12 top Indonesia foods travelers should try

Louise Matthews
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(CNN) — As the world’s greatest archipelagic nation, Indonesia is filled with distinct cultures and influences unfold out in excess of 1,904,569 square kilometers (735,358 sq. miles).

This helps make it a massive obstacle to try out to summarize the flavors of the place in just a few paragraphs.

“Indonesian food items society is primarily based on regional cooking amongst 17,500 islands, 38 provinces and 700 dialects,” claims Indonesian cookbook writer William Wongso.

“Flavors of Indonesia are pretty various. From Aceh (the westernmost province of Indonesia) to West Sumatra (also a western province), it can be only about a 1.5-hour flight, but their food stuff and flavor profiles are thoroughly diverse.”

The 75-calendar year-outdated creator of “Flavors of Indonesia: William Wongso’s Culinary Miracles.” suggests that even however he’s been touring and having all-around Indonesia for a long time, he even now hasn’t tasted just about every nearby dish.

For instance, cooks in the Moluccas in the japanese side of Indonesia, at the time nicknamed the “Spice Islands,” choose applying new spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Aceh, on the other hand, frequently incorporates dried spices thanks to the impact of India, Arabia and China.

Padang (or Minangkabau) delicacies in West Sumatra makes use of loads of coconut product, chiles, shallots and some curry spices, as very well as ginger and galangal with aromatic herbs such as turmeric leaves, kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass.

Javanese are experts in making use of the three coloured spice pastes — crimson (manufactured of chiles, shallots and garlic), white (candle nuts, shallots and garlic) and yellow (candlenuts, shallots, garlic and turmeric).

“The taste profile of Central Java is sweeter than Japanese Java,” Wongso adds.

Completely ready to delight in the overwhelming variety of Indonesian delicacies? Listed here are a couple of dishes that provide a sample of the several scrumptious flavors on offer.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang is unbelievably tender. The beef is coated with dry curry that has been stewed for hours.

Beef rendang is unbelievably tender. The beef is coated with dry curry that has been stewed for hours.

asab974/Adobe Inventory

It is just not an exaggeration to say that beef rendang is 1 of the world’s most flavorful foodstuff.

A dry curry dish connected to the Minangkabau ethnic team, which is indigenous to West Sumatra, rendang is a great way to preserve meat — critical for the Minangkabau people today all through their travels.

There is no 1 recipe for rendang. “In West Sumatra, there are about 900 districts and each and every has their very own type of rendang,” says Wongso.

But one particular of the most prevalent meats to appear in rendang is beef. It can be stewed in coconut milks and spices such as lemongrass, galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger and chiles for several hours till the meat is unbelievably tender and the curry mixture is diminished to a reasonably dry coating all-around the meat.


A growing star in plant-based eating plans all-around the earth, tempeh has in actuality been a constant in Javanese tradition for extra than 4 hundreds of years.

The very low-fat, substantial-protein meat substitute is designed of soybeans fermented in banana leaves — and from time to time, other leaves — for two to 3 days right before it turns into a white moldy and chunky block.

Its taste is frequently described as nutty and mushroom-y with a slight sweet soy scent.

It can be cooked the same way as any meat — baked, fried, grilled or boiled into diverse dishes. In Indonesia, it can be usually deep-fried and served as a tasty snack.


A staple at Southeast Asian dining establishments all over the world, satay — or sate in the area tongue — is mentioned to have originated in Java.

Planning of these skewers may differ from area to region, generally showcasing distinctive meats or greens, spices, sauces and marinades.

1 of the most beloved versions in Indonesia is satay rooster served with a sweet peanut sauce that has just a trace of spice.

Nasi goreng

Nasi goreng: So much more than just fried rice.

Nasi goreng: So a great deal far more than just fried rice.

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If you can find one particular staple that signifies Indonesia’s multi-faceted lifestyle, it is nasi goreng — basically translated as fried rice.

Each individual household has a distinct recipe made with numerous substances and sides, but the use of terasi (shrimp paste) and kecap manis (a sweet and thick Indonesian soy sauce) unite most — if not all — variations.

These condiments build Indonesian fried rice’s distinctive style.

Topped with a ideal sunny-side-up egg and a aspect of crunchy shrimp crackers (or kerupuk), nasi goreng is a adaptable food eaten in the course of the working day.

A dish motivated by Chinese cooking, nasi goreng is as preferred in Singapore and Malaysia as it is in Indonesia.


Whilst prawn crackers are commonly discovered in numerous countries’ diets — specifically in Indonesia and Malaysia — it was many thanks to Indonesia that the snack was introduced to the Dutch and then brought to Europe.

Arguably the ideal sidekick to any dish, a piece of kerupuk can also provide as an edible spoon to scope up additional sauce or sambal.

