10 Traditional Indonesian Dishes You Must Eat At Least Once In Your Life

Unfortunately, traditional Indonesian food doesn’t get the credit they deserve, often being overshadowed by uber delicious Thai cuisine, and the amazingly diverse Malay/Singaporean cuisine. It is a real shame, because if you venture away from the boring dishes like nasi and mie goreng, you can discover some truly delicious and satisfying eats.

It’s time to give Indonesian cuisine some time in the limelight don’t you think!?

 

Traditional Indonesian Sate Ayam satay chicken goat skewers

 

 


1. Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang Indonesian traditional food
Beef Rendang at a Nasi Padang Restaurant

Starting with one of my absolute favourite dishes that I had the pleasure of devouring on several occasions is the super tender, extremely delicious Beef Rendang.

I found that there were 2 different versions of Beef Rendang, depending on the warung. Some were quite dry (which apparently is the traditional method), and some were very sauce – their version of a curry.

Lots of delicious and complimenting spices are used to make rending, including cardamom, anise, cinnamon, and dried chillies. I was told by an old lady who ran a warung that the key ingredients are fresh coconut milk, and dried desiccated coconut flakes.

My mouth is salivating just thinking about it!

 

 2. Tempeh Goreng.

sambal Tempeh Goreng Traditional Indonesian Food
Sambal Tempeh Goreng at a Nasi Padang Restaurant

Even though I have been told in the past that men should not consume soy products as it “will give us breasts” hahaha, I couldn’t stay away from devouring the sambal version of Tempeh Goreng almost on a daily basis during my month in Indonesia.

Tempeh is a protein and fiber packed food that is made from fermented soybeans, which differs from tofu by using the whole soybeans, and being fermented in a loaf shape. It has almost a nutty, firm texture, and an earthy flavor that intensifies as it ages. It is a perfect protein substitute for all you vego’s out there!

 

3. Bakso

Taditional Indonesian Basko food stall
Freshly made noodles at a Bakso food stall in Bali

Who doesn’t love delicious meatballs in a soup with fresh made noodles! Bakso is one of the most readily available street foods in all of Indonesia. Just keep your eyes peeled for a cart attached to either a pushy or a motorbike.

The meatballs are generally made from a mixture of ground beef and tapioca starch. The tapioca gives the balls a very interesting texture, almost bouncy, but strangely addictive.

You can choose to have the Bakso with broth, in which the balls are cooked in, or dry with a mixture of sauces. Also you usually can choose from thin rice noodles, or thicker egg noodles, which are my personal favourite.

Make sure you add some sambal!

 

4. Sweet Martabak.

Sweet Martabak with condensed milk, chocolate, and peanuts
Sweet Martabak with condensed milk, chocolate, and peanuts

One thing for certain is that Asian culture is not well known for their desserts. There are some exceptions of course. Rich, Heavy, yet super delicious sweet martabak is definitely one of those exceptions. Think of it as a leaved pancake cooked in a cast iron skillet, topped with condensed milk. You can also add yummy toppings such as chocolate, cheese, and peanuts. I know it sounds gross, but the rich, creamy cheese really helps to balance out the sweetness.

Make sure to share it, or you could quite possibly find yourself in a food coma!

 

5. Sate Ayam/ Sate Kambing

Traditional Indonesian Sate Ayam satay chicken goat skewers
Sate Ayam in Ubud, Bali. Some random local decided to light his smoke at the same time as I snapped the picture.

Even more common in Indonesia than Bakso stalls are hawkers selling Sate (Satay). Sates, if you have been living under a rock your whole life, are essentially meat skewers served with a sauce. Peanut sauce, to be precise.

You can find pork, goat, and chicken sates being sold on almost any street in Indonesia. Kind of similar to Starbucks back in Vancouver!

The sates are grilled over charcoal in makeshift long and skilly “bbq’s”. What makes the sates so delicious is the freshness of the meat, and the amazing peanut sauce that is ubiquitous all over Indonesia. Those with anaphylactic peanut allergies would have an extremely hard time eating in Indonesia!

Peanut sauce in Indonesia (sambal kacang) is a cooked sauce made from roasted peanuts (obviously), flavourings such as garlic, ginger, shallots, chilies, and tamarind. These flavours are complimented with aromatics such as kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, and of course coconut milk.

Skewers are generally by a pack of 10 and will cost around 10,000 to 25,000 rp, depending on the location.

Bet you can’t eat just one! ;P

 

6. Babi Guling

Babi Guling Ibu Oka Ubud suckling pig pork
Babi Guling at Ibu Oka, in Ubud

As made internationally famed by hero, Anthony Bourdain, Babi Guling is essentially a whole roasted suckling pig that is flavoured with classic Asian herbs and spices such as black pepper, anise, cardamom, garlic, galangal, chilies, lemongrass, and turmeric.

Babi Guling is only found on the island of Bali since Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, in which the selling/eating of pork is prohibited.

