Spicy Indonesian food to test your tolerance level
There’s no greater love than the one shared between Indonesians and their many different sambals, or Indonesian chili sauce. In fact, we’re so used to how spicy our food is that when foreigners ask us for food recommendations, they might want to take our advice with an asterisk as our spicy tolerance level is way beyond that of mere mortals.
Ergo, we mean serious business when we say that there are some seriously spicy foods in Indonesia that even locals would think twice about before eating. If you’re keen on testing your tolerance level, these 10 spicy Indonesian foods are guaranteed to have you reaching for milk in a single bite.1. Ayam Betutu – Balinese roasted chicken stuffed and coated with spices
When served, ayam betutu is often cut in the middle to expose all of the spiciness insideImage credit: @betutuzamrud
Bali’s plethora of Hindu temples and unique traditions set it apart from most of Indonesia but we’re still united by our love for everything spicy. This is made obvious from the island’s famed Ayam Betutu delicacy, a whole chicken stuffed and coated with spices and roasted with a method known as betutu.
The spice mix used in the dish varies but the most common ingredients are turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and a generous helping of chili peppers. The spice mix is then both rubbed and stuffed inside the chicken but that’s not as interesting as betutu’s original cooking method.
A wet variant known as ayam betutu basah also exists, served with peanuts and a broth of the spice mixImage credit: @rmc.kitchen
The chicken is then encased in pinang leaves and wrapped in a bed of burning rice husks and covered with a clay pot for 8 to 10 hours, resulting in especially tender and richly flavored meat. This method of cooking in an earth oven is what’s referred to as betutu and while the traditional recipe uses duck, chicken is now often used in its place.
In the olden days, betutu was reserved only for celebrations due to the rather complicated method with modern variations opting for the easier pressure cooker instead. Still, the modernized variants are still just as good, with a lovely fragrant aroma and meat that is just as tender and flavorful as the traditional version.2. Seblak – Sundanese boiled crackers served with proteins in extra spicy sauce
A bowl of seblak with chicken feet and macaroni, two of the most popular toppingsImage credit: @tiffoodies
In the highlands of Bandung where the nights are often long and cold, it’s no surprise that its citizens are left wanting for a snack that’s both literally and figuratively hot. Enter Seblak, a popular street food of boiled kerupuk, or Indonesian traditional crackers, served in hot and spicy sauce with a cornucopia of other side dishes.
Seblak is often offered in multiple spiciness levels and unless you have a death wish, start with the lowest oneImage credit: @food.kampus
The word seblak itself refers to the spicy sauce, commonly made of kencur, or aromatic ginger, mixed with onions and garlic, and topped off with lots of chili paste. For toppings, kerupuk is a must but pretty much anything else is fair game, with noodles, chicken or cattle feet, meatballs, noodles, macaroni, and eggs being the more common ones.
The combination of the chewy wet crackers and the thick spicy sauce is what makes the dish sing. As a result, it has now outgrown its humble Sundanese origin in the streets of Bandung and is now found all over Indonesia.3. Ayam Geprek – smashed crispy fried chicken served with a generous amount of sambal
If available, we recommend pairing ayam geprek with melted mozzarella and fried chicken skinImage credit: @hannatheblues
Ayam Geprek, or literally ‘Smashed Chicken’, might be a 21st-century invention but you’d be wrong to underestimate the kick this dish has. In just a span of a few years, the popularity of ayam geprek has skyrocketed to a point that it’s now found not just all over Indonesia, but also in Malaysia as well.
Ayam geprek has its roots in the spicy Indonesian food ayam penyet but differs in that it uses crispy battered fried chicken like the ones in KFC instead. The chicken is then smashed and mixed together with a borderline excessive amount of chili paste, with fancier variations often adding melted mozzarella into the mix as well.
This serving of ayam geprek comes with green chili peppers and served with instant noodles, combining our love for both spicy food and Indomie into oneImage credit: @ayamgeprekmaster
Today, ayam geprek is often offered with different types of sambal. While the red sambal bawang, or chili paste mixed with shallots and garlic, is the most common, the variant with Balinese raw sambal matah is not to be overlooked.
Do note that ayam geprek is typically offered in multiple spice levels, with the highest level, usually 10, best reserved only for masochists of the highest order. You’ve been warned.4. Mie Aceh – curried spicy noodles from the western tip of Indonesia
It might be missing that shade of red, but mie aceh’s combination of spices is still capable of burning your tongueImage credit: @herryfahrurrizal
Aceh might be known as Indonesia’s most socially conservative region but when food’s involved, the region holds nothing back. The Mie Aceh, or literally ‘Acehnese Noodles’, mixes Chinese and Indian influences onto a single plate, before topping it off with an extra spicy kick typical of Indonesian food.
The thick yellow noodles used for the dish are inspired by Chinese cuisine while the curry-like soup is of Indian origin. The curry alone, made of shallots, garlics, chilis, black pepper, and a host of other spices such as cumin and cardamom, is what gives the dish its signature spicy kick and is worth the price of entry.
Fancier variations of mie aceh even add a whole crab into the mix for a wholly indulgent mealImage credit: @mimolette_1106
Owing to Aceh’s heavy Islamic influence, mie aceh is often served with beef or mutton with seafood also available as an alternative. The dish is then completed with a serving of emping, slightly bitter Indonesian crackers made from melinjo nuts, a type of plant native to Southeast Asia.
A dry variant called Mie Aceh Goreng, or ‘Acehnese Fried Noodles’ exists but we believe the soupy Mie Aceh Tumis, or ‘Stir-fried Acehnese Noodles’, is the best way to enjoy this dish.5. Ayam Taliwang – grilled young ayam kampung seasoned with fiery spice mix
One whole ayam taliwang served with plecing kangkung on the upper leftImage credit: @taliwangpapin
From the idyllic Indonesia Food paradise of the Gili Islands to the gorgeous lake of Mount Rinjani, we can come up with dozens of reasons why you should visit Lombok. For foodies, that would be Ayam Taliwang, the island’s signature dish of grilled young ayam kampung, or traditional free-range chicken.
The chicken is seasoned with a spice mix consisting of garlic, shallots, shrimp paste, and a healthy amount of chili peppers. Because ayam taliwang uses only young free-range chickens, which are typically leaner than those bred for their meat in confined spaces, they’re often served whole even for individual diners.
When served as a side, bean sprouts and fried peanuts are often added to plecing kangkungImage credit: @parjilahmartapura
For an extra dose of spiciness, ayam taliwang is often accompanied with a serving of plecing kangkung, a dish of water spinach topped off with sambal plecing. This unique sambal is notable due to the addition of tomatoes into the mix, resulting in a somewhat watery texture.6. Oseng Mercon – spicy stir-fried beef that explodes in your mouth
Even seeing oseng mercon being cooked is enough to get us sweatingImage credit: @nastitijodhi
One of Yogyakarta’s signature dishes, Oseng Mercon is a good example of how Indonesia’s love for pedas-ness borders on masochistic. Oseng is just an Indonesian term for stir-fried, but mercon actually refers to a type of firecracker and it aptly describes the fiery explosions you’d feel in your mouth after a single bite.
The explosive recipe behind oseng mercon is actually quite simple. The dish consists of beef and fat trimmings, locally known as tetelan and koyor, cooked with copious amounts of chili pepper with hints of palm sugar to help balance the flavor.
These days, pre-packaged oseng mercon is also available for purchase as a souvenirImage credit: @medanicipicip