Indonesia is a land of 1,300 ethnic groups and one of the most populated islands. People here are nice and welcoming and the Indonesian food is delicious enough to catch the attention of every food lover.
What Is Special About Indonesian Food?
The Indonesian islands Moluccas known as “the Spice islands” gave popularity to spices like nutmeg and clove. That is why most traditional Indonesian dishes have a spicy, hot, and savory flavor with a combination of bitter, sour, sweet, and salty.
These are some of the popular foods in Indonesian cuisine to try when you are visiting the country.
Most Popular Traditional Indonesian Foods – National Dish Of Indonesia
In 2018, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy selected these five dishes as the national dishes of Indonesia.
Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)
Nasi goreng is not only a national dish but also an important staple of Indonesian cuisine. It is a stir-fried rice dish that is very famous in Asian cuisine. Other than Indonesia, you can find nasi goreng in many South East Asian countries.
It’s the most versatile Indonesian rice dish, cooked with a mix of vegetables and meat that can be chicken or seafood. Although it is a filling rice dish, many locals have it for breakfast in Indonesia.
The sweet flavor of the Indonesian version of fried rice makes it unique among other rice varieties. The thick sweet soy sauce, called kecap, is mixed with other vegetables, giving this sweet flavor to Indonesian fried rice. It’s typically also served with pickled cucumber, carrots, and fried eggs.
Indonesian Satay (Meat Skewers)
Satay is barbecued chicken, beef, or pork over coals. It has a smoky and juicy flavor to it. Many countries have their version of this dish, but Indonesian satay is a food item you cannot miss during your stay.
This has been one of the most celebrated foods in this country as it is highly addictive while also very affordable. You can practically find it everywhere in Indonesia. Different variations of satay are served in local street foods and fancy restaurants.
It’s also considered an Indonesian national dish and without a doubt one of the best snack foods.
Gado Gado Salad (Vegetable Salad)
Gado gado salad is a famous and beloved vegetarian dish in Indonesia. The word gado gado translates to “mix mix” because it’s a mix of lots of vegetables, including cabbage, potatoes, spinach, bean sprouts, corn, and beans.
This Indonesian salad is a mountain of vegetables in a peanut sauce, served with boiled eggs and fried tofu. The peanut sauce is a fancy blend of sweet, salty, and sour.
If you’re looking for an excellent vegetarian Indonesian dish then gado gado salad would be perfect for you. In West Java, the salad is called “lotek atah” or “karedok”. Here you will find different raw vegetables in the salad.
That said, each region has its version of gado gado salad. In Jakarta, you’ll find potatoes and rice cakes with peanut sauce. While others use peanut butter instead of pounded peanut sauce.
Soto (Indonesian Soup)
Soto, also known as “sroto” or “saoto”, is a vital part of the food culture in Indonesia. It’s also considered a national dish of Indonesia. This dish, which essentially means soup, typically consists of broth, vegetables, and some form of meat.
Soto ayam (chicken) and soto betawi (beef) are some of the most popular forms of this traditional food. The chicken or beef used in the warm soups have a tender texture and give a comforting feel. Soto is served at local food stalls, open-air eateries, and restaurants.
Almost all traditional Indonesian soups are called soto. Whereas the soups with foreign or Western influence are called “sop”. From Sumatra to Papua, you can find it everywhere with hundreds of varieties.
Rendang (Meat Stew)
Rendang is another national dish of Indonesia, originating from West Sumatra. It’s a rich meat dish that mostly includes beef. Rendang is served on special occasions and festivals like wedding feasts or Eid celebrations.
The meat is cooked slowly with coconut milk, Indonesian spices, and herbs, making it tender and delicate with a dark brown appearance.
The cut of meat used for rendang is the topside beef or rear leg of the cattle. This lean meat is often considered the best for slow-cooked meat dishes.
Indonesian Food – Rice Dishes
Lemper (Sticky Rice Stuffed With Meat)
Lemper is an Indonesian savory snack prepared with sticky or glutinous rice. It’s very similar to Japanese onigiri, but Indonesian rice is stickier and sweeter than onigiri.
