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Indonesia is a foodie heaven — yes, we’ve said it! It has always been known for its spices but together with its colonial Dutch history, the country has a national cuisine that is totally unique. From the high-end restaurants to the bustling street vendors, Indonesian cuisine will leave your tongues salivating for more. Wondering what to eat on your trip? For starters, here is our list of the 12 best Indonesian foods that will tingle your taste buds!
Gudeg (pictured above) is a dish in Indonesian cuisine that requires a little bit of patience. This national favourite is a little sweet, like most of the food that comes from Central Java, thanks to the sweet jackfruit that is its main ingredient. This fruit is boiled in a mixture of coconut milk, palm sugar and local spices for several hours, resulting in a really tender dish. This is a great option for vegetarians, or ask the chef to include some chicken or fried beef skin for a bit of extra protein. This dish is also great when served with rice and a boiled egg.
Pronounced: ba-bee goo-link
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, so pork can be hard to come by. However, this spit-roast pork dish is a large staple in Bali's cuisine (Bali is a largely Hindu island). Before roasting, the pork is soaked in coconut water and rubbed down with spices like chilli, garlic, turmeric and ginger, giving this dish a truly unique flavour. It would be difficult to find babi guling outside of Bali, so enjoy it while you're there! This dish is often served with some steamed rice, a meat and veggie salad called lawar, and even some crispy pig skin and fried innards (if you're brave enough to try).
Try this mouthwatering dish on a Total Bali Food Tour that will take you from the rice terraces to street foods packed with flavors. Short on time but still want to eat like a local? The Bali Local Eat Street Tour will be perfect for you.
Pronounced: na-see go-reng
Nasi goreng is Indonesia's unique version of fried rice and also the country's national dish. You won't find anything quite like it when visiting other countries in Asia. Nasi goreng is fairly simple but utterly delicious. The steamed rice is near drowned in a thick soy sauce called keycap and is flavoured with chilli, shrimp paste, onion, garlic and tomato sauce. Some chefs may also add protein — like chicken, lamb, pork, eggs or beef — and other vegetables such as mushrooms, cabbages and cucumber. You won't find the same two recipes in any two kitchens!
Satay consists mostly of skewered meat cooked over coals. Hot fans are used to blow away the smoke, giving them a really unique flavour. Satay skewers can be made of chicken, goat, mutton or rabbit and are usually served with tons of spicy peanut sauce and rice cakes (ketupat). The meat is typically marinated in different spices before cooking. You can find this tasty dish pretty much anywhere in Indonesia and you'll sure be glad you did once you have your first bite.
Jalan Sabang is a culinary hub in Jakarta that offers some of the tastiest Javanese satay. Try iy on this food tour.
Like Chinese dim sum? Well, meet Indonesia's version. Siomay is a traditional staple of Indonesia cuisine, essentially fish dumplings that are served with steamed potato, cabbage and eggs. Dip them in some boiled peanut sauce for a truly authentic flavour. You'll find a vendor selling siomay on nearly any Indonesian street corner, so you'll never go hungry with this new favourite!
If you want to try Chinese food in Indonesia, we heard that the Chinatown in Jakarta is where you should be. Try Chinese local dishes like pig belly to hainam rice in this tour.
Another one of Indonesia's best street foods, bakso is a savoury meatball soup. The meatballs are soft and springy, made from chicken, beef, pork, or even some combination of the three. You'll normally be served your bakso with some rice or egg noodles, boiled eggs (coated in the same mixture are the meatballs), some chilli and some fried onions. Some chefs also throw in tofu! Top it all off with sweet soy sauce for a delicious favourite. This is food fit for a president — as President Obama claimed this was one of his favourite dishes in Indonesia!
Pronounced: sop boon-toot
Sop buntut is a delicious oxtail soup. This Indonesian food is found mostly in West Java and is made up of fried or barbecued slices of oxtail in a clear broth. The dish is generally flavoured with shallots, garlic, pepper, nutmeg and cloves, but different chefs will spice it up in their own way. Some yummy vegetables that can be added to the soup include boiled potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, celery, leek and shallots. To really bring out the flavour, drizzle a bit of lime or lemon on top.
Had enough of the savoury dishes? Martabak to the rescue! This sweet Indonesian food is the country's spin on a pancake, usually filled with anything from chocolate and nuts to cheese. Think crepe but thicker. These sweet treats are only sold in the evening and night, so you might have to wait for your midnight snack to give this one a try.
If you're a curry fan, you're sure to love a bowl of beef rendang. This Indonesian food is much like a beef curry, but without the broth. It is made from thick, tender diced beef that is slowly cooked in a gravy of coconut milk and spices for several hours. It's not something you'll find just anywhere, as it takes patience and skill to make a good beef rendang. It is primarily eaten in the Padang region of West Sumatra and is usually served with rice.
If you are new to Indonesian cuisine then this food tour to Jalan Sabang is the perfect way to get introduced. Sample the delicious beef rendang from the west as well as the signature fish cake from the south of Sumatra.
The dish pempek supposedly gets its name from a Chinese man who first served the meal in Palembang, South Sumatra. Pempek is a fish and tapioca cake, available in a range of flavours, shapes and sizes. The most popular variation is called kapal selam, which translates to submarine, and includes an egg in the middle. Sprinkle your pempek with some shrimp powder and dip it in some cuka (a dark sauce made of vinegar, chilli and sugar) for the ultimate taste of Indonesian cuisine.
Pronounced: kuh-rack tuh-lor
Kerak telor is a dish that belongs to the Betawi culture, an ethnic group native to Jakarta and the surrounding area. As such, you won't often find it outside the popular areas of Jakarta (like the Old Town and MONAS). This traditional meal is a delicious rice frittata cooked over charcoal. Made primarily of sticky rice and egg, the omelette-shaped dish is usually topped with some fried shallots and shredded coconut. You can ask for your kerak telor to be cooked with either a chicken's egg or a duck's egg. Opt for the duck for a more unusual, fattier taste — it'll be worth the extra cost, we promise.
While in Jakarta, you should definitely visit Pasar Baru to try some of the most scrumptious Betawi, Javanese and even Acehnese food! This is one of the top things to do in Jakarta.
You don't really have to go to Indonesia to taste Indomie, but it's certainly worth having while you're there! After all, this country is home to the instant noodles that every college student loves. With a world of flavours at your disposal and at less than a dollar a pack, you could easily live off of this Indonesian dish. Best of all, you'll find Indomie literally anywhere — from restaurants to corner stores.
No matter your tastes — spicy or sweet, home-cooked or street-side — there is an Indonesian food out there for you. After all, isn't eating the best part of travelling? Try it for yourself, and be sure to let us know what your favorite dish was. For more, check out these food tours in Indonesia that will satiate your palate without burning a hole in your purse!
Travelling to Indonesia? Chat with a local travel specialist in Indonesia who can help organize your trip.
Oleg Kolomiiets Travel Expert in Indonesia
Léa Chiaffi Travel Expert in Indonesia
Nick Jansen Travel Expert in Indonesia