With 17,000 islands, Indonesia has a lot of regional specialities and dishes, but wherever you are in Indonesia, most meals, including breakfast, are served with rice. Literally meaning “fried rice, nasi goreng is considered the national dish of Indonesia and can be found everywhere.
Sambals are also a staple in the vibrant cuisine, you will usually find the chilli-based condiments either apart of your meal or on the table ready to be added!
Another interesting Indonesian fact is that the intense flavours in lots of Indonesian food come from a very sweet and sour ingredient called kecap manis translating to sweet soy sauce.
Because of the humid climate and volcanic soil, tropical fruits, vegetables and spices are found in abundance. Dried spices such as coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon quills, cumin seeds, cloves and nutmeg are used every day in many dishes and each curry has a number of dried spices as well as fresh herbs.
Being half Indonesia, I am no stranger to this wonderful cuisine where chilli is a staple. We grew up on curries, mie and nasi goreng and stir-fries, which formed my love for spices and an appreciation for flavour combinations SEA is known for! Here are my top Indonesian foods to try on your next visit!
One of the best Indonesian foods and my all-time favourite is Nasi Campur, pronounced ‘Nahsee Champoor’. It translates to mixed rice or rice with assorted goodies and usually consists of small portions of vegetables, tempeh, fish or meat and a mound of rice. The dish varies from region to region, but there are always plenty of vegetarian options such as tempeh, tofu, tapioca leaves, jackfruit, veggie fritters and perkedel.My favourites: Biku, Peleton Super Shop(Vegan), Warung Yogya
Gado-Gado is another great vegetarian food in Indonesia. The delicious staple food found throughout the islands and will be found in every warung (café) or restaurant on the island of Bali. It is a favourite dish that is popular with locals and tourists alike. Gado-gado is traditionally served as a mixed salad and served at room temperature. In many parts of Bali, you will see it as a deconstructed version with each element separated on a plate.There will always be a mixture of seasonal vegetables such as potatoes, beans, cabbage, carrots, corn or even lettuce. There will always be prawn crackers, fried tofu, tempeh, and a hard-boiled egg. As a side dish, there will inevitably be some rice. The garnishes can differ but usually will include bean sprouts, fried onions, and extra peanuts. It can be a surprise as you don’t know what someone will be in the mixThe spicy peanut sauce is what brings all the random elements together with gado-gado. It has a distinct flavour due to the addition of tamarind and not the same as a satay sauce.There is some local variation across Indonesia and between warungs. I even saw the addition of meat or seafood. I become somewhat of a gado-gado connoisseur as the options of vegetarian are limited along the touristy coastal parts of Bali.To top it off, it is a healthy dish. In short, it is yum and you should try it when in Indonesia.
Mie Goreng is one another favourite of mine. Mie Goreng is a fried noodle dish that is eaten all over Indonesia as well as Malaysia, Singapore. The noodle dish is made with dried wheat noodles, although I usually use the instant packet noodle and add my own sauces and veggies.
Both the instant version and homecooked dish were staples in my house growing up. We used to devour ‘mie goreng‘ as afternoon snacks or has a comfort food- nowadays they are the only thing that cures my hangovers ha! What makes this dish is the sauce, a perfect balance of sweet and salt which comes from the Indonesian speciality ‘kecap manis’ a sweet and sticky, molasses-like soy sauce. The dish is then stir-fried with chicken, vegetables, spring onions and egg. I usually make mine with tofu and tempeh though.
If you love to taste fish items, then Ikan Bakar is must-try for you. It is kind of Indonesian grilled fish and super yummy to have with sambal. This delicious food is also prevalent in Bali, Indonesia. In almost every sea beach area restaurant offer freshly grilled Ikan Bakar. You might like to have it by sitting in a beach café during the sunset hour. Ikan Bakar can also be served with Nasi Bali or Balinese white rice.I tried first Ikan Bakar at Blue Marlin Cafe in Jimbaran Beach. I ordered King Fish for dinner. What to say, the taste was mouthwatering. The best part is where you can taste fresh sea food by selecting any raw sea fish. They usually caught different fishes from the sea and instantly prepare for you. If you’re visiting Lovina Beach, then don’t even miss to have lunch with Ikan Bakar from Tanjung Alam Ikan Bakar Restaurant. Yes, one of the top foods you must try when visiting many places in Indonesia.
One of the most traditional dishes in all of Indonesia, nasi goreng is Indonesia’s version of fried rice, and it’s a can’t-miss when you visit these beautiful islands. The first thing dish I order when I arrive in Bali is usually a plate of Nasi Goreng. There are a few things that make Indonesian fried rice special. For one, it is stir-fried in some delicious ingredients you won’t find in other fried rice. Nasi Goreng is usually made with kecap manis, a sweet, thick soy sauce, but also with shallot, garlic, shrimp paste, chili, and sour tamarind paste, which makes it a lot more flavorful than Thai or Chinese fried rice. There are several variations of Nasi Goreng, depending on what protein you want inside it. I actually prefer a veggie-packed version, although I do love occasionally getting Nasi Goreng with some stir-fried pork or chicken.Often, a fried egg is placed on top for even more deliciousness! But my favourite part of Nasi Goreng is the thick, crispy, airy shrimp crackers called krupuk that are served on the side.
Soto is the name for soup in Indonesian. Many regions of Indonesia have different versions of soto.Although there are many different recipes for Soto, the main typical ingredients include beef or chicken in a soup that’s made from both coconut milk or broth, simmered with aromatic herbs and spices like galangal, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves, and candlenut. The soup is typically eaten along with rice and can be garnished with a number of side sambal chilli, fried shallots and soy sauce.I loved Soto Ayam growing up and every time I was in Bali I used to get this dish from a little warung called Warung Yogya that has the most authentic Indonesian cuisine I have found! It is also incredibly cheap! A must try if you want to experience the best Indonesian food!
