If unspoiled beaches, ancient temples and deep green rainforests aren’t enough to draw you to Indonesia, consider heading there for the food. With culinary influences from China, India, and the Middle East, Indonesia offers some of the most intense flavors and colorful dishes in the world. Indonesian food also ranks high in deliciousness. For example, on a CNN poll ranked the 50 best foods in the world, Indonesia made the list not once, but three times with satay, nasi goreng and rendang. Not sure what those dishes are? You soon will. Learn more about the top culinary delights and interesting Indonesian food facts as you get to know the world’s largest archipelago is all about. You’ll wonder how you survived so long without the sweet and spicy joy of Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesian Food You Need to Try
Ready to take your imagination on a culinary adventure? With an abundance of tropical fruits, vegetables, and spices, Indonesia offers vibrant and exciting dishes your taste buds will dream of long after your journey. Here are the foods you don’t want to skip on your voyage to this enchanting Southeast Asian country.
1. Indonesian Satay
Does the thought of juicy skewered meats fresh off the grill make your mouth water? Satay, or sate, is popular Indonesian street food for a reason. Generally, satay consists of marinated meats such as chicken, goat, or beef threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled to perfection over hot coals. In coastal regions, you can find seafood satays drenched in island-inspired sauces.
Although cooking methods vary across regions, the meat of choice is usually soaked in a paste containing ingredients such as ginger and turmeric for several hours. After the meat absorbs the marinade, it’s cooked over hot coals until each piece forms a delicious char. Chicken satay, or sate ayam, is the most popular version of this Indonesian staple and is usually served with rice cakes, peanut sauce, and cucumber. You can also expect a drizzle of kecap manis –– a sweet Indonesian soy sauce.
Satay has been around in Indonesia for centuries. It’s believed that merchants from the Middle East brought kebabs to Java during the eighth century. Indonesian chefs adjusted the recipe to include local ingredients like ginger and lemongrass. Today, you’ll hear the sweet sound of sizzling satay and smell the aroma of grilled meats as you pass by street vendors. Give in to your craving, and make sure to try Indonesian satay.
2. Beef Rendang
Beef rendang is known around the world for its rich, spicy flavor and time-consuming cooking process. Considered one of the most delicious foods in the world by CNN poll takers, you have to try rendang in Indonesia at least once.
Originating from West Sumatra, rendang is usually made with beef tenderloin that had been slow-cooked in creamy spice-infused coconut milk. Typically, the dish simmers for up to 7 hours at low heat, allowing the meat to tenderize and soak up the flavors of ingredients such as garlic, red chilies, and kaffir lime leaves. It’s believed that Indian traders inspired rendang when they brought Indian curry to West Sumatra, and reportedly, the dish existed in West Sumatra since the eighth century.
Rendang is such a beloved dish it is often served during special occasions. It’s said that rendang requires patience, persistence and wisdom to cook. As a traveler, your only job is to savor each bite slowly and share your tale after you sail back home.
Gudeg is an iconic Indonesian dish, especially in the city of Yogyakarta. The main ingredient of this unique stew is jackfruit. The jackfruit is simmered in coconut milk, palm sugar and spices. You end up with a sweet, fruity and subtly spicy dish that may be unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before.
Gudeg may be served at any time of the day. If you want a truly authentic experience, make sure to order gudeg Yogya asli, or “real Yogya gudeg.” Real gudeg consists of several dishes served on a single plate, such as the stewed jackfruit, chicken in coconut milk, crispy buffalo skin and rice. Once the pieces are arranged on the plate, they receive a hefty spoonful of thick, creamed coconut.
You’ll find two versions of gudeg in Yogyakarta –– kering, which features a thicker sauce and is typically served during the day, and basah, which is a soupier version served at night. Whether you enjoy a comforting plate of gudeg Yogya asli before a day of exploring, or prefer to try gudeg as you wind down, you can’t miss this Yogyakarta specialty if you’re in town.
4. Nasi Goreng
Nasi goreng is another Indonesian dish considered one of the most delicious foods in the world by CNN poll takers. Nasi goreng is a fried rice dish, and it’s so popular in Indonesia, it’s one of the national dishes. What differentiates nasi goreng from other fried rice dishes is the use of kecap manis and shrimp paste. Kecap manis lends an irresistible sweet flavor to the rice, and the shrimp paste, or terasi, adds an explosion of addictive umami flavor. What you get is a plateful of balanced sweet and saltiness.
Nasi goreng was brought to Indonesia by Chinese migrants thousands of years ago. The dish developed thanks to the Chinese practice of not throwing away leftovers. Instead, leftover food like rice, meat, and vegetables were prepared and eaten at the next meal. Since nasi goreng originated as a dish of leftovers, you can expect to find countless variations. Even though nasi goreng varies depending on where you get it from, you can generally expect it to include an egg, fried rice and meats or seafood. Street vendors often serve nasi goreng with pickles and crackers.
Although nasi goreng is primarily a breakfast meal, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding it anywhere any time of day in Indonesia, whether you want to visit a street vendor or enjoy this classic in a sophisticated restaurant. Either way, you can’t leave Indonesia without trying nasi goreng.
