When we talk about Indonesian food, many Indonesia Food of us will instantly think of the tropical island of Bali with its fresh coconuts and spicy sambal. However, Bali is only one small island out of over 17,500 islands that make up Indonesia. In this article, I will show you how incredibly diverse Indonesian cuisine is and bring new light to a largely unknown flavour profile.
In Indonesia, we say ‘Selamat Makan’ or ‘Kamu sudah makan?’. The first wishes someone a nice meal and the latter asks if they have eaten yet. This usually refers to having eaten a meal with rice; as, without rice, it is not considered to be a proper meal in Indonesia. Like in many parts of Southeast Asia, rice plays a central role in Indonesian food culture and is prepared in various ways to be enjoyed at any time of the day.
Read more: (opens in new tab)Food in Southeast Asia: Complete GuideIndonesia Travel GuideUseful Bahasa Indonesian PhrasesTop 18 Must-Try Dishes in Indonesia
Did you know?… Indonesia has five official national dishes? These are Soto, Rendang, Sate, Nasi Goreng and Gado Gado as declared by the Ministry Of Tourism in 2018.
The following list of 18 dishes is far from a comprehensive list of the best Indonesian foods, but here are 18 fantastic options you should definitely try when travelling in the region!Gado Gado Gado Gado is eaten all over the country.
This salad’s fun name derives from the translation which means ‘mix mix’ in English, as it is a mixed vegetable-based salad. It is assembled from scratch with various blanched vegetables like cabbage, green beans, carrots and fresh lettuce. Each seller will make their own peanut satay sauce and select sides like fried tofu, tempeh, boiled egg and chicken.
To add that extra bit of crunch, gado gado is enjoyed with different kinds of crackers called krupuk. It is one of the easiest dishes to eat as a vegan or vegetarian by asking for vegetables, tofu and tempeh only (be sure to check the krupuk ingredients too as some contain shrimp or fish). Gado gado salad.Rawon
Originally from East Java, Rawon is a beef dish like stew or soup, served with steamed white rice, salted egg, bean sprouts and sambal. This particular dish is usually made with the fatty sections of meat, so it is hearty and filling. It is flavoured with herbs and spices such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, ginger and chilli. The critical ingredient is buah kluwek, (Indonesian black nut) which has an earthy and sour taste. Sate Sate is a popular grilled snack food in Indonesia.
If the ingredient comes on a stick, it’s called satay or sate. Pork, chicken, beef, fish, tofu, vegetables, egg and tempeh; you can find them all grilled with sauce and spices. Sate is served with a delicious peanut sauce, sambal and a mixed salad of cucumber, onion, chilli or steam rice cake or steamed rice.
Sate is sold by food vendors and the sellers fan the grill to waft the aromatic smell of grilled meat and vegetables around. This makes everyone who passes by crave something to eat. A good sales tactic! Chicken is a popular choice, sate ayam, and is widely enjoyed across the region by locals and visitors alike.
The satay sticks are often presented on a banana leaf, covered in sauce, with crispy shallots sprinkled on top. Try the famous Sate Lilit in Bali, a fish satay grilled on lemongrass.
Be sure to ask the seller what the protein is – you may come across different meats and offal. Furthermore, depending on the majority religion in the area, certain meat dishes will not always be available. Rendang Rendang is often eaten at important celebrations.
Rendang originates from the Minangkabau ethnic group, indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra. The delicious spice mixture or pemasak used in rendang has long had cultural significance in Indonesia.
The classic recipe is made with slow-cooked beef simmered in coconut milk. It must be cooked for at least 2 to 3 hours to create the perfect texture. Rendang can be served with white rice, lemang (sticky rice) and vegetables. Rendang is often served at essential celebrations, and different versions of this curry are now enjoyed worldwide.
Did you know… Rendang was voted the best food in the world by CNN readers in 2011!Bakso
Meatball soup – with an Indonesian twist. A Southeast Asian street food dish that is much loved across the region. Bakso is a steaming hot bowl of broth, noodles, meatballs and spices.
