Indonesian food is varied and rich in both
flavor and texture. It is similar in many ways to Malay cooking.
Different parts of Indonesia have different ways of preparing their
food. An example is their famous soto, a spicy soup served with
rice or lontong. Rich or mild, thick or thin, clear or dark and
cloudy - each version of soto has its own appeal which makes the
dish so popular among Indonesians.
wandering around Indonesia's street stalls, it is possible to eat a full
and satisfying meal comprising completely of 'starters' which are
supplied by hawkers at their warungs or little makeshift places.
The warungs may be nothing more than plastic sheets over a tiny
area, protecting pots and stoves from tropical rain. Diners wait while
the food is cooked freshly before them. When the food is ready the
diners sit on a wooden stool beside the warung to eat.
Chicken and duck are the least expensive meats available in Indonesia,
so Indonesians have drawn on all sorts of foreign-influenced recipes to
make poultry presentable and tasty.
Indonesia there are always a few chickens wandering around village
houses, no matter how poor the household. Ducks are a bit more hard to
obtain, but any of the following recipes can be prepared with duck if
you happen to have bought one. Just allow a little more cooking time for
Indonesians fry, saute, grill, stew or
oven-bake chicken, the taste sensations differ with the cooking
traditions from Java, Bali and Jakarta - and their wonderful spices.
Whether in a curry or in coconut milk, or cooked Chinese-style with soy
sauce, chicken is tasty, cheap and chock-a-block full of goodness,
particularly if the skin is removed. Ayam goreng (fried chicken)
is a national dish and is fairly easy to prepare.
Let's be frank; meat in Indonesia is not always the best. Beef usually
comes from the water buffalo and it tends to be tough so Indonesians
tend to boil or deep-fry it to tenderize it. These beef recipes have
been adapted to allow for the availability of tender beef.
Indonesians regard beef as food with which to celebrate a special
occasion. Beef is expensive and not usually part of the daily fare.
Pork, on the other hand, is a big winner in Bali where it is popular
with Hindus and Christians. Never serve a Muslim pork as it is against
their religion to eat it. These dishes can be served with rice or
noodles and vegetables to make a satisfying family meal. Otherwise one
dish could make up part of your Indonesian dinner party with exciting
Pontianak and Samarinda
in Kalimantan have enormous river prawns while Jayapura offers
Indonesia's best selection of barbecued fish. While the fish and seafood
recipes to follow rely on fresh produce, many Indonesians rely on dried
fish because of the lack of refrigeration in many communities.
Fresh fish is prepared in so many ways. It may be grilled or barbecued
over charcoals, wrapped in a banana leaf (or foil in your home kitchen)
and baked, be it tuna, carp, mullet, bream or bass. Shellfish comes in
the form of garlic-and-butter-sauced prawns, which also make sensational
satays, and West Javanese spiced prawn balls. Also from Java comes
otak-otak. In this dish, cooked prawns are combined with double the
amount of firm fish fillets along with chilies, spring onions, garlic,
lemongrass, coriander and unsweetened coconut milk. This is divided
among banana leaves (or foil) and baked, steamed or grilled. The result
is a delicious fish pate.
can make fish foil parcels from fish fillets, spices and coconut cream
and quickly barbecue them over hot coals. Fish in soy sauce is popular
in Sumatra. If you visit Ujung Pandang, the capital of Sulawesi, you'll
find a huge variety of barbecued fish, including squid, prepared by the
seafaring Bugis people at their numerous stalls.
Fish fillets fried then topped with a lime juice, soy sauce, coconut
cream and vinegar sauce, are another delicious surprise. Squid is
popular in curry and is also fiery when cooked with dried chilies and
shrimp paste. Other delicacies include lobster, crab and anchovies.
Many Indonesians, particularly the elderly, have known severe poverty.
Rice, having been grown so successfully and cheaply, has often been the
only sustenance for the poor. No wonder rice is the traditional focus of
The Indonesians are masters of making rice interesting, even if it is
only accompanied by a small amount of vegetables, fish or meat and/or
sambals. The rice absorbs the palate-testing sauces which makes the dish
exciting. Indonesian rice is dry; it is not as sticky as other Asian
rice. The exception is glutinous rice, which is usually reserved for
The best method of cooking rice is by the absorption method or steaming,
as more flavor is thus retained than when boiled. When rice is cooked in
coconut milk it takes on a new flavor altogether. Left-over rice can be
fried to produce nasi goreng (fried rice) which must be the
world's greated national dish to be based on left-overs. Nasi goreng
bears little similarity to the Chinese version of fried rice.
Yellow rice and coconut rice, a feature of Balinese and Javanese
cooking, are celebratory dishes at festivals or special family
occasions. Nasi Kuning (yellow rice) is a simple and sustaining
dish and is the basis of risjtafel.
Noodles are also popular in Indonesia but are not generally eaten in
conjunction with rice. So, for your own dinner party, make your choice:
noodle or rice.
If any dedicated vegetarians have reservations about being beach-burns
or upmarket holiday resort guests in Bali, let this section alleviate
their fears. In Bali and almost everywhere else in Indonesia,
particularly in rural areas, fresh, steamed vegetables are available
from roadside stalls as well as in restaurants and hotels. Vegetables
are very much a part of the meal scene in Indonesia. No rijstafel
would be authentic without vegetables. Indonesia also has an exclusive
specialty; fermented soybean cake tempeh.
The island nation has its own indigenous vegetables which thrive in rich
volcanic soil. The vegetable selection was broadened by European
conquerors such as the Dutch who discovered that tomatoes, beans,
cabbages and carrots would grow well in Indonesia. Much earlier, the
Chinese had planted eggplant, cucumbers and spinach, which also thrived.
Sweetcorn, bean sprouts and cauliflower are also grown. The Indonesians
frequently combine vegetables and fruit and, in addition, vegetables
with tofu. Gado Gado is a national dish which includes eggs, potatoes
and peanut sauce. It is somewhat time-consuming to prepare but it is
rewarding and healthy for non-meat eaters, especially if tofu is added
and the vegetables are not over-cooked.
Indonesian-style vegetables can be stir-fried, fried, stuffed into
pancakes, simmered in coconut milk, made into croquettes and fritters or
used to give a spicy flavor to omelettes. Along with rice, at least two
vegetable dishes should be served in a traditional Indonesian meal.