Indonesian kerupuk is also applied as a topping for soto — a style of Indonesian soup. (See underneath)

Soto Ayam

Identical to quite a few other dishes in Indonesia, soto, or soup, preferences different relying on which portion of the archipelago you are in.

A person of the most usually featured soto on Indonesian menus is the comforting soto ayam (chicken soup) — but that way too, comes in a great number of variants.

Between all the hen sotos, the types from East Java — these kinds of as soto ayam Madura or Ambengan — are some of the most well-liked. They have a crystal clear broth and involve a generous sum of garlic, shallots, turmeric and chunks of chicken meat.

Koya powder, a one of a kind mix of grounded prawn crackers and fried garlic, is often additional to give the presently-abundant soup — this kind of as soto ayam Lamongan — an further umami strengthen.

Gado gado

A classic gado gado is served with chopped vegetables, an egg and sometimes, slices of tofu or tempeh. It is often dressed with roasted peanut sauce.

A traditional gado gado is served with chopped vegetables, an egg and sometimes, slices of tofu or tempeh. It is generally dressed with roasted peanut sauce.

galitskaya/Adobe Stock

Chop up blanched greens, tricky-boiled eggs and insert a ladle of peanut sauce and you have the humble but delicious Indonesian nationwide salad — gado gado.

A common Indonesian peanut sauce for gado gado is created with ground roasted peanuts, chiles, shrimp paste, tamarind pulp or juice and some sugar and salt.

Translated as combine mix, this ubiquitous salad dish at times incorporates slices of fried tofu or tempeh as perfectly as deep fried fish cakes.


Sambal may not be a single of Indonesia’s 5 official national dishes — along with nasi goreng, rendang, soto, sate and gado gado — but no food is entire without it for quite a few Indonesians.

It’s a relish made by mixing chile peppers with a host of unique elements these as shrimp paste, sugar, salt and lime juice.

Currently, you can obtain it in lots of renowned Indonesian dishes — from nasi goreng to gado gado.

Legend has it that Portuguese and Spanish sailors brought a variant of chile peppers to Indonesia — but it was in Java that they have been to start with pounded into sambals.

It really is thought there are additional than 100 variations of sambal served throughout Indonesia. A person of the most prevalent is sambal terasi, which is manufactured with chile peppers, garlic, tomatoes, shrimp paste, limes, salt and sugar.


Not technically a dish but it could just be the country’s most famed food items manufacturer.

Wowing the industry since 1972, Indomie’s flavorful and convenient packaged noodles have amassed a enormous following globally.

If you’re an Indomie beginner, start out with a packet of Indomie mi goreng (barbecue chicken) and you will most likely be transformed as nicely.


Jamu is a concentrated herbal drink made with ginger and turmeric.

Jamu is a concentrated natural consume created with ginger and turmeric.

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When Indonesian President Joko Widodo was questioned about the top secret to his excellent wellbeing in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, he cited jamu.

A regular Indonesian natural consume manufactured from a variety of combos of plants and spices — ginger and turmeric are two popular ingredients — jamu is considered to increase one’s immune procedure.

There are numerous methods to make jamu.

The crops and spices are blended into a concentrated juice and it really is frequently served warm.

The president also stated that he has been ingesting it everyday for the last two a long time and boosted his daily jamu consumption to 3 situations for every day all through the pandemic.

In current many years, jamu-encouraged juice models have been popping up close to the planet.

Babi guling

There are a couple of items that make us dream of Bali — the pristine shorelines, the countless rice fields and, for some, babi guling, the getaway island’s famed roasted suckling pig.

The animal is rubbed with turmeric and stuffed with a spice paste manufactured up of coriander seeds, lemongrass, Asian lime and salam leaves, chilies, black pepper, garlic, red shallots, ginger and kencur. Then, it can be roasted on a spit.

Each portion of the pig — meat for satay, juicy pork slices, crispy crackling as effectively as the richly flavored intestines — will be relished.

It truly is primarily served with rice, spicy soup and a collection of condiments.

The dish is hardly ever found in the rest of Indonesia, the place a greater part of the inhabitants is Muslim and considers pork use haram, or forbidden. On Bali, most people today recognize as Hindu.


And and lastly, one are not able to neglect about rijsttafel, or rice desk, in Dutch.

It’s an elaborate spread of little Indonesian plates that includes various tastes and concentrations of spiciness in 1 food.

Rijsttafel is technically not element of classic Indonesian food items culture. It was very first launched in the course of Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, when the Europeans would serve modest plates of luxurious Indonesian dishes — from sweet to spicy — to their people.

It is however a prevalent featuring at Indonesia places to eat in the Netherlands as very well as in its country of origin.

In accordance to Wongso, rijsttafel lifestyle is 1 of the causes quite a few common Indonesian dishes grew well known outdoors of Asia.

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