The most important tip I can give you on Indonesia local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Indonesia, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Indonesia
With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of regional cuisines found across the nation, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java. Now widely available throughout the archipelago, Javanese cuisine consists of an array of simply seasoned dishes, the predominant flavorings the Javanese favor being peanuts, chillies and sugar. All too often, many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), and perhaps other commonly available Javanese dishes, but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you’re adventurous and take the trouble to seek them out.
In West Java, Sundanese many fresh vegetables and herbs are commonly eaten raw. Padang in Sumatra is famous for the spicy and richly-seasoned cuisine of the Minangkabau people, which shares some similarities to cooking in parts of neighbouring Malaysia, and eateries specialising in the buffet-style nasi padang are now ubiquitous across the nation. Both the Christian Batak peoples and the Hindu Balinese are great fans of pork, while the Minahasa of North Sulawesi are well known for eating almost everything, in particular dog and fruit bat, and a very liberal usage of fiery chillies even by Indonesian standards.
Tamed Muslim-friendly versions of all three can be found in the malls and food courts of many Indonesian cities, but it’s worth it to seek out the real thing especially if you happen to be in these regions. And by the time you get to Papua in the extreme east of the country, you’re looking at a Melanesian diet of taro and sago. Due to the majority of Indonesians being Muslim, most of its dishes are considered as Halal (not containing any pork substances), though a few exceptions do exist, such as Balinese babi guling(roast pig).
Rice Sundanese nasi timbel (rice in banana leaf) with ayam penyet (“smashed” fried chicken), sambal chili sauce and lalapan fresh veggies Backpacker staple nasi goreng, topped with a fried egg to make it spesial Across the entire archipelago the main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including: bubur, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so it compresses into a cake nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it spesial to get an egg on top nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, a festive ceremonial dish usually moulded into a sharp cone called a tumpeng nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste. nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common accompaniment to Sundanese food nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast Noodles Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good second in the popularity contest. Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world’s largest instant noodle manufacturer.
There are also vegan Indomie noodles (Mi goreng Vegan) if you want to make a healthier choice. A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp. bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc) kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce Soups Beef sate Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common: bakso/baso (“BAH-so”), meatballs and noodles in chicken broth rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality of East Java sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients .
Main dishes Gudeg, jackfruit stew served with an egg Chinese-style tofu and seafood sapo claypot Popular main dishes include: ayam bakar, grilled chicken ayam goreng, deep-fried chicken cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta. ikan bakar, grilled fish karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel) sate (satay), grilled chicken and lamb sapo, Chinese-style claypot stew Another common popular dish in Indonesia (mainly in larger cities) is the so-called gorengan.
Literally means something fried, it is basically pretty simple: raw food dipped in rice flour starch mixed with salt, sugar, pepper, and sometimes green onion slices, and then deep-fried. What is fried may vary from banana, tofu, tempeh, sweet potato, cassava, etc. Gorengan is commonly sold in street hawkers, usually recognized through their specifically-designed carts. Gorengan usually comes with two variations: the sweet-taste gorengan (banana, sweet potato), and the salty-tasted one (cassava, tofu, tempeh). Both are usually consumed as snack, and the salty ones can also be served as the main dish (complementary to rice).
In fact, gorengan is so popular that it is uncommon for official meetings and gatherings to serve it, at least during the break. Being street food, however, you might need to be aware as the level of hygiene and cleanliness may be questionable. Also be wary that gorengan is commonly fried using the recycled cooking oil, that is the same portion of cooking oil used to fry gorengan over and over, and sometimes, unsold gorengan is fried repeatedly to keep it warm. As such, there are increasing concerns that regular and prolonged consumption of gorengan can lead to various health effects (the most serious being even cancer).
That being said, gorengan is still very popular, because it is cheap – one piece of it can cost as low as 500 IDR for the small-sized cut, and 1000 IDR (around 10 cents US dollar) for the bigger one -, tasty, practical, and, in case a full meal is not immediately available, a few pieces of it can usually make you stuffed quickly due to carbohydrate it contains. Condiments Indonesian chillies: tiny but brutally hot cabe rawit (left) and comparatively mild lombok (right) Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together.
There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you’re asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)! Crackers known as kerupuk (or keropok, it’s the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common are the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter light yellow emping, made from the nuts of the melinjo fruit.
Desserts Mangos (mangga) Snakefruit (salak) Dessert in the Western sense is not common in Indonesia, but there are plenty of snacks to tickle your sweet tooth. Kue covers a vast array of traditional cakes and pastries, all colorful, sweet, and usually a little bland, with coconut, rice flour and sugar being the main ingredients. Es teler, ice mixed with fruits and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations and is a popular choice on a hot day. Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons.
