Indonesian cuisine is surprisingly peculiar and unlike those in other exotic countries. Traditional dishes are less spicy than Asian, but spicy, because they include many local aromatic herbs.
The cuisine of Indonesia is distinguished by its originality and a large number of spicy dishes.
General characteristics of the national Indonesian cuisine
Indonesia is a country of exotic fruits, vegetables and spices, all kinds of plant products, each of which has a unique taste and aroma. This is a country of different seafood, from tiny shrimp to sharks, from which you can prepare many dishes.
With the cuisines of other Asian countries, the Indonesian national is related to the widespread use of rice. Despite this, it has many features peculiar only to it.
Almost every dish of Indonesian cuisine has a great many variations:
- Soup or salad consists of vegetables and is seasoned with all sorts of spices.
- Different types of meat are used in the stew.
- Cocktails mix juices of various fruits.
In Indonesian cuisine, there are various types of meat, vegetables and cereals.
This is the main feature of this cuisine: any food will be prepared in its own way on each island, in a particular settlement and even a restaurant in the same city.
Initially, the inhabitants of the Malay archipelago ate rice and wild fruits and roots that could be found in the jungle, and the inhabitants of the coastal areas also caught fish, mollusks and crabs.
More than a thousand years bc. e. Indonesia began trade relations with China, and some Chinese traditions penetrated into the national cuisine. Indonesians began to grow soybeans, cabbage and other vegetables, learned how to make noodles and fry rice in a frying pan.
At the beginning of AD, Indonesia borrowed some food and culinary techniques from India: the islanders learned to fry meat and seafood on skewers and cook spicy sauces. And in the XVI century. in Indonesia came European colonists: first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, who brought with them products that came to Europe from America – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and corn.
The islands of Indonesia were quite autonomous, so that the culinary traditions on them developed independently and were always very different from each other.
On the island of Java, little meat is traditionally consumed, replacing it with fish, other seafood and soy products. In addition, rice noodles and coconut milk are especially common here, in which meat and vegetables are often boiled or stewed.
The cuisine of the city of Padang, located in the western part of the island of Sumatra, is one of the most spicy in Indonesia. Pepper and other hot spices are often used in it. There are many meat dishes and very rare for Indonesia dairy products made from buffalo milk.
Padang cuisine is the most spicy in Indonesia.
The traditional cuisine of peranakan – descendants of alliances of Chinese travelers with Indonesian women – is most similar to Chinese, although it still has specific features.
Its characteristic soups and noodle dishes resemble Chinese, but the spices and spices in them are local, Indonesian.
Among the cuisines of other regions of Indonesia, it is worth highlighting the following:
- Bali, which does not use beef, because this island is inhabited mainly by Hindus;
- the Moluccas, where rice is rarely cooked, replacing it with corn and crushed palm core;
- banjars living in Kalimantan and loving garlic;
- Madura, where salt is mined (so all dishes are much saltier than on other islands).
The most common products in Indonesia are:
- rice noodles;
- spicy herbs;
- mollusks and other seafood.
Rice and herbs are typical foods in Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesians eat little meat and other animal products.
The basis of the cuisine of Indonesia, like other Asian, is rice. It is eaten both as an independent dish and as a side dish. It replaces bread for Indonesians, and from rice flour they make almost equally popular noodles in this country.
Indonesians boil and fry it in oil, soups are made with it, it can be a side dish to meat or fish. There are in Indonesia, as well as all over the world, and instant noodles.
Noodle dishes are a popular food in Indonesia.
In the tropical climate of Indonesia, many vegetables grow. These are well-known carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and different types of cabbage, and exotic sweet potatoes, tapioca, taro and artichokes. In addition, sprouted soybeans and small unripe corn cobs are often added to salads and other vegetable dishes.
In Indonesia, they eat a variety of meat – from the usual beef, lamb and chicken to exotic meat of turtles and snakes. The only species that is rarely found on these islands is pork, because the bulk of the population professes Islam, which prohibits eating it. But in some regions of Indonesia, Christians or Hindus predominate, so you can try pork dishes there.
In Indonesia, various types of meat are consumed.
In the ocean surrounding the Indonesian islands, there are many different fish, including edible, squid, octopus, shrimp, lobster and other marine life.
Locals eat no less delicious river fish.
There are even more of them in hot and sunny Indonesia than vegetables. Here you can enjoy ripe pineapples and mangoes, bananas and kiwi, papaya, rambutan or jackfruit. All these and many other fruits are eaten fresh, they make salads and fillings for baking or squeeze juice, they are added to unsweetened, meat and occasionally fish dishes.
Kiwi and papaya are common fruits in Indonesia.
The strangest fruit should be considered durian – a large fruit with soft white pulp, which emits an unpleasant odor. Because of this “aroma” it can only be eaten in the open air, it is forbidden to enter the premises with it. Despite this, it is still worth trying this delicious fruit.
