In South-East Asia, Indonesia is the largest economy. Moreover, the country counts 230 million inhabitants, which makes it the 4th biggest in the world. It has a diverse ethnic background, with many languages being spoken and several spiritual traditions being practiced. Another particularity of Indonesia is that it spreads on 17,000 islands, which adds to the diversity. As expected, its cuisine is also rich and varied.
A Culinary Journey
If you travel through Indonesia, you will surely enjoy a culinary journey. You can even get to know its history through its dishes. Indonesia has been influenced by China, India and Europe. Europeans had been in search of expensive spices such as cloves and nutmeg, and traders were drawn to exploring Indonesia for such riches. During the colonial times, the Portuguese introduced the peanuts. Noodles and soybeans came from the Chinese, while the Indians brought curries. Seafood is also abundant, given the presence of rich ocean waters. Also, considering the hot climate, it is easy to grow rice and soybeans.
The Use of Spices and Oils
Although the rest of Asia is very fond of spices, Indonesia rarely uses them. “Sambal” represents chilli condiments that come in small bottles or dishes to spice your food as desired. As for the oils, most meals are cooked with peanut oil. Therefore, if you are allergic, you should specify it.
Popular Meals in Indonesia
- Nasi Goreng is the local version of fried rice, very tasty. It is also very cheap and is eaten regularly at breakfast or dinner time. Its great flavor comes from garlic, tamarind, shallot, and chilli. You may also come along the Mie Goreng variety, which represents fried noodles.
- Satay is skewered meat that is grilled over charcoal, and you will come across it very frequently. It is made of chicken, goat, pork or beef and other ingredients that can be grilled on a stick. You can have Satay as a main meal or as quick snack. It is served with sambal or with peanut sauce.
- Gado-Gado is a meal suitable to vegetarians. It consists of stir-fried vegetables which are coated with a thick peanut sauce that provides enough protein.
- Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans compressed into a cake and then fried or roasted. It goes with almost any dish and has a firm texture, being often used as a meat substitute.
The Eating Out Experience
The particularity of dining in Indonesian is that you will be served kerupuk along with your meal, which represent light crackers of prawns, and also fried egg. Some vegetarian meals are not what they seem, even though they are advertized as being so. Most dishes contain egg, therefore ask before you order. Concerning the cooking, this is usually done ahead of time, and the meal is served at room temperature. This is because most people have irregular schedules when it comes to eating.
The Dining Customs
First of all, use only your right hand when touching the food. The left one is used for toilet matters, and you should let it rest in your lap. In many of the restaurants outside the touristic areas, known as “Rumah Maken”, you will be expected to eat with your hands, without utensils. This is what locals do. Firstly, you have to dip just your right hand in the bowl on the table, which contains water and lime juice. When it comes to eating with utensils, take a fork in your left hand and a spoon in the right one.
If you travel from one Indonesian spot to another, you may have the surprise of coming across delicious variations of the popular dishes. Do not refuse yourself a culinary treat – travel far and wide and enjoy these exotic tastes.