The most famous of all the warungs’ selling Babi Guling is undoubtably Ibu Oka, which is located in the culturally rich city of Ubud (my favourite destination in Bali, by far). Ibu Oka has become so successful in the past decade, that they have since opened 2 additional joints in Ubud. Click Here for the location of the original Ibu Oka.

Assure that you arrive for a late morning, or early afternoon meal, to assure peak freshness. Personally, the more important reason to arrive earlier in the day is to guarantee a portion of crackling to accompany your meal. Since there is heaps more meat on a pig then crispy skin, they sell out of the crackling much earlier than the meat.

The dish which sets you back around 70,000rp, includes the crackling, a portion of rice, potatoes, a bowl of soup, and a trio of cooked pork that includes the roasted pork meat, crispy pork, and blood sausage. If they are unfortunately out of crackling (which happened to me one time) they give you the choice of extra meat of whichever one you choose.

Vegetarians will be SOOL at this spot since every vegetable dish is cooked in the super delicious pork juices leak from the roasted pig.

 

7. Nasi Goreng

Traditional Indonesian Food Nasi Mie GorengI was hesitant to include this in the list but based solely based on the amount of times I ate it for breakfast I decided to go through with it. Nasi Goreng is the ultimate fried rice due to the additions of vegetables, spices, prawn crackers, and a fried egg.

Nasi Goreng is generally the most affordable dish to eat at restaurants, only costing you around 15,000-25,000 rp per dish. Any more than that and you most likely visited a touristy restaurant and are getting ripped off.

 

 

8. Gado Gado

Traditional Indonesian Gado Gado peanut saucePerfect for vego’s, and diners who are looking for that extra dish to share to fill up your bellies, gado gado (lotek) is a heaping plate full of boiled veggies, hard boiled eggs, prawn crackers, fried tofu and tempeh, and yummy peanut sauce.

Some versions of the dish come like the one in the picture, where you can dip the veggies into the sauce. I preferred when the vegetables were tossed in a pan with the peanut sauce and came out hot, but both were enjoyable.

I probably ate gado gado 20 times in the month that i was in Indonesia, its that good. And good for you! 🙂

 

 9. Pepes Ikan

Traditional Indonesian Food Pepes Ikan Steamed Banana Leaf
Steamed white fish in a banana leaf

While travelling to islands around the world, there is no better time to drastically increase your seafood consumption. Here’s why:

1. The amount of seafood is plentiful, guaranteeing freshness.

2. You will be helping out the fishing community by buying their hard earned catch of the day.

3. The cost of fresh seafood is only a fraction of what you will pay back home.

4. Fish and seafood are extremely nutritious for you, being a super high source of protein with very low amounts fat.

5. Because it is delicious!

Pepes Ikan is a type of white fish, usually snapper, that is deboned, cubed, mixed with spices and vegetables, then rolled up in a banana leaf and steamed to perfection. It is served with additional veggies and white rice. Ask for some sambal on the side to compliment your meal perfectly.

I had the best Pepes Ikan while on the Island of Nusa Lembongan, just off the east coast of Bali, at a place called Nitya Warung. Make sure to check it out if you are there. All the food we tried was delicious, which I very rarely say. The service was extremely fast and super friendly. They also have a second story balcony that overlooks the street and catches a much-needed breeze. Say hi to Ega for me!

 

10. Ayam Goreng:

Traditional Indonesian Ayam goreng fried chicken
Ayam Goreng in a Nasi Padang Restaurant

You will be a little underwhelmed with Indonesia’s version of fried chicken if you are unfortunately frequent Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken.

You might notice that the chicken has a much deeper flavour. This has to do with how the chicken is raised. Instead of being raised in a super farm somewhere across the world alongside literally millions of other chickens destined for the deep fryer, chickens in Indonesia are more than likely hatched and raised on the warung owners’ property, allowed to run around freely with their brothers/sisters, and probably slaughtered earlier that day.

The biggest difference you will notice is the lack of a crunchy coating. They off set the lack of coating by adding heaps of little crunchy bits called kremes. Kremes are made by mixing the poaching liquid that the chicken is first cooked in with flour, then deep fried to golden perfection.

Finally, fried chicken that is actually “Finger Lickin’ Good”.

 


 

* Although it is not a dish, I can’t forget to make a special mention of the almighty Sambal Chili sauce. You can find it either as a fresh or cooked sauce. Fresh uncooked sauces tend to be a bit spicer, but tastes heaps fresher and brighter. Make sure you at least give it a try while you’re in Indonesia. Spice lovers like myself, make sure you put that shit on everything!

 


 

Here are some key terms that you are going to need to know for reading menus and ordering food while on your vacation in Indonesia:

  • Warung: Restaurant
  • Nasi Padang: Pick and Choose Buffet Style Restaurant
  • Nasi: Rice
  • Mie: Noodles
  • Goreng: Fried
  • Rebus: Boiled
  • Sambal: Fresh Chili Sauce
  • Ayam: Chicken
  • Babi: Pork
  • Kambing: Goat
  • Bebek: Duck
  • Cap Cai (pronounced Chap Chai): Boiled Vegetebles in Flavourful Broth

 


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