Spices and spices
A wide variety of Indonesian dishes is achieved, including through the widespread use of all kinds of spicy herbs, dry spices and seasonings. Almost all dishes add one or another type of pepper, onion, garlic or ginger. Rice dishes are often colored yellow with saffron or turmeric, vinegar or soy sauce is used to marinate meat or fish.
Often, a thick paste is made from a mixture of different seasonings and spices: it is spread with pieces of meat or seasoned with soups.
Dishes that are definitely worth trying in Indonesia
Whatever you order, coming to an Indonesian restaurant or cafe, it will be something new and exotic for you, something that you have never tried before.
Miniature sata kebabs are the most common dish in Indonesia. They are prepared from all types of meat, poultry and fish, from seafood, tofu and – less often – from vegetables. All this is cut into small pieces, marinated in a thick sauce and fried over hot coals.
Sate – small kebabs cooked on hot coals.
Use a variety of marinades for sata: they can include soy sauce, sour juice of citrus fruits, vinegar or coconut milk and many dry herbs and spices. All this is mixed in unusual combinations and used for marinating products, so there are a great many variations of this dish.
Sate is a typical street food in Indonesia, which is bought to eat during a walk or excursion, but this dish is also served in restaurants, and even at official receptions.
Liquid Indonesian soups in meat broth with spices and vegetables are collectively called sotho. But most often rice noodles are added to these ingredients and such soups are called “soto ayam”.
This dish not only has a unique taste, but also looks beautiful: the soup is bright yellow due to turmeric, contains inclusions of greenery, and sometimes also red spots from tomatoes. In addition, sprouted soybean grains and halves of boiled eggs are often added to it, and before serving it on the table, it is poured with lime juice.
This is a type of fried rice, in which, in addition to spices and herbs, something more satisfying is added – pieces of meat, fish or seafood, as well as vegetables and spices with seasonings. The dish is distributed throughout the Indonesian islands, and on each of them nasi goreng is prepared with its own set of vegetables and spices.
Often eat onions, garlic, hot and sweet peppers, sprouted soybeans and tamarind.
Nasi goreng is a hearty dish with fried rice.
Almost always, rice, already golden after frying, is even more strongly tinted yellow with turmeric.
Sometimes a hard-boiled egg (or in the form of scrambled eggs) is added to nasi goreng. And in those areas of Indonesia where not Muslims live, but representatives of other religions, this dish can be tasted with pork.
This popular rice dish in Indonesia can be eaten for the whole day. Its base is rice boiled in coconut milk with spicy herbs, to which are then added fried meats and shallots, a boiled egg and slices of fresh vegetables. Rice is laid out in the center of the plate in the form of a pointed “slide”, and the rest of the products are placed around it.
Nasi uduk is a hearty dish in Indonesian cuisine.
There are in Indonesian cuisine and dumplings – siomai. They are steamed and sometimes fried after that. They are served with different sauces and a side dish of boiled cabbage, hard eggs and pieces of fried tofu. The filling of siomai is not meat, but fish.
Despite the fact that the main part of the population of Indonesia does not eat pork, on some islands you can still find dishes from this meat. For example, babi guling is a milk pig baked over a fire.
In ancient times, piglets were cooked like this on the island of Bali, and later this recipe spread to other islands. It is customary to serve rice and finely chopped vegetables with pieces of coconut called lavar for garnish.
A dish called rendang, one of the oldest in Indonesia, appeared in the city of Padang on the island of Sumatra. It is prepared from small pieces of beef, which are stewed in a mixture of numerous spices, drenched in coconut milk. In the process of stewing, soy sauce, coconut chips and tamarind paste are added. All this makes the beef tender and juicy, literally melting in the mouth.
Indonesians in past centuries borrowed this dish from the Chinese: they liked the taste of rice, which in China is often fried in oil. So in Indonesia, the most popular side dish appeared – appetizing crumbly rice of golden color. It is served with meat, fish and vegetable dishes, and is also the basis for an independent – nasi goreng.
An unusual looking dish nasi ravon – stewed meat of almost black color in the same dark thick gravy. As in many other Indonesian meat dishes, this dish uses many different spices, and in addition to them – keluaq nuts, which color the meat and sauce black. These same nuts give it a specific, unlike anything else, although a pleasant taste.
Another dish that originated in the west of the island of Java and became popular in others is buffalo tail soup. In addition to this part of the body, the dish includes potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables, as well as fresh herbs.
The tails of buffalo are stiff, so you have to cook them for a long time, but thanks to this, the broth in the soup turns out to be rich and satisfying.
