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Cuisine in Indonesia

What can you expect from the cuisine in Indonesia? Our experts have some tips to share.

The cuisine of Indonesia is simply delicious and well worth exploring during your private tour of Indonesia, especially if you like exotic, fragrant flavors!

There are about 30 dishes considered most important to the cuisine culture of Indonesia, however it is thought there are over 5,000 traditional dishes. The regional variation of food is wide, but most meals consist of two main dishes, often meat or fish (known as lauk) of some variety and vegetables (known as sayur), and often a broth or soup, The main dishes are often served in a traditional way, such as banana wrapped, or with a vegetable salad. Meals are usually served with noodles or steamed rice, however starchy tubers (like yam, taro, cassava, potato and sweet potato), sago and grains (maize) are also served.

Eating in Indonesia is usually a fairly casual affair. Naturally, the more formal the setting or occasion, the more formal your behavior should be. Here are few top tips for dining in Indonesia:

  • Always allow your hosts or the restaurant to seat you – as hierarchy is an important part of the culture and you have guest status!
  • It is not unusual for food to be shared from one main dish in the middle of the table. Allow your hosts or waiters to serve you first, as it is considered rude to help yourself to the first helping.
  • It is normal for men to be served before women – don’t insist otherwise.
  • If in a buffet style of eating you are invited to eat first, insist your hosts eat first as this is considered polite practice, but know that you will receive the first bite!
  • Food should only be passed with your right hand.
  • Cutlery vs hands? Depending on the establishment, you may be expected to eat with your hands or with cutlery. If in doubt, wait to see what other diners do.

Cuisine in Indonesia – What to eat

Here are some typical Indonesian dishes to whet your appetite.

  • Tumpeng:The official national dish, this is a cone-shaped dish made of rice, made using a bamboo container and served at all special occasions.
  • Nasi goreng:The unofficial national dish, this is fried rice made with kecap (or ketchup), a sweet and thick soy sauce, and garnished with pickles. Sambal: a condiment made from chilli, fermented shrimp paste, lime, sugar and salt and an accompaniment of most meals.
  • Satay or sate:Chicken, goat, mutton and even rabbit meat skewers that have been marinated in turmeric, cooked over hot coals and served with yummy peanut sauce. You can find sate madura, in the boat-shaped street carts, which comes served with ketupat (rice cakes), onion and cucumber.
  • Rendang:Spicy meat curry with Malay influence
  • Tempeh:A Javanese invention, made of fermented soybean
  • Gado-gado: Translates as mix-mix, this is a tofu/tempeh vegetable salad, dripping with tasty peanut sauce
  • Bakso:Traditional Indonesian meatball soup that is served with fried shallots, boiled egg and wontons. (It’s apparently a favorite of Barack Obama’s!)
  • Nasi uduk:A cheap lunchtime favorite from Betawi, made with coconut milk cooked rice, which includes fried chicken, boiled eggs, tempeh, anchovies and topped with emping (an Indonesian cracker snack)
  • Nasi padang:A curry that often includes floating fish heads or cow’s feet – this is not for the faint hearted!
  • Rawon:Eastern Javanese beef stew
  • Pecel lele:Fried catfish
  • Ayam goreng:Fried chicken
  • Opor ayam:A traditional braised chicken dish cooked in coconut milk and spice, and served with ketupat (rice cakes), found mostly in warungs (small diners)
  • Martabak:A spongy, fatty and thick crepe, filled with chocolate, peanuts or cheese, and often served with a pickle!
  • Daun pepaya:Sauteed bitter greens, made with papaya leaves.
  • Gorengan:Fried snack food that is popular in streets across the archipelago, from vegetable fritters and fermented soybean cakes to fried bananas!
  • Bakmie goreng:A carb-friendly noodle dish of varying types. The contemporary healthy version is to make vegetable noodles from beetroot or spinach!
  • Gudeg:The signature dish of regal Yogyakarta, this is a jackfruit stew that has been boiled for hours in coconut milk and served with spice and savory items like rice, egg, and chicken.
  • Bumbu Bali:Bumbu means seasoning and this is a popular dish in Bali for serving fish, particularly mackerel.

Cuisine in Indonesia – Our top tips

The cuisine capital of Indonesia is Jakarta, which has unique flavors from across all the nation’s islands.

If you like:

  • Curried flavors:Tour Sumatra, which has many Middle Eastern and Indian influences in its cuisine
  • Indigenous dishes:Take a trip to Java
  • Spice:Head to Maluku Islands, which boast dishes with native local spices of cloves and nutmeg
  • Variety:Visit Jakarta, a magnet for Indonesians from all over the archipelago, who naturally brought their cuisine with them

Our OKEIndonesia team are happy to share their personal Indonesia travel tips for your trip. Contact us today to plan your tailor-made Indonesia tour.