An extremely popular Indonesian food, Tum Ikan is something you have to try on your trip to Indonesia. Jam packed with amazing flavours, Tum Ikan is essentially a fillet of fresh fish marinated in a variety of spices and then steamed in a banana leave wrap. This unique cooking method causes all the flavours to infuse deeply with the fish for maximum taste!I personally love this because one of my main let downs with a lot of fish is that the flavour is bland, and the meat can tend to be dry if improperly prepared. However, the banana leaves keep in all the flavours and juices and eliminate these issues. Due to its popularity, you can find Tum Ikan at many restaurants throughout the country to try it for yourself. If you’re more of a hands-on type, you can even find classes that will teach you to prepare your very own Tum Ikan.
By Kaila from Nomlist
Wherever you go in Indonesia, you see a lot of “Padang Restoran” many of which have pointed roofs – like horns – and stacks of plates with brothy dishes in their storefront windows.Originating in West Sumatra, Nasi Padang, along with the Padang Restoran, is an Indonesian food obsession. Nasi Padang is a mixture of several different side dishes that includes the world-famous Rendang and lots of delicious sambal, or chili sauce.While Nasi Padang originated in the Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra using water buffalo meat, the rest of Indonesia adopted the recipe using beef instead. Beef simmers overnight on low heat with heaps of spices and curry sauce. The result is a tenderness and flavour that combines with steamed rice for the perfect meal!Before you go to Indonesia, learn the basics of Indonesian food – where rice isn’t a side dish – it’s the main dish.
By Halef and Michael from The Round The World Guy
Megibung is a traditional Balinese feast type dining experience. This culinary affair brings people together and strengths social ties amongst village members. Megibung comes from the word Gibung which means an activity done by many people, where they share something with each other.The festive feast consists of delicious Balinese specialities served on one long bamboo tray. Usually with rice and an assortment of proteins and vegetables individual banana leaf bowls. This experience would be at the top of my list for experiencing the best Indonesian food. Our picks: The Anvaya Beach Resort Bali, Alila Villas Uluwatu
Trying Babi Guling is a quintessential Balinese experience. This Balinese version of suckling pig sees an entire pig stuffed with a delicious spice mixture (including turmeric, garlic, coriander, lemongrass) and then spit-roasted over an open fire. The result is tender, juicy, flavourful pork that is dished up with crispy, crunchy crackling together with rice, vegetables and sometimes blood sausage.Babi Guling was traditionally served at celebrations, such as weddings and funerals, but these days you can find it anytime. The most famous place to try this famous Balinese specialty, partly thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s endorsement, is the restaurant Ibu Oka in Ubud. This roadside warung roasts around five or six pigs a day for a hungry crowd of people. Make sure you get here early as the place fills up by midday and is often all out of food by early afternoon. Take off your shoes, find yourself a place on the floor at a communal table and enjoy.
Sate is found widely across Indonesian with many variants including sate ayam, sate padang, sate maranggi, sate karang and many more. One of my favourite sates I have experienced in Bali is Sate Lilit. It involves using mince meat, usually chicken, beef, pork or fish, then mixing it with grated coconut plus a spice mixture. The spice mixture can consist of ingredients like lime leaves, coconut milk, garlic, shallots, galangal, coriander, turmeric, chilli pepper and more.The mixture is then wrapped around either bamboo or lemongrass sticks. The spiced mince meat is cooked over a charcoal grill while the cook uses a fan to keep the coals hot. The flavours are amazing and you are left wanting more! It is unlike sate ayam and doesn’t have a sauce to accompany it and is usually served with rice. Sate Lilit, in its different versions, is widely available across Indonesia and you can make your own at the Paon Bali cooking class in Ubud, Bali.
Es Pisang Ijo (green banana iced dessert) is a popular dessert in Indonesia. It is originally from Makassar in Sulawesi. Today, you can find it in local eateries and roadside stalls in various cities in the country as well.Es pisang ijo is delicious, light and refreshing. Basically, it is made from banana served in a special sauce. King banana is often used. The bananas are steamed and wrapped in a flour dough, which is dyed green from pandan leaves for extra fragrance. The bananas are then sliced. Meanwhile, the sauce is made up of crushed ice, coconut milk and pink rose syrup which locals refer to as ambon. The result is a colourful unique dessert.I first tasted es pisang pijo in a local eatery in Southeast Sulawesi and it has since then become one of my favourite Indonesian foods. It’s a perfect way to cool off tropical afternoons in the country.
By Katherine from Tara Lets Anywhere
Pisang Goreng with Sambal
Pisang Goreng is a popular snack food and translates to fried banana. A banana or plantain is covered in batter and deep fried in hot oil. It is then served with a sambal, you can find Pisang Goreng at many street food carts and local warungs.
I first tasted Pisang Goreng on my press trip to Sulawesi and it has since then become one of my favourite Indonesian foods! I love the pairing of sweet with spicy and the added crunch makes for a perfect snack. Life in Indonesia is truly delicious.
This article was written by Kayla Manoe and originally appeared on KelanabyKayla.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram. Club Elsewhere brings you compelling story-led travel guides. Contribute an article of your own by sending a message to the editor.
Kayla is an Australian travel blogger and content producer. Her travel blog www.kelanabykayla.com is a reflection of her wanderlust lifestyle focusing on culture, food and wellness. For daily wanderlust updates follow her on Instagram @kelanabykayla