Indonesian cuisine offers a wide variety of delicious and spicy dishes, quite possibly making it one of my favorite types of food in the world. Hong Kong and Singapore still remain two of my favorite cities to eat in, but I promise Indonesia will never let you down when it comes to taste. Indonesia’s indigenous techniques and ingredients have been influenced by India, the Middle East, China, and finally Europe providing a wide array of flavors and spices. You know you have arrived in Indonesia as soon as the peppers start to tickle your nose and your stomach starts to rumble in response to the mouth watering smells of sweet coconut, cumin-laden curries and smoky barbecues.
The culinary adventures of Indonesia begin with how you get your food from your plate to your mouth- don’t worry no chopsticks mastery required . Meals are commonly eaten with the combination of a spoon in the right hand and fork in the left hand (to push the food onto the spoon), although in many parts of the country it is also common to eat with your hands. Typically they serve kobokan, a bowl of tap water with a slice of lime if you are to eat with your hands. Please remember: this bowl of water is not for drinking, but used to wash your eating hand before and after your meal.
The most popular Indonesian dishes include nasi goreng, mi goreng, gado-gado, sate and soto, which are all considered Indonesian national dishes. Each one varies depending on the region you order it in and from which vendor. Despite the hot weather most meals are served hot and soup is very popular. The intense and vibrant flavors of the soup had me ordering a second bowl every time despite the soaring temperatures. A good soto ayam (chicken noodle soup) will have a delicate combination of soft rice noodles, crunchy cabbage and bean sprouts, crispy fried onions, a hint of spice and tender chicken all swimming in a salty but light and tasty broth.
The high-end street food found throughout Indonesia’s 6,000+ islands is such a treat, served on real plates in heaping portions. Almost all dishes are served with rice and a side of veggies, sambal (spicy condiment) as well as a couple slices of cooling cucumber. One of the meals I always searched out was the coconut curry chicken with ginger. The flavors that come together in this succulent dish are awesome and provide for a filling lunch, dinner or both.
The most traveler friendly dish I have come across in all my travels is the easily transportable dish known across Indonesia as nasi campur. It is basically rice with assorted vegetables and your meat of choice or tempeh and/or tofu if you would prefer. It comes in a cone of brown paper and can be eaten on the go, sold everywhere for only one US dollar or so. You get a little of everything, often times noodles are included as well as cucumber, spicy sauce and nutty strips of fried tempeh.
If you are a more simple eater, you can’t go wrong with the plethora of fresh fruit available on every street corner and in huge quantities throughout the markets of Indonesia. We started our day each morning with a huge platter of fresh fruit, which is enough for my sweet tooth, but if you are looking for more don’t forget to save room for dessert.
The best way to end any meal or work up an appetite for one is with an ice cold Bintang beer. It may be a little bit more than beer elsewhere in Asia, but nothing goes down easier on a hot day at the beach or as a sundowner while watching the sun melt into the ocean. Beer is also the perfect remedy for a mouth on fire from a sambal that’s just too hot. Whatever you decided to eat or drink, Indonesia will surely impress.