What about the variety of foods in Indonesia?
Indonesia, the spice paradise
With over 17,000 islands, Indonesia has been a home of several travelers and foreigners for hundreds of years now. Indonesia has long been known for its wide range of spices. Since the islands are located among the main trading itineraries, it was easily accessible for traders. Many immigrants went to Indonesia mostly for business and trading exotic spices.
The most used spices today are chili pepper, coriander, cumin, and ginger. Indonesian also like to mix these spices with milder flavors which are sweeter or hot sauce for example.
Staples in Indonesia
Just like any other country in Asia, rice is a staple. It is eaten with meat, fish and veggies. According to Indonesian history, rice has been consumed for over 4000 years. Some ancient Indonesian meals were made of veggies, fruits, fish, bananas, yams, coconut and cane sugar. Rice is not only used for the main meal, they also use for sweet desserts and beverages. There are two types of rice: the long grain white rice and the glutinous rice. The glutinous rice is used the same way as in China. You can find it in cakes and other sweet baked or fried snacks. Rice is not that cheap and poor people rely more on yams or soybeans, which are more accessible foods.
Indonesian dishes are often fried, grilled, simmered or steamed and sometimes with coconut milk. Coconut milk is one of the important staples of the Indonesian cuisine. The meats are mostly beef, chicken, goat or lamb. As about 90% Indonesian are Muslim, pork is not a popular meat in the country …
The Indonesian cuisine influenced by several waves of colonization and immigration. The first to impact Indonesian cuisine were the Chinese. You can find a lot of Chinese-type foods in Indonesia such as noodles, soybeans, cabbage, or tea. The mode of cooking, stir-frying, also comes from China. One of the most popular dishes in Indonesia is Nasi Goreng.
Hindus entered the country around 100 BC and brought with them some more spices such as : curry, ginger, cumin, .. as well as foods such as onions, mangoes, eggplants and other typical Indian foods.
As for the Muslims who arrived a bit later, they added additional meats like Goat and lamb to the Indonesian cuisine as well as dishes cooked with cow milk. These dishes are now commonly cooked with coconut milk instead of dairy milk. So if you are lactose intolerant, it is going to be a perfect destination for you!
It is also important to note that since Islam is the main religion, about half of national holidays are dedicated to this religion. If you decide to go to Indonesia check first if it doesn’t fall on the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of fasting and one of the main pillars of Islam. If you want to know more, you can read our previous article about traveling during the Ramadan month in Indonesia.
European and more specifically Portuguese brought a great deal of their cuisine. You have for example Cassava and sweet potatoes. Other veggies such as turnips or cauliflower came from Netherlands. Finally, we have the Spanish immigrants who brought corn, tomatoes, and chili pepper.
Regional local cuisine
Each island in Indonesia has its own twist to national meals. However, it seems that Bali’s cuisine is the most popular. Some popular meals include duck and pig meals. If you are Muslim or don’t eat pork, be aware that since Bali is not a Muslim region (see our article about religions in Indonesia), they widely eat pork and other meats. In Java, most proteins are cooked in pig or buffalo blood. In Minahasa, it is also common to eat mice or dog meals …
There are also some typical festivities foods
Some pastries and sweet treats are cooked in advance, a day before the Hindu Day of Silence called Hari Raya Nyepi. All activities are stopped during that day and even tourists are forbidden to go out.
Then you have Tumpeng, which are cones placed made of steamed yellow rice placed in the center of a plate full of veggies and other foods. This dish is usually eaten during important events such as marriage, etc. It is commonly eaten after prayers.
The typical day in Indonesia
For breakfast, Makan Pagi, Indonesians usually consume fried rice, soup or noodles with some coffee called Java coffee or tea for the one who are not coffee drinkers. Then you have lunch called “Makan Siang” and dinner, “makan malam”. The main component of each meal, is as you would have already guessed, rice! It usually is accompanied with some meat, fish, and veggies.
When it is a family, friend or business meals, just like in any other East Asian countries, dishes are placed in the center to be shared with everyone on the table. The dishes go from meats, veggies to sweet sauces and other small dishes.
When Indonesian want to eat some fruits, they would go for banana or Durian. Durian is a very smelly fruit but apparently tasty enought.