Indonesia’s reputation for pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and affordable prices seems to have disguised the country’s cuisine. But Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands and is home to an even larger number of mouth-watering foods. From cheap noodle, rice and soup dishes in warungs (local diners) to street-side snacks and top-dollar plates, Indonesia is a country that can compete with, and even top, some of the best culinary destinations in the world.
#1. Nasi Goreng
Breakfast, lunch or dinner, nasi goreng is a staple dish you’ll find yourself eating more often than not, and you’ll be loving it too. You can find this signature Indonesian plate of fried rice with a fried egg on top (and tons of other ingredients like prawns, chicken, vegetables, chilies and more) at just about any local eatery.
#2. Mie Goreng
Mie goring, nasi goreng’s sister dish, is a plate of stir-fried noodles commonly including meat and vegetables. The ingredients can be as diverse as nasi goreng’s, and you’ll usually find it on the same menus.
#3. Satay (or Sate)
This dish may sound a lot like our English cooking method “sauté,” but it’s remarkably different. Also known as “meat on a stick,” satays are meat sticks that are carefully cooked over coals. Satays are often served with rice or rice cakes and are paired with delicious sauces. Find them everywhere from the finest Indonesian menus to street-side food stalls.
Sambal is one of the best parts of eating in Indonesia, and while it’s not necessarily a dish, it’s certainly part of every meal. This sweet, chili-based condiment is on just about every table in Indonesia. And if it’s not already there, be sure to ask for it, because the sweet and spicy combination of chilies, shrimp paste, lime juice, salt and sugar adds the perfect kick to every meal.
If you’re planning your first visit to “Indo,” you may assume it’s too hot to eat soup, but once you taste some of Indonesia’s famous soup dishes, you’ll probably change your mind. Bakso is a dish of meat balls (beef, chicken, pork or all three) served in chicken broth with noodles or rice vermicelli. Shallots, celery and a bit of sweet chili hot sauce (sambal) are the icing on the cake.
#6. Ayam Goreng
Indonesians know how to fry chicken as well as the American south, and ayam goring is a prime example. Succulent chicken pieces are marinated in a number of spices including turmeric, shallots, ginger and garlic, then deep fried until the skin is perfectly crisp.
Soup is so popular in Indonesia that it can be purchased straight off the street, and soto is certainly one of the most sought after soups. Ingredients vary from one cook to another, but soto is generally a turmeric-seasoned, chicken broth based soup. Other common ingredients include fried shallots, rice, eggs, shredded chicken, goat or beef.
The term gado-gado literally means mix-mix, and that’s exactly what this dish is. A mixture of spinach, cabbage, bean sprouts, corn, long beans, potatoes, eggs, cucumber and tofu or tempe are topped with Indonesia’s signature peanut sauce.
You almost can’t sit down at an Indonesian dinner table without seeing a container of Kerupuk. These crackers have a similar consistency to Cheetos (the puffy version) and are flavored with everything from prawns to garlic and cassava. If they’re not already on the table, it’s likely your meal will come with them as a garnish.
#10. Ikan Bakar
Indonesia is home to more than 17,000 islands, and that means eating seafood is just a way of life. Ikan baker is simply crispy, grilled fish. Eat it with your hands, watch out for bones and dip the fish pieces in a bit of sambal (or any other dipping sauce).
#11. Eh Teh Manis
Sometimes the things that make Indonesian food so great aren’t actually foods. Eh teh manis is a sweet Indonesian iced tea that is famous for its mild (yet memorable) flavor as well as its ability to wash a meal’s spicy burn away.
Martabak can be made sweet or savory making it ideal for a hearty meal or scrumptious dessert. This signature Indonesian dish resembles a thick crepe or pancake folded with an array of possible ingredients inside. Sweet martabak usually includes chocolate or peanuts, and the savory version is typically made with eggs, vegetables and meat.
#13. Sop Buntut
Sop buntut, or oxtail soup, may have originated in London, but it’s now one of Indonesia’s claims to fame. A barbecued or fried oxtail is served in a broth with pickles, lime, steamed rice and sambal. Sop buntut can be found in high-end restaurants with imported Australian beef or served straight off the street.
Rendang is possibly Padang’s most sought-after dish because of the care that is needed to cook it perfectly. Beef is cooked for hours in a spicy gravy until it is so tender that it falls apart in your mouth. Rendang tends to be more spicy than most other dishes, so it’s only for those who like a little extra kick.
If you like dim sum, you’ll love siomay. Steamed fish dumplings are paired with potatoes, eggs, cabbage, gourds and Indonesia’s unmistakable peanut sauce. If you see a large steamer on the back of a bicycle, stop and enjoy some fresh siomay.
#16. Daun Pepaya
Have you been eating your greens? If you’ve been living in Indonesia, you probably have. Duan papaya is a typical side dish of sautéed papaya greens that have a similar appearance to collard greens. The bitter taste provides a delicious contrast to the other, most-likely spicier, parts of your meal.
Curry dishes are common as sides and main courses in Indonesia, which means you’re probably taking in some spice with every meal. Gulai curry dishes are known for being from northern Sumatra, but they’re found all across the archipelago. They almost always include cinnamon and some type of meat or fish, but gulais come in a variety of colors and flavors, so it’s best to try a few.
Shopping, swimming, surfing or simply laying in the hot Indonesian sun can easily help you work up an appetite. Grab a bit of gorengan, literally meaning “fried foods,” from any street vendor when you’re in a pinch. Gorengan can take the form of crispy tempe, tofu, cassava, bananas, soybean cakes, potatoes or vegetable fritters, and they’re dished out at a very low price.
#19. Nasi Uduk
Nasi uduk is an Indonesian favorite for its unique, coconut-flavored rice, tasty toppings and low price. The dish’s base is rice cooked in coconut milk and surrounded by fried chicken, tempe, boiled eggs and anchovies (if you wish). It’s typically topped with melinjo nut crackers for a little extra crunch.
#20. Mie Ayam
Noodle dishes are popular in Indo, but mid ayam is among the favorites. This chicken broth based noodle soup is topped with chicken braised in gravy, dumplings, fresh scallions and sambal. It’s the texture of perfectly cooked, al dente noodles that make this fresh tasting noodle dish one of the best in the world.
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