In Indonesia, even fast food is delicious, in particular instant noodles, which are called indomi there. Like other similar dishes, you just need to pour boiling water over it and let it stand for a while, but indomi differs from its “brothers” indomi with a great many variations. It can have the taste of meat, fish or seafood, mushrooms or nuts, all sorts of spices and herbs, and even fruits. Indonesians joke that it is impossible to try all the existing variants of these noodles: even if you eat it every day, it will not be enough life.
Indomi is an Indonesian instant noodle.
Indonesian sweets are also prepared in different versions. Such is the sweet marhabak pie made of lush dough, which can be purchased almost on every corner. The seller will bake it in front of the buyer who chose the filling. It can be any fruit, fresh or dried, nuts, chocolate or unsalted cheese, with each of these ingredients used both separately and in combination with the others.
One of the most popular Indonesian fish dishes is pempek – balls or elongated sausages of minced fish, deep-fried. The birthplace of this dish is the city of Palembang in Sumatra, although there is a version that even earlier it appeared in Jambi, also located on this island.
In Palembang, pempek is more often prepared from river fish, but in other places sea fish is used for this purpose. Fish meat is ground into minced meat, flour from sago or tapioca is added to it and large meatballs are sculpted from it, which are then immersed in boiling oil. Sometimes the filling is put inside the balls – boiled quail, chicken or duck eggs, beaten raw eggs are kneaded into minced meat.
Pempek can be eaten separately (as snacks or snacks), garnished with vegetables and rice, and even put in soups.
This strange name means simply “mixture”. When applied to food , a mix of vegetables, to which boiled eggs, tofu or other soy products are sometimes added. The first in this salad can be very different: raw and boiled – cucumbers and tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes, zucchini and eggplant, soybean sprouts and small unripe corn cobs. Only 1 ingredient remains unchanged – spicy peanut sauce, which is poured all this variety.
As snacks that can be crunched in between, Indonesians eat tempeh, a product that looks like cheese, but is made from soybeans. To prepare it, soybeans are first boiled, and then a fermenting fungus is added to it and left like this for a day, after which the resulting mass is compressed into “bricks”.
These briquettes are cut into small pieces and either fried or marinated. Not only are they eaten separately as a light snack, but they are also added to rice, salads or stews.
Fans of crispy chips can try in Indonesia a local version of this snack called krupuk. True, these chips are not made from potatoes, but either from flour or from dried pieces of fish and squid.
Indonesians rarely gnaw on the grit for nothing: they dip it in different sauces or serve it with other dishes instead of bread.
Jamu drink not only refreshes in the heat and quenches thirst, but is also considered a therapeutic agent that kills microbes and neutralizes harmful substances. It has been known on the island of Java since the XIII century. and since then has spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Each island has its own recipe for this drink, consisting of some freshly squeezed juice with spicy herbs and spices. The most popular option is lime juice with ginger and turmeric.
Lime juice with ginger and turmeric is a refreshing drink.
Traditional festive dishes
A variety of dishes can be served to the festive table in Indonesia. The main thing is that they are nourishing and beautifully decorated. On many islands, traditional festive dishes are rich meat soups, including buffalo tail soup sop bunun, or stew dishes with thick gravy, such as rendang. Chicken fried in a paste of spices and a small amount of coconut milk is also popular as a festive dish.
The festive table in Indonesia is not complete without desserts – pastries with fruits and coconut pulp, fruit salads, sweet rice casseroles and fruit ice cream.
Residents of hot countries invent many different drinks that quench their thirst, and Indonesia is no exception. Since ancient times, all kinds of fruit juices and their mixtures have been drunk here, sometimes with the addition of certain spices to them.
Later, the Chinese introduced the Indonesians to tea, and the Europeans to coffee.
Since alcohol is forbidden in Islam, such drinks are not common in Indonesia. However, on islands where the majority of the population is not Muslim, locals produce rice wine called brem, arak palm vodka and tuak beer, which is brewed from palm flowers.
Arak is most often drunk by sweetening bitter vodka with honey.
In addition to fruit juices, Indonesians drink coconut milk, iced tea, sugar cane juice and just cold water in the heat. And hot drinks, tea or coffee, here it is customary to take after lunch or dinner.
Table setting traditions
In Indonesian villages, dishes are still often served the old-fashioned way – on wide banana leaves – and eaten either with their hands or using pieces of cereal as a spoon. However, the urban population has long used European plates, forks and spoons, and Peranakan dishes are eaten with Chinese chopsticks.
The only cutlery that “did not take root” in Indonesia is a knife: large pieces of meat or fish are not cut here, but divided into parts with a fork.
Some Indonesian dishes are difficult to prepare at home because of the specific ingredients included in them, such as, for example, the tail of a buffalo or snake meat. But most dishes are not too difficult to prepare due to the main feature of this cuisine – the variability of each of its recipes. Most often, if for some dish there are not enough spices, vegetables or fruits, they can be replaced by others or not used at all. A culinary masterpiece will not get worse from this.