.

"Mostly I do the cooking by myself to make around 100 portions. But when I was [living in] Sydney, sometimes I asked two to three people to help me preparing the food," she said.

Health concerns

Inggita said she never asked food sellers about food handling or safety certificates before buying from them.

"I choose sellers with good track records," she said.

"I think because they cook food occasionally, just once or twice a week, and limited for family and friends, so I assume they are okay."

Under Australian law, people selling pre-prepared or cooked meals are subject to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and the existing rules in each state.

In Victoria, for example, food sellers must meet the requirement of the Food Act 1984.

"Anyone cooking food at home and selling it on social media must be registered with their local council, like any other food business," Tim Vainoras, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria, said.

Mr Vainoras also warned individual sellers not following the rules may be risking fines of more than $19,000.

An anonymous seller admitted she didn't have a food-handling certificate, and was fully aware this type of business was illegal.

"But my husband is a fully qualified chef and he has a food-handling certificate," she said.

Ratih Purwati Friend is another Indonesian food seller in Melbourne, but her business provides catering for events, such as functions.

She said she gained her food safety certificate in just one day and it was relatively cheap.

"It's very easy … less than $300," she said.

"I did it in just one day and by the end of the course, I received a statement certificate.

"I learnt about how to prepare food. For example, if we take meat and fish out of [the] freezer, we have to cook them straight away and [are] not allowed to put them back in the freezer. That's how people get sick."

Challenges for restaurant owners

People walking along a busy street past Nelayan restaurants in Melbourne.
Nelayan is one of the oldest Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne.

ABC: Erwin Renaldi

Lielie Tjoa, owner of Nelayan restaurant in Melbourne, said she did not mind competing with individuals who sold food through social media.

She admitted however, that there was a price war going on in the community, saying individual sellers were often cheaper than restaurants.

"At the moment, Indonesian food is not as popular as Thai or Vietnamese food in Australia," she said.

"There are costs to set up the business, rental payment, health inspection fee, and usually when the place was inspected, there are always things that need to be upgraded or changed."

Lielie said that insurance was another significant expense that restaurants were required to pay.

"The insurance for restaurants is very high, because we need to ... make sure the workplace is safe."

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