After travelling through Thailand, Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore, we were excited to arrive in Indonesia, ready to experience a whole new range of celebrated dishes. Hopefully this post will provide a brief guide to the must-try Indonesian meals and foods. From road side stalls selling cheap and cheerful boiled rice, dried fish and spicy toppings, to the relaxed atmosphere of the ever present warungs offering a wide range of locally made delicacies, to upmarket westernised restaurants producing Indonesian cuisine with a twist, there is plenty to offer every foodie in Indonesia. Here are some of the most memorable meals we tried as we journeyed through Java, Flores, the Banda Islands, Raja Ampat and Sulawesi:
An absolute staple food on every travellers menu (and considered the national dish of Indonesia), nasi goreng means fried rice, ayam means chicken and special means the inclusion of ingredients such as egg or sausage. It is served in low to high classed establishments and is frequently accompanied with unusually coloured rice crackers. Additionally, the meal can be served with a small portion of sambal, a thick chilli-based spicy sauce that can, on occasion, bring tears to the eyes.
This dish may be served at any time of the day and is indeed frequently found as a breakfast staple. The thin noodles can be fried in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce and served dry with chicken and spring onions. Alternatively, the noodles may be incorporated into a soup, commonly known as bihun rebus.
This meal was a very memorable dish found in Yogyakarta, from where it traditionally originates. Definitely one of the top Indonesian meals we had. After visiting the Keraton, the Royal Sultans Palace, we wandered down Jalan Wijilan, where there are a many warungs offering gudeg. This unusual curry was a massive hit with us. Its base consists of jack fruit and coconut milk, boiled over several hours to give a thick and creamy sauce, which is deliciously sweet to taste and dark red to the eye. The gudeg we enjoyed was served with boiled rice and chicken but the dish could have been left vegetarian if desired. This meal is definitely not to be missed on a trip to Yogyakarta and was our culinary highlight of the city.
I tried this dish for the first time on a trip to Mount Bromo in East Java, where we enjoyed some wholesome food at the Hotel Bromo Permai after an early start and a volcanic hike. For me this meal was reminiscent of a winter-warming beef stew that we’d have back home. This stew/soup has a beef stock base, seasoned with many spices, to give a thick, full flavour. The stew generally contains beef chunks and is served with boiled rice, to give a very satisfying mouthful and leaving a warm feeling in the stomach.
This Indonesian salad is vegetarian, consisting of a variety of lightly boiled vegetables commonly including potato, cabbage, sweetcorn and spinch, with the addition of a boiled egg, tofu and tempeh (see below). This mixture is then coated in a plentiful covering of a thick peanut sauce and served with a side of rice crackers. The dish is generally served as a main but you may also wish to order some rice or noodles to supplement the salad.
This Hokkien-derived dish makes a nice alternative to the frequently fried Indonesia meals. It is light on the stomach, with a thick sauce (soya and oyster sauce based) and provides a generous portion of vegetables, often lacking in many Indonesian meals, including cabbage, baby sweetcorn, mushrooms, onions and leeks. Remember to make sure that rice is included, as I was occasionally disappointed when only the veggies arrived, and chicken or beef can often be added if desired.
This is nice tasty snack made from fish meat mixed with a mild range of spices and grilled or steamed in a banana leaf and is frequently sold on small road side stalls.
This was a favourite when visiting any warung, consisting of beef pieces in a coconut milk and an intense spice mix that is cooked slowly for many hours to create a thick, full bodied flavour that is the perfect accompaniment to boiled rice and green veggies. The concentrated sauce means that only a small amount is required to give a very pleasing meal. Rendang with rice and veggies in a warung should only cost about 30,000Rp and will leave you very satisfied.
Even if you’re not generally a fanatic about tofu and soya related products, I’d recommend trying tempeh as a tasty alternative to meat (and this is sometimes the only protein based food available). It is produced by fermentation of soybean that results in the formation of firm, cake-like product that can easily be cut into individual segments and has a pleasing texture.
Last but not least, an all round favourite and British classic, found in most restaurants but not always available, fish and chips. This comfort food will keep you going after a particularly hard day on the road and will fill the most empty stomach. Especially good when served in a sea front location, our favourite was found in Labuan Bajo, Flores.