Lemper is cooked in coconut milk with fish stuffing, serundeng, or shredded chicken. With shredded chicken, the dish is called “Lemper ayam”.
The rice is wrapped in a plastic sheet or a banana leaf. These are popular snacks in Indonesia but can also be found as an appetizer in restaurants. If you like sweet glutinous rice dishes, you’ll love this Indonesian food.
Tumpeng (Cone Shaped Rice)
Tumpeng is a dominant dish in Indonesian food culture that originated from Javanese cuisine. It’s a cone-shaped rice dish served alongside vegetables and meat. Keeping the right balance between vegetables, eggs, meat, and seafood in tumpeng is very important.
The rice is prepared by using a cone-shaped container of woven bamboo and covered with a banana leaf. It can be plain steamed rice, cooked with coconut milk, or yellow-colored turmeric rice.
Sometimes, the meal can include complementary sides featuring popular Indonesian dishes like gado gado, rendang, and satay.
The cone-shaped rice represents the holy mountain, which is considered the spirit of gods and ancestors. The dish symbolizes gratitude and is served as a thanksgiving for an abundant harvest.
Nasi Udak (Indonesian Steamed Rice)
Nasi udak is a steamed Indonesian rice dish cooked in coconut milk instead of water. It’s a well-loved lunchtime dish, particularly famous in Betawi cuisine. Originating from Java, this Indonesian food is served with soybean cake, fried chicken, fried onions, and sambal.
Uduk is served berkat style in a bamboo box, wrapped in banana leaves, or as a large cone in tumpeng. The addition of clove, lemongrass, and cassia bark enhances its aroma. Sometimes pandan leaves are also added to the steaming rice to give it more fragrance.
Coconut milk and Indonesian spices give it an oily and rich taste. Before serving, fried shallots are sprinkled on top of the rice.
Nasi Padang (Steamed Rice Dish)
Nasi Padang is also known as Padang rice. This popular Indonesian food originated in West Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s a small buffet of steamed rice and pre-cooked vegetables, seafood, meat, and sambals.
Nasi Padang is the first preference of Indonesian workers for lunch breaks. It can be found in many cities in Indonesia, including Java, Papua, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara.
You can easily identify Padang restaurants in Indonesia from their distinguishable window displays. These windows will feature appetizing rows of stacked bowls and plates of different dishes.
Chicken Dishes In Indonesian Cuisine
Ayam Penyet (Fried Chicken)
Ayam penyet is a traditional Indonesian food that is sure to please almost everyone. Fried chicken is one of the favorite dishes of many countries and that’s arguably the main highlight of the dish. The golden brown chicken is crispy outside and juicy on the inside.
Ayam penyet comes from the East Java side of the country. This Indonesian chicken is incredibly spicy making your tongue feel like it’s burning.
The Javanese term “penyet” means to squeeze or press, so ayam penyet means “squeezed chicken”. To prepare, chicken is squeezed with the pestle and mortar to make it soft and tender. This Indonesian chicken is served with rice, fried tofu, cucumber, tempeh, and sambal.
Ayam Geprek (Smashed Fried Chicken)
On the other hand, Ayam geprek is a crispy smashed fried Indonesian chicken. The dish is quite popular among the natives therefore, you will find its name displayed in front of many eateries.
The original recipe uses chicken separated from the bone. The chicken is covered in a batter and deep-fried in hot oil. The added flour gives it a savory and crispy texture.
Because of its high popularity, just like ayam penyet, you can easily find this spicy food in Indonesia, even in small restaurants. This crispy battered fried chicken is often served with hot and spicy sambal. You can enjoy it with a side of white Indonesian rice, cucumber, and cabbage.
Salads In Indonesian Cuisine
Asinan Betawi (Pickle Salad)
Asinan Betawi is a pickled salad with vegetables. It contains bean sprouts, cucumber, cabbage, lettuce, tofu, and sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Peanut sauce plays a vital role in local dishes, so you’ll find it in many traditional foods in Indonesia.
