Yum! The food in Indonesia is colorful, tends to have a bit of heat and offers variety enough to please everyone. Because the nation includes 6,000 inhabited islands and 300+ different ethnic groups, you’ll find a blending of cultural influences and 5,000+ traditional recipes.
Because of the nation’s location and rich trade history, there have been many outside influences on its cuisine. You’ll see similarities to dishes from the Middle East, China, India, Spain Portugal as well as the Netherlands. The Maluku Islands – an archipelago within Indonesia – are known as the “Spice Islands.” Spices such as cloves, nutmeg and mace are grown here and were used in Indonesian dishes before being introduced into global cuisines.
Sumatra is the largest island in Indonesia and the food here often has a Middle Eastern or Indian influence. You’ll find lots of curries which incorporate lemongrass, ginger, garlic, sambal and coriander. Sambal is an Indonesian chili paste which adds heat to many dishes. I use it in many Asian recipes as most chili sauces tend to be interchangeable. But be careful! It can blow the top of your head off if you add too much.
The indigenous Javanese people inhabit Central and East Java as well as Yogykarta. Their cuisine is less spicy, more indigenous and simpler than Sumatran cuisine. There is sometimes a Chinese influence to their dishes. Dishes are also sweeter than those from other areas due to the use of palm sugar and ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce).
Here are a few yummy Indonesian dishes to watch out for on your travels.
- Nasi Goreng – considered a national dish, this fried rice dish usually includes eggs, some kind of meat or seafood and assorted vegetables.
- Satay (sate) – skewers of meat, usually served with a peanut sauce or sweet soy sauce. Considered a national dish.
- Beef Rendang – a spicy meat dish, served at festive occasions such as traditional ceremonies and weddings.
- Soto – a traditional soup, made with broth, meat and vegetables is also considered a national dish. Each region has its own variation of the recipe.
- Tumpeng – yet another national dish, is a cone-shaped mound of rice, served with meat and vegetables on the side. The rice may be plain, steamed, cooked in coconut milk or yellow, cooked in turmeric.
- Rijsttafel – a Dutch word meaning “rice table,” consists of up to forty side dishes, accompanied by rice prepared in a number of different ways. The side dishes may include fish, vegetables, egg rolls, sates, sambals, pickles or nuts.
Staples of Indonesia Cuisine include:
- Rice (nasi) – is a staple of the Indonesian diet as both a savory and a sweet food. It’s usually served plain with an assortment of side dishes such as meat and vegetables. You’ll also see it cooked in coconut milk and stir-fried.
- Tubers – yams, sweet potatoes, taro, cassava and potatoes are common.
- Protein – mainly poultry and fish, however beef, goat and mutton are also found in dishes. As Indonesia is a mainly Muslim country, pork is not readily available in all areas.
- Peanut sauce – peanuts were introduced from Mexico in the 16th century and quickly became a staple. They are often served as a garnish on dishes or as a key ingredient of a sauce.
- Coconut milk – used in both savory dishes and desserts.
Our tour participants on next year’s sold out Bali tour have plenty to look forward to when it comes to trying new food!