This beloved Indonesian national dish of skewered and seasoned meat is perhaps the only dish people new to the cuisine need to eat to fall in love with Indonesian food. It’s so incredibly delicious.
In fact, so delicious is sate that it’s taken root in the cuisines of neighboring countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. And thanks to their shared colonial history, it’s even become an integral part of Dutch cuisine.
But as delicious and popular as sate is, it’s hardly the only dish that’ll make you take an interest in Indonesian food. Nasi goreng, bakso, babi guling, and mie goreng are just a few other Indonesian dishes that’ll have you hankering for a cuisine that’s about as diverse and varied as the archipelago itself.
To be clear, there are literally thousands of traditional Indonesian recipes so this list of 30 is a mere snapshot of all that Indonesian food has to offer. It would take a lifetime to fully explore Indonesian cuisine so this list represents only the best dishes we’ve tried so far from our trips to Java and Bali.Save This on Pinterest!
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Indonesian cuisine represents the food, recipes, and culinary heritage of the world’s largest archipelago. Indonesia is comprised of 17,508 islands (around 6,000 of which are inhabited) and over 600 ethnic groups, many of which boast their own regional cuisines and culinary traditions.
In all, Indonesian cuisine has about 5,350 traditional recipes. They vary greatly from region to region and exhibit many foreign influences.
In Sumatra for example, you’ll find curried meat and vegetables dishes shaped by Indian and Middle Eastern influences. Eastern Indonesian cuisine is similar to Polynesian and Melanesian cuisines while Javanese food remains mostly indigenous with just hints of Chinese influence.
This confluence of culinary influences is a direct result of Indonesia’s long history as a conduit for trade in Southeast Asia. It’s cuisine was greatly influenced by the cuisines of India, China, the Middle East, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Because of its vast regional diversity, it’s difficult to characterize Indonesian cuisine, though like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors, Indonesian food can best be described as rich and complex, and intensely flavorful.
You’ll probably come across this word often when exploring the food of Indonesia.
Traditionally speaking, a warung refers to a small family-run convenience store selling Indonesia Food sundries, snacks, and other small grocery items. It’s typically attached to the front of a family’s home, much like a Filipino sari-sari store.
Today, the term has evolved to refer to modest Indonesian restaurants and cafes. Traveling through the country, you’ll find the term attached to many of these small Indonesian restaurants which are usually named after the main dishes they sell.
A warung roti bakar for example, sells grilled bread while a warung indomie sells mostly instant noodles.
If you intend to explore traditional Indonesian food, especially away from the bigger cities, then you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in these warungs.
I’ve organized this food guide by category to make it easier to digest. Click on a link to jump to any section.NATIONAL DISHES
As described, Indonesian food varies greatly from region to region. National dishes are representative of a culture as a whole so if you’d like to experience Indonesian cuisine in broad strokes, then you should start with these six dishes.1. Sate
As described, sate is one of the most popular and beloved dishes in Indonesian cuisine. It refers to a dish of seasoned, skewered, and grilled meat served with a sauce.
Sate is typically made with small pieces of chicken, beef, pork, mutton, fish, or seafood, but it can be made with many other types of meat and vegetables as well. They’re skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over charcoal before being served with a variety of sauces, most often a combination of peanut sauce and kecap manis.
Sate is such a popular dish that it’s become a staple food in many other cuisines as well. It’s believed to have been developed by Javanese street food sellers who were trying to replicate Indian kebabs.
From Java, sate spread throughout the Malay archipelago, into countries like Malaysia where it’s become recognized as a national dish.
Sate is ubiquitous in almost every region of Indonesia and is equally popular at street food stalls as it is at warungs and more upscale Indonesian restaurants. It’s one of three Indonesian dishes that made it to CNN Travel’s reader’s poll on the World’s 50 Best Dishes.2. Nasi Goreng
Nasi goreng literally means “fried rice“. It’s an Indonesian fried rice dish made with kecap manis, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, tamarind, and chili. I’ll talk about it more later in this guide but kecap manis is a thick sweetened soy sauce often used in Indonesian cuisine. It’s what gives nasi goreng its signature brown color.
Aside from the basic ingredients, nasi goreng can be made with a host of other ingredients like meat, seafood, egg, vegetables, and krupuk (traditional crackers). Pictured below is the delicious nasi goreng kambing (goat fried rice) we enjoyed at the legendary Kebon Sirih stall in Jakarta.
Like sate, nasi goreng made it to CNN Travel’s reader’s list of the World’s 50 Best Dishes.3. Tumpeng
Sate and nasi goreng may be more well-known to foreigners but tumpeng is the most important Indonesian dish on this list. In fact, until 2018, it was the only dish regarded as an Indonesian national dish by the Ministry of Tourism.
Tumpeng refers to a Javanese cone-shaped rice dish served with a multitude of sides on a banana-leaf covered tampah (woven bamboo tray). It can be made with plain steamed rice, uduk rice (with coconut milk), or yellow rice that’s fashioned into the shape of a perfect mountain using a cone-shaped woven bamboo container.
Tumpeng is an important dish in Indonesian culture because it’s regarded as a symbol of gratitude, a dish that’s often enjoyed to celebrate important events like festivals and birthdays. The cone-shaped rice is meant to symbolize the holy mountain while the many side dishes surrounding it carry meaning as well.
For example, spinach is regarded as a symbol of prosperity in Javanese culture. Catfish represents the importance of good preparation and humility while anchovies symbolize togetherness. It’s a highly symbolic dish and hailed as the one dish that binds the diversity of Indonesia’s various culinary traditions.
If you’re ever at an Indonesian gathering and someone serves you the top of the tumpeng, then consider it a huge honor. In Indonesian gratitude ceremonies called slametan, the top of the tumpeng is cut and typically given to the most important person in the group.4. Rendang
Rendang refers to an Indonesian meat dish that’s originally from the Minangkabau region in West Sumatra. It’s a curry-like dish that’s believed to have been influenced by north Indian curry.
Like tumpeng, rendang is an important Indonesian cultural food that’s often served at ceremonial gatherings like weddings and birthdays. It’s traditionally made with beef though it can be made with other animal proteins as well like chicken, duck, mutton, or water buffalo. The beef is slow-cooked for several hours in coconut milk and spices until it becomes tender.
Like many of the dishes on this list, rendang has become popular in other Southeast Asian countries as well like Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei. It’s the only Indonesian dish that made it to CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Foods.5. Soto
Soto refers to a family of traditional Indonesian soups made with meat and vegetables. It’s most commonly made with chicken or beef though it can be made with other types of meat as well like mutton or buffalo.
Soto is widely consumed in many forms throughout Indonesia. It’s usually named after the region where it’s from or the main ingredient used to make it. Examples include soto bandung from Bandung (pictured below) and soto ayam which is chicken soup. Ayam means “chicken”.
Interestingly, there exists another family of soups in Indonesia called sop which are considered different from soto. Soto refers to traditional Indonesian soups while sop refers to soups that have foreign influences.6. Gado-Gado
Gado-gado refers to an Indonesian salad made with slightly boiled, blanched, or steamed vegetables served with a peanut sauce dressing. It’s name literally means “mix-mix” and is in reference to the host of ingredients used to make it like hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, bean sprouts, tofu, tempeh, and krupuk.