The salad is served with fresh peanuts and different crackers. The best place to find Asinan Betawi is a restaurant in Jakarta named Asinan Kamboja. They’ve been working for generations and sell only two dishes; Asinan with veggies and with fruits.
Ketoprak (Tofu Salad)
Ketoprak is a vegetarian salad and Indonesian traditional food. It’s a popular street food most famous in Jakarta and Java.
The salad consists of vegetables, sliced fried tofu, steamed rice cake, rice vermicelli, and peanut sauce. Fried tofu is the main ingredient of the dish. It is often fried fresh and hot when you order.
The cook prepares all ingredients at home and mixes them when a customer orders. Similarly, spices are added to the preference of customers, ranging from mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. Some food carts also offer hard-boiled eggs with ketoprak.
Soups And Stews In Indonesian Food
Rendang Daging (Beef Stew)
Indonesian rendang comes from Sumatra, an area of Indonesia known for its spicy and rich flavors. Beef rendang gives you the vibes of beef stew. It tastes like beef curry but without broth.
The beef is slow-cooked and then braised in coconut milk. It is then seasoned with a mixture of spices and herbs.
It takes hours to cook beef rendang to attain the perfect texture and taste. So the meat turns dark brown and is very tender and soft. Although Indonesian rendang is comparatively dry, it has very little brown gravy sauce, which is also very delicious.
Soto Betawi (Meat Soup)
Soto is a traditional Indonesian food loved by everyone. The dish is a meat soup loaded with broth, meat, and vegetables and enriched with Indonesian spices. The street version of Soto Betawi is simple and made with only chicken, beef, or mutton.
The meat is cooked in coconut milk broth and garnished with fried garlic and crispy shallots. It’s mostly served with sambal on the side. It tastes creamy and savory with a slight hint of sweetness.
You can eat this delicious meat soup from various restaurants throughout the country. Jakarta is famous for making the best-tasting Soto Betawai. They are popular for offering the creamiest and sweetest coconut-based meat soup.
Sop Buntut (Oxtail Beef Soup)
Sop buntut is a famous Indonesian food made with slices of beef tail. Oxtail is fried, barbecued, and then cooked with soup and Indonesian spices. It can be prepared with different techniques, including frying, barbecuing, or cooking with a light broth.
This rich and clear soup is a favorite among Indonesian people. It might also contain vegetables like boiled potatoes, carrots, celery, fried shallots, leek, dried black mushrooms, and tomatoes. The soupy dish has a silky and light flavor but is very hearty and delicious.
Sop buntut is a popular Indonesian food loved by everyone, so you can find it in many food points. Some restaurants in Indonesia even specialize just in oxtail soup, which is served with rice and sambal.
Bakso Malang (Meatball Soup)
Bakso Malang is a traditional Indonesian food that makes for an It’s an interesting meal. This dish is all about the addition of different food items that makes it look like a buffet in one customized bowl.
When you order Bakso Malang, you’ll be given a bowl, to which you can add different food items. The most common food options are tofu, noodles, siomay, steamed and fried meatballs, dumplings, wontons, spring onions, and shallots. After filling the bowl with different dishes, piping hot broth is added to it.
Every bite of this delicious soup offers a variety of flavors that you selected yourself. This Indonesian food is served hot with rice cakes.
Rawon (Beef Soup)
Rawon is one of the oldest Indonesian dishes originating from East Java. You can find many variations of this beef soup, among which Surabaya is the most popular.
It contains shallots, a ground mixture of garlic, keluak, ginger, and other Indonesian spices. The mixture is sauteed in hot oil, and diced beef slices are added. Once prepared, boiled beef soup is poured into it.
Black keluak nut is used as the main seasoning of this soup, giving it a nutty taste and dark color. It’s garnished with bean sprouts, fried tolo beans, and green onions and served with rice.
Papeda (Indonesian Porridge)
Papeda is an Indonesian-style porridge prepared from sago starch. It’s a staple food of Eastern Indonesia, particularly in Maluku islands and Papua.
