Indonesia is known for its diversity. It manifests in every aspect of life: culture, clothes, languages, architecture, and last but not least, cuisines. Every province has its own distinct taste and dishes, some of which are considered national delicacies. Some are easy to cook, some are a little bit complicated, but all share one thing: a generous use of Indonesian seasonings.
Here are 10 Indonesian foods that you should try cooking.
Literally meaning fried rice, nasi goreng is basically cooked rice stir-fried with kecap manis, which is the Indonesian sweet soy sauce. Seafood, meat, poultry, or vegetable would be added as side ingredients depending on one’s preference but most of the time, nasi goreng consists of a mix of two or three side ingredients, topped with a sunny-side-up.
Rawon is a beef stew originating from East Java with a special spice called kluwak that gives it a nutty flavour and a deep, black colour. The soup base is composed of a ground mixture of garlic, ginger, shallots, turmeric, and red chilli sautéed with oil. The result is a spicy, rich flavoured stew with red beans and sometimes, tofu.
A favourite among tourists, this Indonesian food was conceived by street vendors and popularised by Arab traders. Satay is a meal consists of meat skewers grilled over burnt coals, bathed in peanut sauce and served with either ketupat or lontong (both refer to compressed rice cakes, only in different shapes). There are many variants of satay according to its meat selection: satay ayam (chicken skewers), satay kambing (goat/mutton skewers), satay kelinci (rabbit skewers), and even satay kuda (horsemeat skewers). The raw meat gets marinated in a mixture of kecap beforehand and then smeared with the same mixture during barbequing.
Hailed from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, nasi uduk is an Indonesian style steamed coconut rice. It is cooked in coconut milk to get the savoury taste and then served with a pinwheel of meat and vegetable dishes such as fried chicken, rolled omelette, braised spiced tempe (Indonesian food made of fermented soybeans), and a variety of others.
Rendang is a caramelised meat dish introduced by the people of Minangkabau a.k.a. Padang in West Sumatra. While it’s exceptionally flavourful, rendang is never an everyday meal since it takes a long time to make. The secret lies in the intense gravy that resulted from a mix of coconut milk and plentiful seasonings and aromatics in which the beef is simmered for hours until tender. A dried version of rendang can last for months once reserved and is usually gifted as food souvenirs. It is worth noting that this Indonesian food was ranked first in CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods list in 2017.
Loved by people from all age groups, bakso as dish refers to a savoury meatball noodle soup. The meatballs are made from ground meat—usually beef—kneaded with tapioca flour. The Indonesian food is popularly sold from either pushcarts (kaki lima) or local diners, and usually served hot in a bowl of beef broth with rice vermicelli (bihun), choy sum or sawi, and tofu. A comfort food on its own, bakso is best eaten during rain.
Soto is a traditional meat soup made of rich and fragrant broth and ingredients that vary across Indonesia. Standard street versions comprise of simple, clear soup flavoured with shredded chicken or beef offal. In Jakarta, home of the native Betawi, soto Betawi gains popularity with its sweet and creamy coconut-milk base. It’s usually complemented with fried shallots and garlic alongside deep-fried crackers called kerupuk.
This beloved Indonesian food is technically more of a condiment than an actual dish. A staple in all Indonesian home, sambal is a combination of chillies, fermented shrimp paste (terasi), salt, and sometimes garlic, all pounded up with pestle and mortar, resulting in spicy paste in green or reddish colour—depending on the variety of chilli used. The condiment is further developed according to each locality, all varied in ingredients.
Gado-gado is a mix of boiled egg, tofu and vegetable drenched generously with the classic peanut sauce dressing. In fact, peanut sauce is used for dousing countless Indonesian foods, from the infamous lotek, pecel, karedok, to the fish-flavoured siomay. Gado-gado shares many similarities with lotek in particular, but it differs in terms of ingredients used. For instance, the vegetables in gado-gado are long beans, potato, spinach, and bean sprouts, while in lotek, it’s mostly greens.
An Indonesian food equivalent to lebaran or Idul Fitri, opor ayam is dish of braised chicken simmered in coconut milk. More or less an Indonesian style curry with less prep time, it is filled with the nation’s signature spices like candlenut, coriander, cumin, galangal, garlic, ginger, pepper, shallot, and turmeric. On lebaran occasion, opor ayam is almost mandatory and served with ketupat or lontong.