Popular options include mango (mangga), papaya (papaya), banana (pisang), starfruit (belimbing) and guava (jambu), but more exotic options you’re unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit (salak) and the alien-looking local passionfruit (markisa). Probably the most infamous Indonesian fruit, though, is the durian. Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armor-plated coconut the size of a human head, and it has a powerful odor often likened to rotting garbage. Inside is yellow creamy flesh, which has a unique sweet, custardy, avocadoey taste and texture. It’s prohibited in most hotels and taxis.
Dietary restrictions The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants serve only halal food and are thus safe for Muslim travellers. This includes Western chains like McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. The main exception is ethnic eateries catering to Indonesia’s non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine, so enquire if unsure. That being said, the different religions are not uniformly distributed throughout Indonesia, so while it is a somewhat safe assumption that any food you get off the street in Jakarta or Palembang will be halal, this may not be so in areas dominated by other religions such as Bali or Jayapura. Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge.
Tofu (tahu) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are an essential part of the diet, but they are often served with non-vegetarian condiments. For example, the ubiquitous sambal chili pastes very often contain shrimp, and kerupuk crackers with a spongy appearance, including those always served with nasi goreng, nearly always contain shrimp or fish. (Those that resemble potato chips, on the other hand, are usually fine.) Eating by hand In Indonesia eating with your hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common.
The basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball of rice, which can then be dipped into sauces before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb. There’s one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the toilet. Don’t stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it’s wise to wash your hands well before and after eating. Eating by hand is frowned on in some “classier” places.
If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint. Places to eat A kaki lima serving up bakso meatball soup in Kuta, Bali “Food Street” at the Nagoya Hill mall in Nagoya, Batam Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$1 (Rp 10,000). However, the level of hygiene may not be up to Western standards, so you may wish to steer clear for the first few days and patronize only visibly popular establishments. The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally “five feet”. Depending on whom you ask, they’re named either after the mobile stalls’ three wheels plus the owner’s two feet, or the “five-foot way” sidewalks mandated during British rule.
These can be found by the side of the road in any Indonesian city, town or village, usually offering up simple fare like fried rice, noodles and porridge. At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat. A step up from the kaki lima is the warung (or the old spelling waroeng), a slightly less mobile stall offering much the same food, but perhaps a few plastic stools and a tarp for shelter. Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specialising in a type of food or style of cuisine.
Nasi Padang restaurants, offering rice and an array of curries and other toppings to go along with it, are particularly popular and easily identified by their soaring Minangkabau roofs. Ordering at these is particularly easy: just sit down, and your table will promptly fill up with countless small plates of dishes. Eat what you like and pay for what you consumed. Another easy mid-range option in larger cities is to look out for food courts and Indonesian restaurants in shopping malls, which combine air-con with hygienic if rather predictable food.
In addition to the usual Western suspects, major local chains include EsTeler 77 , best known for its iced fruit desserts (es teler) but also selling bakso (meatball), nasi goreng (fried rice) and other Indonesian staples, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localized Japanese fare. Bakmi Gajah Mada (GM) is a famous Chinese noodle restaurant chain. A restoran indicates more of a Western-style eating experience, with air-con, table cloths, table service and prices to match. Especially in Jakarta and Bali, it’s possible to find very good restaurants offering authentic fare from around the world, but you’ll be lucky to escape for under Rp 100,000 a head
What to Drink in Indonesia
Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia. Water or ice served to you in restaurants may have been purified and/or boiled (air minum or air putih), but do ask. Bottled water, usually known as Aqua after the best-known brand, is cheap and available everywhere, but check that the seal is intact. Most hotels provide free drinking water because tap water is rarely potable. Do not use tap water for brushing your teeth. Also beware of ice which may not have been prepared with potable water or kept in hygienic conditions. Quite a few Indonesians believe that cold drinks are unhealthy, so specify dingin when ordering if you prefer your water, bottled tea or beer cold, rather than at room temperature.
Juices Fruit juices jus for plain juice or es if served with ice are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike, although the hygiene of the water used to make them can be dubious. In addition to the usual suspects, try jus alpokat, a surprisingly tasty drink made from avocadoes, often with some chocolate syrup poured in! Coffee and tea Tehbotol Sosro, Indonesia’s answer to Coca-Cola Indonesians drink both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), at least as long as they have had vast quantities of sugar added in. An authentic cup of Java, known as kopi tubruk, is strong and sweet, but let the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup before you drink it.
