By Briana Seftel
As the world’s largest island country, Indonesia makes up an enormous part of Southeast Asia in terms of landscape and culture. With hundreds of distinct ethnic groups and influences from China, Europe, India and the Middle East, Indonesia’s cuisine is as varied as its 8,000 inhabited islands. While no means a complete list, here are the most popular dishes you’ll find in Indonesia, from the beaches of Bali to the busy streets of Jakarta.
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Considered the most well-known dish in the country, nasi goreng is Indonesia’s version of fried rice. Created as a way to use leftover rice, the dish is typically made with kecap manis, a sweet and thick soy sauce, shrimp paste, chili and topped with a fried egg. Shrimp or chicken can be added to this filling and cheap dish that’s popular for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Originating on the island of Java, sate is Indonesia’s delectable meat on a stick found in street carts, roadside cafes and fancy restaurants. Paired with a peanut sauce, a staple in Indonesian cuisine, sate can be any kind of meat skewered on a coconut palm frond and grilled. Versions of sate can be found all over Southeast Asia, from Singapore to Thailand.
Rendang is a spicy and comforting stew most commonly made with beef, and is a favorite all over the country. Originating from the ethnic group of Minangkabau, the dish uses a mix of coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, dried spices and chili to create a complex dish that melts in the mouth.
These pale meatballs are one of the most popular street foods you can find in Indonesia. Typically made of beef, the meatballs are boiled and served on a skewer or nestled in a light broth with rice noodles, bok choy, wontons, tofu, crispy fried shallots, hard-boiled egg, and fresh herbs. From late night grub to the perfect hangover cure, bakso is Indonesia’s go-to street food.
Almost every country in the world has their own version of oxtail soup, and sop buntut is Indonesia’s take. Falling off the bone oxtail meat, potato, celery, carrot and spices all bind together in a rich and flavorful broth. It may not be the cheapest dish in the country, but it’s certainly one of the tastiest.
A popular street food in the capital of Jakarta, gado gado (literally meaning “mix mix”) is a hearty salad of seasonal vegetables tossed in a peanut dressing and served with crunchy shrimp crackers. Vegetables like cabbage and potato are boiled or blanched, adding in hard-boiled egg, tempeh, bean sprouts and cucumber. This dish is as fun to eat as it is to say!
Officially declared Indonesia’s national dish (slightly edging out nasi goreng), tumpeng is an impressive, special occasion dish with a cone of turmeric rice as its centerpiece. Meant to mimic a holy mountain, the rice is surrounded by a variety of dishes like fried and grilled chicken and sweet and spicy beef. During a celebration, the top of tumpeng is cut and served to the most important guest.
Think of mi goreng like nasi goreng, but with noodles instead of rice. Another street food favorite, mi goreng is a quick and cheap stir fry of thin wheat noodles, sweet soy sauce, chili, garlic, onion and choice of meat or seafood. Mi goreng is also found in grocery stores as a flavor of Indomie, a popular brand of instant noodles.
As the fourth largest producer of coffee in the word, coffee is an integral part of Indonesia’s cuisine and culture. Various regions including Java, Bali, Sumatra and Sulawesi produce their own unique blends prized for their complexity and low acidity. Indonesia also produces the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak, which is made from the beans collected from the droppings of a small, cat-like mammal called a civet.
You can’t have Indonesian cuisine without sambal. Sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, this chili condiment ground in a pestle and mortar is found on every dinner table, street cart stand and restaurant in Indonesia. Variations of sambal, totally nearly 300, really depend on the cook, but it’s no question that is this fiery chili sauce brightens any dish.