The starch is collected from the soft inner parts of the trunk of the sago palm tree. A sago tree takes five to ten years to make enough starch to extract so it is rather precious. The sago starch is moist and stored for months in a container called “tumang”.
The collected sago starch is cooked with water to make papeda. It has a bland flavor and tastes best with tuna and turmeric gravy. This Indonesian food has a glue-like texture and is eaten with special wooden sticks, resembling chopsticks.
It’s served with stir-fried water spinach and papaya bud vegetables. Try it with young melinjo leaves or ganemo vegetables to have a perfect balance of flavors.
Indonesian Food – Meatballs And Dumplings
Siomay (Steamed Dumplings)
It’s one of the most popular Indonesian dishes that has its influence from Chinese dim sum, but with a lighter texture. If you are craving Chinese dim sum, this is one dish that you can try.
Siomay is a steamed dumpling served in peanut sauce. Traditionally, it’s prepared from pork, but other substitutes are also present in the food market. You can find a variety of seafood in siomay, like prawns, mackerel, or tuna.
This bite-sized traditional Indonesian food can be found in local restaurants. The portion is served with cabbage, potatoes, eggs, and peanut sauce.
You can also buy it from street vendors or bicycle vendors. The bike vendors have a large steamer at the back of their bikes, which contains mouthwatering siomay.
Empek Empek (Fish Cakes)
Empek Empek is a well-known delicacy of Indonesian cuisine, enjoyed as a snack or side dish. It’s known by several names, such as “pempek”, “mpek mpek”, or “empek empek”. This popular Indonesian food comes in several shapes and sizes, including fish sticks, fish balls, pastel-shaped fish cakes, etc.
This Indonesian food is made of fish and tapioca flour. The fish is boiled, marinated with flour, and deep-fried. These fish cakes feel crunchy and deliver a unique taste.
Before serving, it’s sliced into bite-size cubes, sticks, or balls. It’s served with a richly sweet and sour sauce called cuko. Some locals also eat these fish cakes with rice or yellow noodles, along with cucumber.
Traditional Indonesian Food – Vegetable Dish
Kangkung Tumis (Stir-fried Water Spinach)
Stir-fried water spinach is very popular among locals. It’s a common vegetable dish in Asia and can easily be found all over Indonesia.
The main ingredient of this dish is water spinach. Onion and garlic are fried in oil, then fresh-cut water spinach is added. Black pepper, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, and spicy hot chili pepper are added for seasoning.
Red hot chili slices give the dish a spicy flavor. The sauce is added according to the recipe and taste preference.
It’s served with a variety of vegetables and spices along with water spinach. In some variations, meat is also added to this Indonesian food.
Iconic Condiment In Indonesia Cuisine
Sambal (Thick Chili Paste)
Indonesian dishes aren’t complete unless they are served with sambal. Sambal is a thick, spicy sauce that acts more like an all-purpose condiment. This chili-based sauce is a staple at all Indonesian dining tables.
Sambal is a combination of chilies, lime juice, sugar, salt, and fermented shrimp paste. Some restaurants serve different varieties of sambal with options including mushrooms, durian, and young mango.
It can be eaten by itself or enjoyed with various Indonesian foods. This versatile sauce goes well with several food items such as noodles, soup stews, meat, or rice. It tastes heavenly with every Indonesian dish.
Indonesian Food – Noodles
Mie Goreng (Stir-Fried Noodles)
These are famous Indonesian stir-fried noodles, also called Javanese stir-fried noodles. It’s similar to Chinese chow mein, as it’s cooked in a wok, but the taste is somewhat different. Instead of the saltiness of soy sauce, this Indonesian food has a hint of sweetness.
It comes with veggies, chicken, or sometimes with soup. Mie goreng is served with different side dishes, including sliced cucumber, tomatoes, fried onion, omelet, or prawn crackers.
The combination of salty, savory, and sweet noodles makes this dish a perfect meal for any noodle lover. It’s served in many restaurants and by local street vendors.
