"Have you eaten yet?" is common greeting in Indonesia. Which begs the question - what the *bleep* is Indonesian food like?! I'll tell you what it's like - it's a delicious celebration of flavors and carbs all mixed together for a mouthful of happiness!
Indonesia's national dish is called nasi goreng. Nasi=rice, goreng=fried. Yes, it's fried rice, but someway, somehow, Indonesians do it just right. Indonesian nasi goreng is often accompanied by a big fried egg and a little bit of sambal, or spicy sauce.
As some point, you might get tired of eating rice day in and day out. This is (believe it or not!) a likely occurrence for travelers in Asia. Tidak apa apa, meaning no problem! Just switch from nasi to mie, which means noodles, instead. You can order mie goreng, or fried noodles, that are just as tasty as nasi goreng, if not better.
The best nasi or mie goreng can be found in little outdoor warrangs, or tent-like restaurants, that are set up along the roadsides. You can also find ayam goreng, or fried chicken, which is equally delectable.
Another popular dish is called Nasi Campur. This is rice that is topped with an assortment of ayam (chicken), fish, tempe, tofu, sambal, local vegetables, etc. These sides are presented buffet style so you choose your favorites. Say "sedikit, sedikit"and they'll give you a little bit of everything.
Peanut sauce is common in Indonesia. It may be poured over tofu, or used to flavor satay. It may be enjoyed with crispy chips, or over noodles. So long as you are not allergic, then peanut sauce is a must-try part of Indonesian cuisine.
Whatever you order to eat, be sure to cover it in "Indonesian ketchup". This is a thick, sticky, and sweet dark sauce that is usually available at restaurants and warrangs as a regular condiment.
"Indonesia ketchup" is seriously the shit. It's worth traveling to Indonesia just to sample this tasty sauce. Like seriously. It's the best.
There are other condiments available too, most of which are home made to semi-home made fish and soy sauces. A lot of times, there will be chili sauce(s) on the side, which are also homemade using a mortar and pestle.
Go easy on the sauces until you get more of a grasp over their full potential. Indonesians also use a lot of sugar in both their makanan (food) and minuman (beverages).
Like Japan's "ramen" and Thailand's "noodle soup", Indonesia's take on this dish is called "bakso". It is often served street-side from a large, steaming pot of broth. The noodles are nothing to write home about, but if the broth is good, then your bakso is a win. It is usually served with meat balls and topped with herbs. Feel free to drizzle some Indonesian ketchup or sambal over your bakso.
Making noodles from packets like America's "ramen noodles" is very common among Indonesians because it is an affordable way to satisfy hunger. However, the spices in these noodle packets vary, from simple and chicken based to spicy and/or tangy. Sometimes these noodles are eaten with the broth, while at other times, the broth is drained so they can be eaten without the use of silverware.
That's right - you can eat noodles with your hands in Indonesia. In fact, most Indonesian food is traditionally eaten with your hands while sitting on the floor. A lot of Indonesians don't even own silverware! It is customary to wash or rinse your right hand with water first. Whatever you do, don't eat with your left hand. This is considered rude because many people in this part of the world use their left hands to wipe their bums!
Once your hand is clean, use your fingers to scoop whatever you are eating into little balls of edible goodness. This is especially effective when eating nasi campur, as you can clump various foods into your makeshift rice balls. Don't worry if you drop a lot of food the first time you try this - it can be challenging for beginners. However, with a little practice, you will leave Indonesia never wanting to use silverware again!
Believe it or not, Indonesia's tourist areas might be one of the better places in Asia to find good Western food. I had some amazing spaghetti in Kuta that was covered in a rich, homemade red sauce. On the side were fresh basil leaves and Parmesan cheese. I also experienced burritos in Sengiggi that resembled the flavor and consistency of actual burritos in America, which was an unexpected surprise. The only drawback was in the tortilla, which fell apart quite easily, but the flavors were accurate so I let this slide. Just don't expect to find decent Western food in any of the villages. The children at the school where we volunteered had never even heard of spaghetti.
You can buy all kinds of snacks in tiny shops located across the country. One popular snack is a bag of nuts, which can be eaten once the corner of the bag is ripped open. It is then placed upwards for everyone to share on a table or a "bruga" (the word for a common hangout resembling a gazebo).
Meat is an expensive commodity in Indonesia, saved by the locals for special occasions. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a wedding or other great affair, look forward to eating lots of meat, especially "satay" (meat on a stick). Of course, foreigners can afford to eat meat as much as they like, because expensive is in the eye of the credit card-holder. There are no ATM machines inside the villages, and many Indonesians live on less than a dollar a day.
On that note, a local meal in Indonesia will likely cost you less than a dollar. However, don't expect a lot protein with your meal. Their staples are pretty much noodles or rice. My friend tried repeatedly to order an omelet everywhere he went. The closest he ever got was a pile of noodles or rice with a single egg. To Indonesian locals, using more than one egg in a meal might seem excessive. Stick to tourist areas, or expensive restaurants, if you're desperate for protein. We enjoyed fried pigeon for the first time at an expensive restaurant in Mataram that was saved mostly for police officials and politicians.
Instead of meat, tempe and tofu are common in Indonesian cuisine. This is especially true when ordering nasi campur.
While other sources of protein are rare, there is seafood abound in Indonesia. That is because Indonesia is a country made up of hundreds of islands, a naturally diverse archipelago, which stretches across the sea connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans.
From these currents come fish, crab, squid, shrimp - all fresh and exotic, simmered in rich sauces of curry, sweet, tangy, and spice. As an individual who hails from a landlocked city, I am never one to pass on fresh seafood. Enjoy, lezat!
Would I call Indonesia a foodie destination? Most definitely! It is spicy, flavorful, and best of all, CHEAP! There is a reason the Dutch seized control of these "East Indies" for so many centuries - Indonesia was a crucial route for the spice trade.
According to an article in National Geographic's August 2013 issue, sugar originally came from Indonesia, as well. It spread through the world from the Middle East to Europe, then eventually to the Americas, where it became a historical motivator for colonization. Indonesia was, and continues to be, a flavorful epicenter for herbs, spices, sugar, and seafood and a great place to visit for new culinary adventures. To learn more about extreme Indonesian eating traditions, you can also watch me eat glass!
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Fiegl, Amanda. "Sugar: Why We Can't Resist It." National Geographic Aug. 2013: n. pag. Web. .