After spending a month exploring Indonesia, its local cuisine quickly earned a spot on the list of our favourites! We were pleased to discover that Indonesian food offers so much more than Nasi Goreng, a traditional fried rice dish that often makes an appearance on Asian restaurant menus around the world.
Thanks to its cultural and geographic diversity, Indonesia offers a vast variety of flavours ranging from spicy and salty to sweet and sour.
At the heart of every dish is, of course, white rice, and it’s no surprise given that Indonesia is the world’s 3rd largest paddy rice producer in the world. In fact, rice culture is so prevalent in Indonesia that in parts of the country, particularly regions of Java and Sumatra, wheat based dishes, like noodles and breads are sometimes treated as side dishes consumed in addition to rice.
Instant noodles, however, have become more and more popular since their introduction in 1970s. Today, dishes like Mie Goreng (fried noodles), are frequently served in homes across the country. They are also some of the cheapest and most common dishes you’ll come across in small street side restaurants and stalls.
But there is so much more you can sample in Indonesia. We just couldn’t let any meal time opportunity go to waste! We tried everything from local delicacies to national dishes. 30 days and 90 meals later, we compiled a list of 13 of our recommended dishes to try in Indonesia.
Indonesian Food: National Dishes
Fried rice with vegetables, spices, and seasoned with sweet soy sauce. Some variations also include eggs, chicken, or prawns. You can find Nasi Goreng in eating establishments across the country and it’s usually one of the cheapest items on the menu.
Gado Gado is a traditional Indonesian salad consisting of boiled or blanched vegetables, in peanut sauce. The salad is often served with fried tofu and hard-boiled eggs.
Satay, often also spelled Sate, originated in the Java region, but can now be found all over the country. The dish consists of skewered grilled meat marinated in turmeric and served with a delicious spicy peanut sauce. The best varieties are sold in small street stalls and pop-up restaurants, although chains of Sate Houses can also be found across the country.
This traditional Indonesian soup consists of broth, meat, and vegetables and can be found all across the country. Regional recipes vary based on availability of local ingredients and can sometimes include coconut milk, potatoes, or noodles.
Literally translated as “fried noodles”, is a flavourful, but sometimes spicy, fried noodle dish cooked with garlic, onions, shallots, cabbage, tomatoes, egg, and other vegetables. Meat, particularly chicken and beef, make popular additions to this otherwise vegetarian dish most commonly found in Java.
Cap Cay is another Java specialty. This fried vegetable dish consisting of cabbage, cauliflower, snow peas, and other vegetables. Cap Cay ended up being one of our favourites! What made it really good wasn’t the vegetables themselves, it was the sauce, a thick salty broth flavoured with vegetable aromas. It was great on its own or with rice.
Also known as Baso, Bakso is an Indonesian meatball commonly made from beef and tapioca flour, similar in texture to the Chinese fish/meat balls. Bakso is particularly popular in East Java and is usually served with beef broth with yellow or vermicelli noodles (called bihun), salted vegetables, tofu, and eggs. Bakso is another dish found all over Indonesia, sold everywhere from small street carts to fancy restaurants.
Gudeg is a Central Java specialty, and believed to have originated in Yogyakarta. Made from jackfruit, it is boiled with palm sugar and coconut milk until it reaches a stew-like consistency. Gudeg can be eaten as a vegetarian dish, but is more often served with egg, chicken or beef. Today, it can be found in many Javanese restaurants in Indonesia and neighbouring countries.
Fu Yung Hai
Fu Yung Hai is essentially a Chinese Indonesian omelet made with beaten eggs, and a variety of vegetables like bean sprouts, cabbage, bamboo shoots, onions, mushrooms and so on. Those craving eggs for breakfast while in Indonesia will appreciate this local take on a western omelette. Some places serve the dish with a slightly sweet red sauce that is similar to a sweet and sour, so you may choose to order one with or without this.
Martabak is said to be the king of street food in Indonesia, but to our surprise, it was harder to come by than we anticipated. The dish, meaning “folded” in Arabic, is made with fried pancake flour which is then folded into a square and stuffed with various ingredients. These range from savoury choices like eggs, chicken, beef, or mutton to sweet alternatives (martabak manis – sweet martabak) with added vanilla, sugar, peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, cheese, and other toppings.
Tempe is a traditional soy product originally made popular in the Java region. It is made through a natural fermentation process that binds soybeans into cake form similar to a vegetarian burger patty. Tempe is often added to vegetarian dishes and is sometimes sold as a roadside snack in a number of regions across the country.
Lawar is a traditional Balinese main dish served on special occasions. Chopped meat and vegetables are tossed with a variety of spices and coconut flakes. The spices are ground in a stone mill, fried in oil, and eaten as a side dish with rice.
Urutan is a traditional Balinese sausage made from intestines, meat, and seasoning, which is often used as a dish along side of rice.
In all honesty, the list could go on for another few pages as we rhyme off a ton of other delicious dishes you can come across in Indonesia. The above 13 are merely our favourites and ones that we found ourselves ordering more and more of throughout our time in Indonesia.
In addition to main meals Indonesia has a ton of great desserts and street food snacks that are absolutely worth a try…but more on that some other time.