The 6,000 “Spice Islands” of Indonesia over the last centuries have attracted adventurers, pirates, and traders from everywhere-Arab, Chinese, Indian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English-each leaving their stamp on the cuisine of the island. For instance, Sumatra’s cuisines, sometimes have Indian and Middle Eastern influences which might feature vegetables and curried meats. Japanese dishes are indigenous and might have a hint of Chinese influence. Eastern Indonesian cuisines are compared to Melanesian and Polynesian cuisines.
From high-end restaurants to bustling street vendors, many Indonesian dishes are full of complex and rich flavors. They are often described as hot, savory, spicy, and include hints of being sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. Rice is a staple, but nasi goreng, or fried rice, is the national dish. However, most Indonesian dishes are fattening. Listed below are some of the top favorites.
Soto is one of Indonesia’s comfort foods and is also available at every corner. You can find several variations of it. It’s a soup composed of broth, vegetables, and meat. Soto means Jakarta and is also known as being one of the most well-known homegrown dishes. It’s usually boiled with herbs such as bay leaves and lemongrass and prepared with beef. It’s flavored with galangal, shallots, garlic, and candlenut. Milk or coconut milk will typically give this soup a creamy and rich texture. You can make this a healthier version by using clear broth or vegetable stock instead of milk.
For a healthier and lighter soup, you can try Soto Ayam. This is also known as chicken soup. It includes vermicelli noodles, shredded chicken, hardboiled egg, and different herbs. It provides a hearty yet light herbal broth.
If you’re looking to avoid the deep-fried dishes, try traditional Siomay. It’s derived from Chinese Shumai and also similar to Dim Sum. Siomay is a type of Indonesian dish consisting of steamed fish dumplings with vegetables served in a peanut sauce. Traditionally it’s made from fish meat, also known as tenggiri, or wahoo. You can make siomay from other types of seafood including tuna, prawn, and mackeral. Complements to siomay might include potatoes, cabbage, bitter gourd, tofu, and boiled egg. Siomay is usually bite-size pieces and are topped with peanut sauce. You can also use chili sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice.
Bakso is a meatball soup that’s a savory Indonesian favorite. It’s made from soft meatballs which are made from a mixture of minced meat and tapioca starch. It’s typically served with egg noodles, rice, boiled eggs, and some friend onions and bird eyes chili. Some people opt to add in tofu. It’s nutritious, simple, and packs a lot of protein. This dish will have you feeling both satisfied and full at the same time.
Gado-Gado is one of Indonesia’s most well-known salad dishes. Long beans are at the base along with corn, egg, spinach, potato, bean sprouts, and cucumber. It might also have cabbage, bitter melon, and Dutch cucumber along with tempeh, rice cakes, and fried tofu. This mix is doused in a spicy and sweet peanut sauce dressing which is kept at a minimum to help keep this dish as healthy as possible.
Kerak Telor is a spicy omelette snack and comes from the Betawi culture which is native to Jakarta. This delicious rice frittata is often cooked over charcoal. It’s typically made from egg and glutinous rice. It’s usually topped with shallots, shredded coconut, serundeng, which is fried coconut flakes, and dried shrimp. Some people ask that their Kerak Telor is less fatty by being cooked in less oil.
Pempek is often times referred to as the Old Chine man who produced these fish in addition to tapioca cakes from Palembang down in South Sumatra. Known as being a Palembang specialty now, pempek can be seen in several shapes and sizes.
Kapal selam is known to be the most popular variation. This translates to being called a submarine and has an egg in its middle. It’s said to be the most nutritious form of this dough ball. They are sprinkled with powder and shrimp. They are also served with dark dripping sauce which is made from chili, sugar, and vinegar.
This dish is sure to get taste buds sizzling. It’s simply made from grilled eggplant and topped with loads of chili sauce which is made from dried shrimp paste. This is tasty when paired with brown rice to better enjoy the flavors as is.
Tips for Eating Healthy in Indonesia
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to skimp out on flavors. Most food is typically fried and then dipped and drenched in soy sauce or other sweet syrups. They are often times similar to molasses. Here are some tips to help you eat healthy while enjoying Indonesian cuisine. You can also opt for cooking rice in a rice cooker to help cook rice quicker than having to soak it if you want to enjoy Indonesian cuisine at home rather than going out. Check out some top picks of rice cookers that are popular choices on the market.
Choose Bihun Noodles
Noodles will rival rice in term of carbohydrates. Brown rice is a little difficult to find at Indonesian restaurants unless they are more upscale. However, rice noodles, or bihun, are more available than you might think. You can find them at restaurants and street vendors. You can switch out fried noodles and traditional noodles for bihun.
Grilling has become a common way of cooking in just about every part of the world. Grilling can be healthier as opposed to cooking in oil and deep-frying food. If you are looking to eat in Indonesian restaurants, consider looking for the word “bakar” to know that the restaurant serves grilled meats. While you can’t help that it might be dipped in kecap manis or another sweet syrup for taste, you can help cut the calories out from it being deep-fried.
