Enjoying Indonesian Food

Rice is the basis of nearly all Indonesian dishes, and usually is served with fish, chicken, or vegetables.

Depending on the region, food can run the gamut from mild to fiery hot. Two common dishes, nasi goreng and mie goreng (fried rice and fried noodles, similar to their Chinese or Japanese counterparts) can be found everywhere and are an easy introduction to the Indonesian diet. Every town has at least one market, providing the traveler with an incredible range of fruits, vegetables, and snacks (see “Shopping,” below).

Warungs, or food stalls, offer the tastiest and cheapest food, but not necessarily the most sanitary. If you choose to eat from warungs, check to see if locals are eating there. Better yet, ask your students where they go. Because of the lack of refrigeration in most areas, dairy products are rare. Indonesians drink hot coffee and tea, but bottled soft drinks such as Coke and Pepsi are readily available. Most dishes are eaten with the hands; be sure to use the right hand to eat. (Indonesians use the left hand later in the digestive process. Never offer your left hand to anyone, as it is considered very rude.) Bottled water is a must and is widely available.

Popular Dishes

The following are the most popular and tasty dishes found in Indonesia, all of them cheap. Be sure to try the local specialties, as they vary greatly.

  • Bakso. Meatball soup
  • Bolang-baling. Fried doughnuts
  • Ikan bakar. Grilled fish
  • Gago-gado. Cold steamed vegetables, tofu, and tempe with peanut sauce
  • Lalapan. A selection of raw vegetables served with freshly made chili sauce (sambel) on the side. It is very popular in west Java.
  • Martabak. Stuffed Indian pancake in one of two flavors: martabak manis, which are sweet, or martabak telor, which are egg pancakes filled with meat. The sweet version may contain condensed milk, cheese, chocolate, sesame seeds, or sticky black rice.
  • Mie goreng. Fried noodles
  • Nasi gudeg. Jackfruit cooked in coconut milk (a specialty of Yogyakarta)
  • Nasi goreng. Fried rice (nasi means rice, goreng means fried)
  • Nasi uduk. Rice cooked in coconut milk and fragrant pandan leaves topped with fried shallots. This is a traditional Betawi (native Jakartan) dish, but can be found throughout Indonesia.
  • Opor ayam. Chicken cooked in coconut milk (ayam means chicken)
  • Pisang goreng. Fried banana
  • Tahu goreng. Fried tofu
  • Sate. Beef, chicken, or goat meat skewered on bamboo sticks and roasted over a small grill. It is accompanied by peanut sauce or a sweet soy sauce with hot green peppers and shallots. Be sure to ask for all meat or you may end up with fat or chicken livers.
  • Soto ayam. Chicken soup
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