It’s 9.08am on Monday and my phone starts buzzing with Whatsapp notifications. I click on the app to find they’re all from Indozfood, a group bringing together more than 60 Indonesian restaurants and registered home vendors from across Melbourne.

The first thing I see is a picture of nasi empal suwir, a tiered cone of yellow turmeric rice surrounded by shredded and fried beef, a tea egg, stir-fried tofu and green beans, spicy fried potato and peanuts, cucumber slices and sambal. It’s $15.90 for the lot. Below it is a menu of 37 dishes ranging from beef rendang and chicken satay to otak-otak (coconut-y fish mousse steamed in banana leaf) and sup buntut (oxtail soup).

And that’s just one menu from one vendor in the group.

So, how does it work? Restaurants and vendors post daily menus and specials, and if you like what you see, you can click through to order via their individual Whatsapp profiles.Indozfood, which has around 3000 members, recently added an English group to broaden its mostly Indonesian-Australian audience during lockdown.

Hannysan Santoso, a Java-born IT professional who moved to Melbourne in 2007, originally founded Indozfood as a forum for Indonesian expats to bond over dishes from home. But when the pandemic hit, the group became a channel for members of the Indonesian community to connect with Indonesian-owned businesses.

“This simple and free platform helps businesses to meet their sales volume, and most importantly … survive during Covid lockdown,” he says. “[The vendors] are Indonesian heroes who help our country promote Indonesian food to the world stage. Putting all vendors in one platform is also great as their product has become more creative now, and they’ve increased their service level and delivery areas.”

Michael Samsir – who owns Indo-Chinese restaurant Pondok Bamboe Koenig in Clayton, specialising in handmade noodles – says the group brings in more orders than other third-party apps. And it’s enabled him to keep staff on during the shutdowns.

“The five-kilometre restriction is making people not come, so the Whatsapp group is our only place. We’ve got Uber Eats, Menulog, all that stuff, but sometimes we don’t even get two or three orders there,” he says.

Covid has encouraged Aussie businesses to sell food through social media, but Samsir says using Whatsapp and Instagram as a culinary marketplace has been the norm in Indonesia since the invention of the Blackberry. As a result, selling to a savvy Indonesian audience has challenges of its own.

“Indozfood was created for the Indonesian community, so the market size pretty much stays the same,” Samsir says. “We do specials that we don’t have on the regular menu because if we keep the menus static, [members] will get bored really quickly.”

Agustina Wati runs her business, Rosbun, from home. Inspired by her mother, who opened her first bakpao (steamed Chinese bun) store in Surabaya in 1983, Wati’s selling them filled with Indonesian ingredients. She also posts specials such as lontong cap go meh, a feast of rice cakes and side dishes that fuses Chinese and Javanese cuisine, usually eaten on the final day of Lunar New Year.

Wati’s husband Paulus Ang says Indozfood caused business to boom. “At one stage the whole family [was] helping her, we didn’t even sleep some nights in that period,” he says. “There are more businesses, more competition as we progress. In a way it’s good; it provides more variety.”

Ang adds that ordering through Indozfood is an opportunity for those outside the Indonesian community to support small businesses and try “the authentic rasa [taste] of Indonesia”.

Santoso agrees. “Indonesia is an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with more than 300 ethnic groups, and the cuisine is a collection of various regional traditions,” he says. “It’s not just nasi goreng, mie goreng, rendang and satay. There are hundreds of dishes worth trying.

“Some friends in Indonesia are even surprised to see dishes on Indozfood that are very difficult to find in Indonesia, like serombotan klungkung (a Balinese dish of mixed vegetables with special peanut sauce) and sate pentol ikan (satay fish balls).”

Join the Indozfood Whatsapp group here, and find out more about the vendors on Facebook and Instagram.