Indonesian Cuisine: All About Food & Dining!
What is Indonesian cuisine about? What to expect, what to taste and what to avoid?
Indonesia is a diverse country as far as speaking about food. It offers countless varieties of dishes. The only con of Indonesian cuisine would be the lack of creativity during the process of preparation. Everything is finely chopped, thrown into the wok pan, left to fry for a minute, soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce are added and tada - the meal is ready. Names of the meals often include the word "goreng," which stands for "fried."
Everything is fried - they fry in a frying pan, they fry in a deep fryer. They fry vegetables, meat, tofu, seafood, noodles, and rice. Combined, alone or in a batter.
Fried foods can sometimes get a bit too heavy for a sensitive stomach, but the taste is excellent. We have to mention a few unfried exceptions here. Try Satay, char-grilled marinated meats skewers served with rice and topped with a sweet peanut butter sauce (sometimes spicy). Certainly, you shouldn't miss out a grilled fresh fish dipped in herb butter and sprinkled with spring onions! If you feel like something lighter, you'll come across a famous Cap Cay, which is, steamed vegetables served together with cooked tender meat, broth and white rice.
Fried chicken with oyster sauce
Depending on the ingredients used, you can occasionally get to taste some really spicy meals (Indonesians love the flavor of fresh chili peppers) or delicious exotic dishes flavored with coconut milk or peanut butter. One thing I can assure you of - you will love it!
I do like Indonesian cuisine, I have to say. In general, Indonesian chefs don't overpower their dishes with aromatic spices, chili or herbs, as they tend to do in India. The flavors are well balanced and in a way similar to the European style.
What I was not happy with was the size of the portions. They are sometimes way too small, and in order to have a good lunch, I have to ask for two meals right away.
What are the options?
There's loads to choose from. In the tourist resort areas, you will find a huge selection of different cuisines - whatever you can think of. E.g., in Kuta in Bali, you can get your hands on seafood, fresh fish, burgers at McDonald's, terrible pizza in Pizza Hut, Italian pasta, Aussie BBQ, KFC fried chicken and so on. You won't miss almost anything from international cuisine here.
Choose between San Miguel or Bintang beer to cool yourself down. Ladies most likely stick to Smirnoff Ice. No worries if you like Starbucks, you won't miss your favorite afternoon coffee even in Kuta.
If you wander around remote parts of Indonesia, do not expect anything from the above stated. For lunch, you'll get Nasi Goreng in a local warung, fried chicken (Ayam Goreng) and tofu at a street food stall. You can get a delicious soup Bakso served in some cozy garage restaurant run by a local family. Forget beer for now - that is now replaced with the real strong Balinese coffee with a good layer of dregs at the bottom of the cup. That's gonna wake you up for sure. Guaranteed.
Let's get started. What to get for breakfast?
Most hotels and guest houses in Indonesia offer free breakfast included within the room rate. Now, the breakfast quality depends on how much did you pay for your accommodation.
If you pay around 150 - 200K per night, in the morning you will usually get to choose from a simple menu: pancake variations (with chocolate, banana, coconut, honey, lime juice), "hundred" ways to cook your eggs (fried, scrambled, omelet, etc.), toasts (with jam and butter), nasi goreng, Soto Ayam and coffee or tea. Sometimes a smaller fruit platter happens.
If you pay even less for your accommodation, you will have to accept a simple banana pancake with a cup of coffee or tea. Even such breakfast is a good start of the day anyway.
It is incredible to see how many ways can be prepared such a simple thing like a pancake. We ate classic pancakes with sweet little bananas topped with condensed chocolate milk. Sometimes we were surprised by the size of a huge pancake with whole banana inside, and sometimes by a pancake dried out like Indian chapati. Real Indonesian coffee (each island has its own type) is similar to the old-school Czech/Turkish style coffee, which we know from the old communist times. The preparation process of such coffee is quite easy - pour hot water directly over a few tablespoons of freshly ground coffee, stir, and that's it. The dregs - the sediment at the bottom of the cup tend to get into your teeth while enjoying the last sips.
Breakfast for free is definitely a good thing, however, eating banana pancakes nonstop is a bit hardcore too.
What's for lunch?
At each street food stall or restaurant, you get Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Mie Goreng (fried noodles) - in vegetarian version (Sayur), with meat (Babi - pork, Ayam - chicken) or shrimp (Udang). Based on the creativity of each chef and price level of the restaurant, we got served interesting combinations of Nasi Goreng on the plate - a student mixture of rice, sweet chili sauce, and chopped cabbage in Pacitan or fried rice with chicken, vegetables, fried egg and three satay sticks in Lovina (Nasi Goreng Ayam Special).
Other highlights worth to mention are excellent Bakso (dumpling soup) and fried chicken with rice and chili sauce (Ayam Goreng Kalasan). A popular version is fried breaded crispy chicken a la KFC.
Lunch menu list keeps going:
Curry - chicken/pork/ fish with curry sauce, coconut milk, and potato pieces
Gado Gado - steamed vegetables, potatoes, tofu, peanut sauce
Spring Roll - mostly fried
Tempe Goreng - fried tofu
Babi Kecap - pork meat with veggies and sweet tomato sauce
Sweet and Sour - Chinese classics
and lots of fried fish dishes...
For a snack get a spring roll, a jaffle (filled toast) or a sandwich. On the street, you might wanna try fried donuts or bananas/tofu/vegetables in batter.
And what's for dinner?
For a good dinner, go to the "Masakan Padang" warung buffet with a wide selection of Indonesian specialties. You can recognize this type of warung by a large number of bowls filled with different foods displayed behind the window.
Sweet & Sour pork coated pieces.
Lastly, I would like to mention one thing I didn't enjoy consuming at all. It was a local drink in a bag - a mixture of coconut milk, lemongrass, gelatin, syrup, and DURIAN. I wasn't able to finish this one off.
Indonesia is a vast country, and therefore there is an extensive list of all Indonesian dishes. Types and variations of dishes are countless, varying by region. So, go explore and discover!
Babi Kecap - Pork and veggies
Seafood Basket - a fried selection of seafood (fish, crab, shrimps, calamari)
Durian Drink in a plastic bag
For more information on meal prices, including menu examples, see the Prices & Costs section.