Indonesian cuisine is as diverse as the whole country. First of all, it is incredible richness of colours and tastes that counts. On this archipelago live a great number of tribes and people that varied not only due to religions or traditions but also because of cuisine. Many features influence a diet but most of all religion. As Islam dominates in Indonesia, many dishes are unacceptable. Usually local people eat what is available considering soil and climate. Another issue is wealth, as not everyone can afford ingredients that are needed. Essential point deals with climate. If it is cold, and freezing, locals need more fat and meat to survive; in a tropical zone light meals will do. That problem can be presented on base of Dani tribe that inhabits a fabulous Baliem Valley, West Papua. They turn to Christianity in the middle of twentieth century, so no problem with pork eating occurs. Despite the fact a pig is an extremely luxurious meal, being eaten very seldom. That is because that animal is simply expensive, a sort of a payment medium, a currency. A wife can be bought for three pigs and it is so valuable that many wars broke out due to pigs. Therefore this animal is killed very rare, only for most important purposes like inauguration of a new village chief, boys’ initiations or a marriage. What do they eat, then? The basic meals are sweet potatoes, that are easily accessible, relatively cheap, nutritious and tasty, moreover they are planted by the women in nearby fields.

Similar situation occurs in a more remote part of the West Papua, at Casuarina Coast, in Asmat region. Location of villages influences the local people diet. The area is inhabited by the Asmat, who declare themselves as being Christians, so they can freely eat pigs. Unfortunately they don’t do it often, just because there are not many of them. Pigs are seldom here due to the terrain. It is wetland area with plenty of swamps, marshland and mangroves, not especially good for pigs. The Asmat cuisine is based on rivers and sea, they are talented fishermen, and on jungle. What can be hunted there is eaten, whatever plant is edible is, by no means, eaten. The basic meal is a sago palm, that can be found in the area.

Both tribes, Dani and the Asmat live within the same island, are followers of the same religion, and their material status is similar; despite the fact their diet differs a lot, just because of the area they inhabit. Talking about Indonesian cuisine it is crucial to bear in mind that this is book-size topic, sort of never ending story. The dishes described in the article are just subjective view on creative work of Indonesian society. Apart from main dishes beverages and desserts are being discussed here.

General characteristics

Indonesian cuisine is famous for its spices. Word ‘ sambal’ is commonly used and it can cause a great deal of problems to those who are not used to it. Local food is extremely spicy and you do have to be accustomed to it. Of course, there is still an option to ask not to prepare it so hot, but the result is often miserable, like herding cats, actually. Rice ‘nasi’ and pasta ‘noodle’ is eaten more often, apart from it we can consume a chicken ‘ayam’ and fish ‘ikan’. Most of it is fried or baked, looks very colourful and tasty, but it contains great amount of fat. In Indonesia like within the whole Asia, actually, food is served everywhere on the street, and it is very cheap. Just keep in mind sanitary conditions that are low and don’t eat unwashed fruit and vegetables and don’t drink unbottled water and the one of unknown origin.

Sumatran cuisine reflects the island itself. It can be easily told what is available there, what is grown in the area. It is mainly rice, sweet potatoes, maize and peanuts. Islam dominated here, just about 90% of population is Muslim, so no pork is eaten here. Moreover, the local cuisine is strongly influenced by the Chinese. Beef and sea food is quite popular. The most spicy dish is served near Padang. Rustic food is only for The Braves. Java is simply similar with just few exceptions, firstly cassava is cultivated here and secondly plenty of fruit is eaten. Moreover, local food seems to be a bit more sweet then the one in the other parts of the country. Java is famous for its soups, the most popular one is rawan, beef soup served with soybean sprouts. Its Balinese cuisine base is rice that is served with every single dish. Apart from that various meat is eaten and many vegetables. Sea food also plays a significant role in local cuisine. The food served more often is nasi goreng and mia goreng, fried rice or noodle. It is eaten with breakfast, lunch, or dinner, whenever.


Terang bulan is served all over the country. It is a sort of a pancake offered with peanuts, chocolate or sesame. It is similar to dadar gulung, a countrywide known pancake prepared with rice flour. Its green colour derives from Pandanus paste. Filling is made of caramel coconut shrimp. That delicacy is mainly eaten in Java and Bali. Pisang epe is also very popular as a dessert. It is a grilled banana with many various additives. Klepon are small balls made of rice flour filled with palm sugar and surrounded in palm shavings. Sumping is made of rice flour, palm sugar and coconuts. Indonesian are very keen on eating sweets and desserts, that’s why there are so many of them in the country.

Vegetarian dishes

It is difficult to eat a pure vegetarian dish in Indonesia, as chicken is added to almost every meal. Cap- cay is one of the most famous non-meat food. It consists of finely chopped and then boiled vegetables topped with soy sauce with some sesame. Rujak Kuah Pindang is a traditional Balinese fruit salad mixed with hot chilli. It is made of mango or papaya. Gado- gado is another tasty salad prepared in many ways. Fried egg or tofu are frequently added to it. Tofu is commonly used in many dishes. Those who are not fond of meat can also try urap-urap or lotek, some rice with vegetables and various sauces. Terong balado is offered mainly in Sumatra and it is an eggplant served hot. Gudeg can be eaten in Yogyokarta and it is a jackfruit boiled in coconut milk  served with rice and egg.