The meatballs can be made from all different types of meat, including beef, pork, chicken and even fish, and there are no rules on how to make a classic bakso; the flavour and texture depend on the seller’s preference.
A bowl of bakso will traditionally be served with a few spoonfuls of broth, meatballs and the noodles of choice. There is also the option of adding soy or chilli sauce to the dish.Nasi Uduk
Nasi Uduk has been around since the 14th century and is a type of Betawi food from the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta. This dish is made with rice cooked with coconut milk and fragrant herbs such as lemongrass and bay leaf.
The steamed white rice is the focal point and is served with various side dishes such as fried chicken, tofu, tempeh, mixed vegetables, noodles, egg and fried onion sprinkled on top. Lotek Lotek is a type of vegetable salad.
You will come across this Sundanese vegetable salad on the island of Java, sold by street vendors. It is usually prepared with either steamed rice cake, tempeh or tofu, as well as sambal.
Lotek is made with mixed green vegetables such as water spinach, long beans or snake beans which are slightly blanched. The key ingredient to this dish is the addition of kencur (similar to ginger or galangal) which is fragrant and delicious. Petai
Native to Indonesia, this green bean, also known as bitter bean or stink bean, has a whole range of fantastic health benefits. The petai pods are long and green with smaller beans inside, which can be cooked and eaten.
To prepare the beans, you split them in half with a knife, place them in boiling salted water and blanch them for about 30 seconds. In Indonesia, you will see petai in sambal, served alongside rice or vegetable dishes and enjoyed as a snack. Nasi GorengNasi goreng is a favourite of Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesia’s famous fried rice could have an article dedicated to it all on its own! This is the number one dish that you will find, no matter where you go in the country. Quick, delicious and nutritious, nasi goreng is an absolute must-try dish.
Nasi means rice in Bahasa and Goreng means fried. The staple ingredients of nasi goreng are onion, chilli and garlic fried together in oil with the addition of pre-cooked white rice and served with sweet soy sauce.
Nasi goreng is served with everything from sate, fried chicken, pork, beef, prawns, vegetables, fried or scrambled egg, shrimp paste, sambal, tofu, tempeh and largely depends on available produce. Mie Goreng
Similar to nasi goreng, mie goreng is the same style dish but made with noodles (the word mie means noodles in Bahasa). All across the country, you will find street vendors cooking up portions of wok-fried noodles with a mix of sweet soy sauce, chilli, garlic and green vegetables as a much-loved late-night snack.
Influenced by Chinese Indonesian cuisine, Mie Goreng is prepared using Chinese cabbage, garlic, onions and lots of chillies. Spicy fried noodles are one of the most popular options on the menu any time of the day.
The thin noodles are usually made with flour but you can find a gluten-free alternative by ordering Bihun Goreng which are rice noodles.Nasi Kuning Nasi Kuning is known for its bright yellow rice.
Characterised by the bright yellow rice (nasi kuning), this is a dish typically enjoyed for breakfast but it can be eaten any time of the day. Nasi kuning is traditionally served with tempeh, noodles, vegetables, egg and sambal. However, you can request your preferred sides to customise the dish.
The rice is cooked with turmeric powder, lemongrass, bay leaf, kaffir lime leaf, and coconut milk. The fragrant rice tastes wonderful with spicy tempeh, fried shallots and fresh slices of cucumber. Ikan Bakar
Seafood is plentiful, fresh, affordable and cooked to perfection here in Indonesia. Ikan Bakar is grilled fish and is served all over the region accompanied with rice and spicy sambal.
Travellers may have tried a similar dish in Malaysia that uses common spices like ginger, galangal and chilli in the marinade. After marinating the fresh fish, it is grilled on an open fire, usually covered with a banana leaf, and enjoyed by the ocean. It is a social dish where comes together to share the catch of the day.