5. Bubur Ayam
Many Indonesians like to start their day with a nourishing bowl of bubur ayam. Bubur ayam is a savory chicken porridge and a breakfast staple. Its main ingredients include rice porridge, shredded chicken, beans and crackers. Like many dishes in Indonesia, you can find many different varieties of bubur ayam, depending on where you are. For example, you may find bubur ayam with cassava and fish, or sweet versions made with mung bean. One restaurant in Jakarta tops their bubur ayam with cheese.
Bubur ayam was inspired by Chinese culture. As a dish consisting largely of porridge, it’s valued for aiding digestion and the absorption of nutrients. In Jakarta, bubur ayam can be found just about everywhere in the morning. You might think of it as the Indonesian version of oatmeal.
6. Ketupat Kandangan
Ketupat refers to rice cakes that had been woven in coconut leaves and formed into diamond shapes. The ketupat is cooked in boiling water for up to five hours. It’s usually served with chicken curry, rendang or satay. Ketupat can be found all over Indonesia and differs depending on the region. It was first introduced as early as the fifteenth century in Java. Ketupat carries various meanings in Indonesia culture and symbolizes apology and blessing.
Ketupat kandangan is an iconic ketupat dish of South Kalimantan. Ketupat kandangan is ketupat made with non-sticky rice, and, according to locals, must be eaten with striped snakehead fish. It may be cooked and served in spicy coconut milk. Ketupat kandangan is believed to taste better if you eat it with your hands, so come prepared.
Ketupat kandangan is often eaten on special occasions and is widely available throughout South Kalimantan. If you don’t make it South Kalimantan to sample ketupat kandangan, consider trying another ketupat dish, such as ketupat sayur, which consists of rice cakes in vegetable soup.
Sambal means condiment, but it’s so much more than what you might expect. You’ll find this Indonesian staple on every table in almost every restaurant, and there are endless varieties. After you travel to Indonesia, you might trade your ketchup for this bold and spicy chili sauce.
In general, sambal consists of red chili peppers and salt, which have been mashed with a mortar and pestle, creating a red seed-filled paste. This version of sambal is called sambal oelek and is it’s as common a condiment as hot sauce is in America. You might mix sambal oelek with fried rice, or place a dollop of it on top of rendang.
Although you can enjoy sambal oelek with pretty much anything, consider exploring some of the many different sambal flavors. For example, sambal terasi is made with shrimp paste and goes well with fried fish or fried chicken. Sambal kacang includes roasted peanuts, chili peppers, and various spices and is the perfect dip for satay. Once you’re in Indonesia, you’ll be bound to enjoy the many different sambals, giving your meals a burst of flavor and an appetizing color.
It’s hard not to love a pillow of dough packed with a rich filling. Bakpao is another food you can look forward to eating in Indonesia. Bakpao is a steamed bun that hails from China. Known as bao or baozi in China, you might think of bakpao as the equivalent of a sandwich –– a convenient handheld meal you can eat on the go. You can find the buns stuffed with everything from sweet chocolate to savory minced beef. If you’re in Jakarta, you won’t have to search for long to find a bakpao of your liking. Street vendors line the busy streets ready to sell it to travelers and locals. If you want a sweet bakpao, choose one with a colorful marking on top, and be ready for melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
9. Ayam Goreng
Ayam goreng is fried chicken, but it’s not just any fried chicken. Although many Indonesian street vendors sell cooked chicken, you’ll want to head to Yogyakarta for its famous ayam goreng.
Ayam goreng is prepared in a special way. First, the chicken simmers in coconut water mixed with palm sugar and a spicy paste until it absorbs all the flavors. Then it’s fried to a golden crisp and served with a heap of fried crumbles. It’s usually eaten with sambal, rice and raw vegetables.
Fried food, in general, has been a tradition in Indonesia for a long time. Frying helps to preserve food. It’s believed yogyakarta-style ayam goreng began with a vendor’s creation in the 1950s. Today, it’s found all over Java. It’s a beloved food to Indonesians and visitors and is eaten as a snack or meal, day or night.
10. Soto Betawi
Soto is a soup that usually includes meat, vegetables, noodles and a tasty broth. The ingredients to this basic soup vary throughout the country, though it commonly contains chicken and a clear broth. One variation stands out in Jakarta, where travelers and locals can enjoy soto Betawi. Unlike many other versions of soto, soto Betawi features creamy coconut milk and ingredients such as beef, vegetables, herbs, and spices. It’s usually topped with fried shallots and sambal and served with a side of rice and pickled vegetables. If you want an authentic soto experience, you must try a warming, delicious bowl of soto Betawi. You’ll be tempted to ask for seconds.
Taste Indonesia With Windstar Cruises
Your taste buds won’t be bored in a country that’s home to 17,508 islands and over 580 spoken languages and dialects. With influences from around the world and enough regional specialties to keep any foodie happy for a lifetime, you’ll want to add Indonesia to your bucket list if you love delicious food.
Trying new and exciting flavors is one of the best parts of traveling, and to some travelers, it is a reason to explore in itself. If you’re ready to be a culinary explorer and experience Indonesian cuisine firsthand, we’re ready to take you there.
With Windstar Cruises, you’ll experience the greatest treasures of Indonesia, from powder-white beaches to bustling ports and all the mouthwatering fare in between. As you cruise with us aboard one of our intimate and elegant yachts, you’ll get to sail and anchor where big ships don’t go. To experience the breathtaking culture, nature, and cuisine of Indonesia or other Pacific gems, explore our Asia Cruises today!
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Indonesia in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!