Last and least, no travel guide would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, coffee made from beans which have been eaten, partially digested and excreted by the palm civet (luwak), but even in Indonesia this is an exotic delicacy costing upwards of Rp.200,000 (US$20) for a small pot of brew. Tea (teh) is also quite popular, and the Coke-like glass bottles of the Tehbotol brand of sweet bottled jasmine tea are ubiquitous. Jamu The label jamu covers a vast range of local medicinal drinks for various diseases. Jamu are available in ready-to-drink form as well as in powder satchets or capsules.
Most of them are bitter and drunk for the supposed effect, not the taste. Famous brands of jamu include Iboe, Sido Muncul, Jago, and Meneer; avoid buying jamu from the street as the water quality is dubious. Some well-known jamu include: galian singset weight reduction beras kencur (from rice, sand ginger and brown sugar) cough, fatigue temulawak (from curcuma) for liver disease gula asem (from tamarind and brown sugar) rich in vitamin C kunyit asam (from tamarind, turmeric) for skin care, canker sores Traditional drinks Wedang Serbat – made from star anise, cardamon, tamarind, ginger, and sugar.
Wedang means “hot water”. Ronde – made from ginger, powdered glutinous rice, peanut, salt, sugar, food coloring additives. Wedang Sekoteng – made from ginger, green pea, peanut, pomegranate, milk, sugar, salt and mixed with ronde (see above). Bajigur – made from coffee, salt, brown sugar, cocount milk, sugar palm fruit, vanillin. Bandrek – made from brown sugar, ginger, pandanus leaf, coconut meat, clove bud, salt, cinnamon, coffee. Cinna-Ale – made from cinnamon, ginger, tamarind, sand ginger and 13 other spices. Cendol/Dawet – made from rice flour, sago palm flour, pandanus leaf, salt, food coloring additives.
Talua Tea/Teh Telur (West Sumatra) – made from tea powder, raw egg, sugar and limau nipis. Lidah Buaya Ice (West Kalimantan) – made from aloe vera, french basil, javanese black jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf, sugar. Alcohol Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians, but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars. Public displays of drunkenness, however, are strongly frowned upon and in the larger cities are likely to make you a victim of crime or get you arrested by police. Do not drive if you are drunk. The legal drinking age is 21.
In staunchly Islamic areas such as Aceh alcohol is banned and those caught with alcohol can be caned. Indonesia’s most popular tipple is Bintang beer (bir), a standard-issue lager available more or less everywhere, although the locals like theirs lukewarm. Other popular beers include Bali Hai and Anker. A can costs Rp.10,000-14,000 in a supermarket (sometimes, especially in 7 elevens, there are tables both inside or outside, so you can sit and drink/eat what you’ve bought) and can be as much as Rp.50,000 in a fancy bar; more usual bar/restaurant price for Bintang is Rp.25,000-35,000 for a big 0.65 l bottle, however. Wine is expensive and only available in expensive restaurants and bars in large hotels.
Almost all of it is imported, but there are a few local vintners of varying quality on Bali. Various traditional alcoholic drinks are also available: Tuak sugar palm wine (15% alcohol) Arak the distilled version of tuak, up to 40% Brem Balinese style sweet glutinous rice wine Exercise some caution in choosing what and where to buy homemade moonshine may contain all sorts of nasty impurities. In May 2009, 23 people, including four tourists, were killed by dodgy arak in Bali and Lombok. Smoke Many Indonesians are heavy smokers, and the concepts of “no smoking” and “second-hand smoke” have yet to make much headway in most of the country.
Western-style cigarettes are known as rokok putih (“white smokes”) but the cigarette of choice with a 92% market share is the ubiquitous kretek, a clove-laced cigarette that has become something of a national symbol and whose scent you will likely first encounter the moment you step out of the plane into the airport. Popular brands of kretek include Djarum, Gudang Garam, Bentoel and Sampoerna (Dji Sam Soe, 234). A pack of decent kretek will cost you on the order of Rp 9000. Note that the cheapest brands don’t have filters! Kretek are lower in nicotine but higher in tar than normal cigarettes; an unfiltered Dji Sam Soe has 39 mg tar and 2.3 mg nicotine. Most studies indicate that the overall health effects are roughly the same as for traditional western-style cigarettes. Recently a ban on smoking has been instituted for public places in Jakarta. Anyone violating this ban can be fined up to US$ 5000. If you want to smoke check with the locals by asking: “Boleh merokok?”.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.