Meat dishes

Indonesia is an utter paradise for those who are carnivorous. Dishes are unique, special, of a delicate, hot or sweet taste. Sometimes it is a marvellous mix of tastes, a bunch of smell and colours but it can also be a simple piece of meat served with rice of noodle. Urutan are sausages filled with meat mixed with blood, cooked or dried. A very popular dish on Bali is keripik usus ayam, deep fried intestines sprinkled with turmeric. Satay is the most popular dish. It is grilled shashlik topped with peanut sauce. Satay is made of chicken, lamb or goat meat. Rendang is made of beef, but often chicken or lamb is used. Coconut milk and some spices are added. This rather hot meal originated from Padang, Sumatra. Bakso is meatballs with chilli served with chicken sauce.

It is commonly known that Asian people eat dogs. Mainly it’s domain of Vietnamese but that meat can be easily found in Indonesia, too. Dogs are eaten mainly in Sulawesi and Sumatra. However it can be faced all over the country. On West Papua, in Baliem Valley, goulash or soup made of dog is as popular as the one made of beef or chicken. Before ordering a dish then, it is crucial to ask what kind of meat is it made of. Rujak singur is a traditional dish of East Java. It is cow’s face cooked with vegetables and fruit such as mango or pineapple, then soya sprouts are added, and everything is mixed with shrimps sauce, fried peanuts and onion. It definitely is a unique dish worth being tried.


Sayur lodeh is a pottage with some coconuts milk. Ingredients differ depending on island but the main composition remains the same: jackfruit, eggplant or bean. Rawon is another soup cooked with beef and black keluak nuts. Its specific black colour originates from the nuts. It is served with rice, sambal sauce and lime juice. It has a very specific intense taste. Soto betawi is as well an Indonesian soup where marinated beef provides a good base; lemongrass, some milk, coconuts milk and vegetables give an unforgettable taste.


In Indonesia alcohol is not allowed as it is mostly Muslim country. It is simply unattainable and if so its price is extremely high. However, beer is always available in touristic places. Alcohol is most restricted on Sumatra and South Sulawesi. However, buying alcoholic beverages on West Papua is not easy as well, not so much because of religion as of security. Unless you know where to go you can’t buy it. The best idea is to rely on a local guide if he wants to help us in that matter, of course. Selling and buying alcohol is punishable.

Such beverages as tea or coffee are very popular in Indonesia. Frankly speaking, it is difficult to obtain a good strong coffee from machine unless you are not in touristic destinations. Anyway, any other type of coffee is within reach and you can only have a break in a company of a big cup of happiness. However, Indonesian society boasts about one type of coffee that is worldwide known. Actually, it is said to be the best coffee ever and it achieves dizzying price. The name of it is kopi luwak. Worldwide famous coffee not because of its price and taste, but most of all due to the process of its production. Coffee beans are processed by civets, animals, that are locally called luwak. Those mammals eat beans, chosen only the best ones. Having not digested the seeds they are removed from their bodies. Meantime they undergo a process of partial digestion and lose bitter taste gaining delicate, unique aroma. Whether it is a divine drink or heavily overrated product, it is you to decide, but definitely kopi luwak should be tasted at least once in a lifetime. The most plantations are on Sumatra, Central Bali and Java.

Nest coffee that is extraordinary and worth being tasted is kopi arang or kopi joss, coal coffee. It originated from Yogyakarta and was created by a street seller who offered fruit. It spread quickly all over the area due to its soothing properties. It helps with stomach-ache, different sort of  food poisonings, with flatulence. It is also said to neutralise all toxics in a beverage. A smouldering piece of charcoal is put into the cup of coffee and served to people. It looks a bit weird, but tastes alright. Of course, an added charcoal is clean and safe enough to be served.  There are many places in the city where kopi arang is offered.

Loloh, it is a herbal drink based on various types of leafs and fruit. The most often fruit of morinda and hibiscus flower are added. Countless species composed wonderful aroma. It is usually drunk to keep one fit and healthy. That beverage is served on Bali, and there are Balinese who claim it has  magical properties.

Summing up

Topic of food and Indonesian cuisine is an endless story, definitely not for being discussed in one article. Every single dish is outstanding and worth being tasted. It is an archipelago, that’s why menu is dominated by seafood and fish. Indonesia has almost entirely tropical climate so the quality of fruit and vegetables is incredible and unique. Every single dish is based mostly on rice, and in reality unless there is rice there is no meal. From time to time rice is replaced by noodle, fried one, of course.

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Information technology architect, loving expeditions in the wilderness of Indonesia.

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