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Indonesian Food

Descriptions of common Indonesian Foods

With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of cuisines, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java. All too many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek it out. Local flavors do tend to be rather more simple, with the exception of Padang and Manado dishes, than those in Malaysia or Thailand though, the predominant flavorings being peanuts and chillies, and the Javanese like their food rather sweet. The main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:

  • bubur nasi, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast

  • lontong, rice packed tightly into bamboo containers

  • nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice

  • nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, originally a festive ceremonial dish

  • nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste

  • nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf (looks pretty but doesn't add any flavor)

  • nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast

Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good second in the popularity contest. Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world's largest instant noodle manufacturer. A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp, or even more delicious with egg added.

  • bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc)

  • kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce

Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:

  • bakso/baso ("BAH-so"), meatballs and noodles in chicken broth

  • rawon, spicy beef soup

  • sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind

  • sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish

  • soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients

Popular main dishes include:

Beef sate

  • ayam bakar, grilled chicken

  • cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables

  • gado-gado, boiled vegetables with peanut sauce

  • gudeg, jackfruit curry from Yogyakarta.

  • ikan bakar, grilled fish

  • karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw

  • perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frijkadel)

  • sate (satay), grilled chicken and lamb

Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together. There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)!

Crackers known as kerupuk (or keropok, it's the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common is the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp.

While Indonesians happily eat anything that walks, crawls, flies or swims, vegetarians will be happy to know that tofu (tahu) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are also an essential part of the diet. Vegetarianism as such is, however, poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge.

For Muslims travellers, Indonesia can be considered as safe as most of the times they would only serve "halal" food, so most of the eateries won't serve you pig, dog, frog, and other "haram" ingredients. But to be sure, you can look for "halal" sign if you're eating in restaurants, or just simply ask. Do this especially when you are eating in restaurant of Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine. Most of big chain family restaurants such as McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and others have halal certification.

Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons. Popular options include mango (mangga), papaya (papaya), banana (pisang), starfruit (belimbing) and guava (jambu), but more exotic options you're unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit (salak) and the alien-looking local passionfruit (markisa). Durian (from Indonesian word "duri"=spike or thorn) is an exotic, light green, spiny, melon-like fruit with strong odor. Durian is prohibited in most hotels and taxis.

Eating by hand

In Indonesia eating with your hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common. The basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball of rice, which can then be dipped into sauces before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb. There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the bathroom. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.



Bali Tourism Board

Indonesia Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Lombok and Sumbawa Tourism Information

Central Java Tourism Board

Jakarta Post  {in English}

Airports of Indonesia - Official Website






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