Stick to Gado-Gado
Gado-gado literally means “mix-mix”. This is a popular Indonesian salad and is a relatively healthy one. It’s a mixture of long green beans, boiled corn, bean sprouts, potatoes, and cabbage. However, because it’s doused with peanut sauce, its nutritional value is devalued. You can ask for a little sauce or you can ask for the sauce on the side.
Siomay is a relative of dim sum. Cabbage, boiled fish, and bitter gourd get steamed to perfection. However, similar to gado-gado, when it’s ordered, it’s swimming in peanut sauce. Peanut sauce is loaded with calories. It’s lathered on dishes such as gado-gado and meat skewers.
When eating in Indonesia, be sure to eat fresh! You’re on a tropical island after all. Fruit is always in season. Whether it’s jackfruit, apples, papaya, pineapples, and more, there are plenty of fruits to choose from. You can have them as a snack or create a delicious fruit salad. There are other fruits you can consider trying out such as lychee and rambutan. Cha kankung, which looks like spinach, is another food to try. You can also enjoy some fresh vegetables, also known as cap cay. A little oil is used to help seal in the flavor, and they are steamed in a small amount of water. Pair your vegetables with meat and rice for a delicious and healthy meal.
Indonesia Rice Recipes
If you’re looking for some great Indoneisan recipes, here are a couple that you might like to consider. These are simple yet pack powerful flavors. You can also check out these amazing Korean recipes to spice up your dinner cooking and to give your taste buds something new to experience!
- 1 tbsp oil
- 5 oz chicken
- 1 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- 5 tbsp oil
- 1tsp red chili, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 cups of day old cooked white rice
- 2 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- 2 tsp shrimp paste
- 1 sliced green onion
- 4 fried eggs
- Cucumbers and tomatoes cut into wedges or chunks
- Lime wedges
- Fried shallots
- In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over high heat.
- Add garlic and chili and stir for 10 seconds.
- Add in the onion and cook for 1 minute.
- Add in the chicken and cook until it’s mostly white. Add 1 tbsp sweet soy sauce and cook for an additional minute or until the chicken is cooked thoroughly and somewhat caramelized.
- Add the rice, 2 tbsp sweet soy sauce, and the shrimp paste. Cook while stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes until the sauce reduces down and the rice starts to caramelize.
- Serve with garnishes of your choice such as shallots, green onions, red chili, etc.
Indonesian Spiced Rice
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 large, chopped onion
- 2 jalapeno peppers, minced and seeded
- 2 crushed, garlic cloves
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 c uncooked white rice, long-grain
- 2 cans chicken broth, 14.5-ounce cans
- 1 c of water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 medium chopped green onions
- Over medium heat, heat oil in a large, heavy pan. Stir in the jalapeno peppers, onion, and the garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent which could be about 8 minutes.
- Stir in turmeric, rice, and cinnamon into the pan and stir about 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken, bay leaf, and broth, and water. Bring this mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook about 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let stand for about 5 minutes. Garnish with green onion and enjoy!
- 2 c water – if you’re cooking on a stovetop add an additional ½ cup
- 2 c jasmine rice or other white grain rice
- ½ c coconut milk
- 1 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 stalk of lemongrass
- 3 pandan leaves, fresh
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 kaffir lime leaves – tear the edges to release the flavors
- ½ tsp salt
- Wash your rice in several batches of water until the water runs clear. Drain the rice with a sieve and make sure all the water is drained off the rice.
- Bring coconut milk and water to a boil and add in the rice and all other ingredients. Stir to mix well. Lower heat to low and let the mixture simmer. Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. Stir and cover again allowing to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn the heat off but leave the cover on. Let it sit for another 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice.
- 1 kg beef, minced
- 200-300g chicken breast
- 300g corn flour
- 7 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 eggs
- 200mL water
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fried onions
Ingredients for broth:
- 5 smashed garlic cloves
- 3 liters homemade beef stock
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp pepper
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp ginger
- 1 tsp powdered beef stock
- Fried shallots
- Celery leaf
- Egg noodles
- Rice noodles
- Lime juice
- Sweet soy sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Fried onion
- Mince the garlic, beef, egg, fried onion, salt, and pepper and blitz them in a food processor until the mixture is pale pink. The mixture should be smooth like a really thick paste.
- Transfer the minced ingredients to a bowl.
- Do the same as above with the chicken breast. Cut the chicken breast roughly and blitz it in a food processor until it’s nice and smooth in texture.
- Mix in the same bowl as the beef.
- Add in water and flour and mix well.
- Boil the water and add salt.
- Using your hands, make balls adding them to the water one by one. Use spoons to shape them. Once they begin to float, the meatballs are cooked.
- Place all ingredients in a pot and boil.
- Add in the meatballs.
These recipes are great to try if you are new to Indonesian cooking at home. They are simple, yet delicious for the whole family to enjoy!