Desserts And Sweet Indonesian Food
Bika Ambon (Golden Sponge Cake)
Never forget to try this Indonesian food when you visit Medan in North Sumatra, a province of Indonesia. Bika Ambon is an authentic souvenir and a famous attraction for locals and tourists.
It’s generally available in banana and pandan flavors. Nowadays, you can also find it in cheese, vanilla, chocolate, and durian flavors.
Tapioca flour, yeast, sugar, and coconut milk are required to prepare this cake which is known for its sponge-like and soft texture.
It’s an important part of Indonesian food culture, particularly in the eastern regions. This cake is one of the Indonesian desserts that is hard not to love.
Kue Lumpur (Mud Cake)
Who does not love mud cake? While the history of this Indonesia food is a bit murky, it is believed that this delicacy has been around since the end of the 19th century.
Mud cake is made from flour, potatoes, eggs, and raisins. Sugar and coconut milk give it a sweet flavor and raisins give a slightly sour taste to it. The texture of this cake is very soft, which is different from the regular pancakes we eat.
This small cake is one of the best Indonesian foods, sold in school canteens, food markets, or street carts.
Serabi Solo (Indonesian Pancake)
Serabi Solo is one of those desserts every Indonesian loves to eat. It’s prepared from rice flour and mixed with coconut milk and sugar to add sweetness. This snack resembles a pancake but it differs slightly.
The Indonesian-style pancakes are topped with chocolate, jackfruit, or banana. They are eaten with a golden-brown coconut sugar syrup called “kinca”. However, another savory version also exists that uses fermented oncom toppings.
Serabi Solo can be found on the sidewalk along Slamet Riyadi street. Its texture is very chewy and soft, making it a common choice during snack time. Without a doubt, you are going to love this popular Indonesian food.
Pisang Molen (Banana Puff Pastry)
If you’re a fan of bananas, this dessert would be the best Indonesian food for you. This Indonesian sweet snack is filled with banana slices, eggs, chocolate, and shredded cheese. It has a delicious combination of sweet and salty flavors.
Pisang molen originates from Bandung, West Java, and is a variation of the traditional food of Indonesia, Pisang Goreng. You can find this banana puff pastry at street stalls and carts.
This is also a very convenient snack that you can eat on the go. Consider packing some in your backpack so you can enjoy them while exploring the famous landmarks in Indonesia.
Pie Susu (Milk Pie)
You must try this Indonesian custard tart dish when you are visiting the country. The origin of these adorable mini tarts is none other than Bali, that’s why it is also called “Balinese Milk Custard Tart”.
This delicious, sweet, and creamy treat is very famous among locals for good reason. It tastes similar to Chinese egg tart and is shaped like the pastel de nata of Portuguese.
The popular Indonesian food is made of a shortcrust pastry filled with egg custard and condensed milk. The vegan version uses vegan condensed milk and coconut cream to make a delicious filling with the same consistency as custard.
Bakpia Pathok (Indonesian Sweet Roll)
Have you ever tried a yummy and savory Bakpia Pathok? Flour, salt, and coconut oil make the batter for this Indonesian traditional food.
The dish initially had meat fillings. Eventually, mungbean and sugar were used for stuffing these Indonesian snacks. However, modern variants of bakpia pathok come in other fillings like chocolate, cheese, and taro.
They are commercially packaged in small boxes and available at many food stores in Yogyakarta, a city in Indonesia. It’s considered one of the most famous Bali snacks, appetizers, and desserts.
Discovering Traditional Food Of Indonesia
Indonesian meals mainly consist of steamed rice with side dishes like vegetables, meat, soup, or fish. You will also find the addition of sambal, shrimp paste, chili sauce, shallots, and other condiments in Indonesian foods.
The interesting thing about Indonesian food is that you’ll get many varieties of just one dish.
Sumatran cuisine of Indonesia has an influence on Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It features many meat and vegetable dishes. While Javanese cuisine has some Chinese influences, including dishes like meatballs, noodles, and spring rolls.
That culinary diversity across the country is one of the most exciting facts about Indonesia for foodies!