Flavours of Indonesia
Indonesia 19.08.2015 Transindus
No cultural exploration of a country is complete without tasting its food. Asia has long had a reputation for its flavoursome dishes, and Indonesian cuisine packs the punch that you would expect. Here, we run through exactly what you can expect of Indonesian food, as well as suggesting a few dishes that you really shouldn't miss.
Indonesian food - an overview
While Indonesian food offers a kaleidoscope of flavours, there is one element that you come across at almost every meal - nasi, or rice. Very much the staple of the Indonesian diet, rice is served at all times of day and with virtually every kind of meal, so expect it to be on the menu at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What you are offered in or alongside your rice will vary considerably - especially if you bear in mind that most sit-down meals will feature several main dishes, in addition to that ever-present side of rice.
Being an archipelago, Indonesia offers a lot of fish dishes, while you'll find the use of spices and chilies, as is characteristic of much south-east Asian cooking, is very much present here. Other key foodstuffs include tofu, chicken, coconut, banana and mango.
Of course, the main ingredients and flavours used aren't the only part of getting to know a new cuisine - it is also worth familiarising yourself with exactly how they're eaten. For example, in Indonesia it's very common to eat food from street vendors, with these stalls offering every meal of the day.
If, however, you're sitting down to eat, you will find that dining is generally done with a spoon and fork, or with your hands. As a quick tip, the latter is always conducted with the right hand in Indonesia - so be sure to follow the locals and do the same. It's also worth bearing in mind that it's considered polite to leave a little food on your plate and drink in your glass, to indicate that you're suitably sated!
Typical Indonesian dishes
This is probably the most famous Indonesian dish, and is essentially fried rice. However, nasi goreng is a real flavour sensation; indeed, it's a national favourite for a reason.
Typically, the fried rice is mixed with kecap, which is a thick, sweet soy sauce, as well as a variety of other ingredients, depending on where you are - you might come across versions with eggs, meatballs, chicken or shrimp. Enjoy trying different varieties!
Another Indonesian staple is sambal. This is actually a sauce rather than a dish in its own right, but it's used so often and you're so likely to come across it that we felt compelled to include it here. This hot sauce is a mixture of fermented shrimp paste, chillis, lime juice, sugar and salt, and is eaten with all kinds of dishes - it's definitely a must-try.
Delicious satay is popular worldwide, so it's likely you'll have come across this particular dish before. It's commonly associated with a number of Asian destinations, but no matter where it originated, it's very popular in Indonesia.
Consisting of meat skewers cooked over piping hot coals, satay can be made with chicken, goat and a variety of other meats. What makes this dish distinctive is its spicy kick and smothering of peanut sauce, which renders it extremely moreish.
A ubiquitous breakfast dish, bubur ayam can perhaps best be described as a savoury porridge which is made with rice. Typically, it will include soy sauce, shallots, beans and chicken, as well as a dose of chili - although you will find that sweeter versions are available for those who struggle to start the day with such a spicy kick.
Martabak is a delicious dish that comes in both savoury and sweet varieties. The former is made from crispy pastry and filled with a combination of egg and minced meats, and is usually served with a sweet and sour vinegar and pickled cucumber.
The sweet version is also made with layered pastry, but the meat filling is swapped with decadent chocolate and peanuts, or other suitably sweet and delicious combinations.