No cuisine is as diverse as that of Indonesia. Why? Because the country is composed of 6,000 populated islands and over 300 ethnic groups, all of whom have added their own dishes and flavours to the national cuisine.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Typically, breakfast in Indonesia is a relatively straightforward affair made up of one or two hot dishes. These are typically Bubur Ayam – a type of rice-based congee porridge accompanied by shredded chicken meat – or a classic Indonesian dish, Nasi Goreng, which is fried rice with meats, vegetables or spices mixed in. Like breakfast, lunch is made up of one or two relatively simple dishes. A very popular lunch is Soto, which is a yellow soup with rice, chicken and vermicelli. This can be bought from street vendors across Indonesia. Supper, on the other hand, is often far more complex. Typically, a family evening meal will be made up of a selection of meat or vegetable dishes. Each diner is usually given a plate of steamed rice and then invited to take a part of each of the selection of dishes laid out.
Two things you have to know
There are two key things to know about Indonesian cuisine.
- First, as you might have noticed, although Indonesians eat a varied diet throughout the day, there is one thing each and every meal usually has in common: rice. This rice might be fried, boiled or turned into porridge, but it is the common denominator in almost all Indonesian meals.
- Second, you’ll need a strong palate to really enjoy Indonesian food. Indonesians like their food to have a real hit of spice to get the taste buds tingling, and they also enjoy sour foods, particularly pickles or flavours like tamarind and lime. So be prepared for a lot of flavour.
Although with such huge regional variation, it’s difficult to pick just a few Indonesian dishes as the classics, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Culture picks out five as national dishes:
- Soto – served across Indonesia, the most famous form of Soto is that mentioned earlier, Soto Ayam, a yellow soup with chicken, shallots and other vegetables.
- Rendang – a rich red meat dish, Rendang is made of heavily spiced meat that is slowly cooked through in coconut milk.
- Satay – a relatively simple dish, Satay is seasoned meat that is put on a skewer, grilled and then served with a soy or peanut sauce.
- Nasi Goreng – something we introduced you to a little earlier, this fried rice is dish is simple but delicious and usually served with Kecap Manis – a form of sweet soy sauce.
- Gado-gado – the lightest dish in our list of classics, gado-gado (sometimes known as Lotek) is a salad made up of vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, tofu and tempeh.
Something a little off the beaten track
Since Indonesian cuisine has over 5000 traditional recipes, it’s easy to overlook some of the best, lesser-known recipes. But, there are a couple of overlooked dishes that you really should try:
- Pempek – originating from the Palembang region, pempek are a form of fishcakes made of pureed fish and tapioca starch, which gives them a deliciously chewy texture.
- Mie Goreng – fried noodles. Stir-fried with garlic, egg, cabbage, meat and onions, these are straightforward but delicious.
Where to get your fix
Wow. Writing this has made us salivate over all this food. You too? Well, thankfully, there are plenty of places to get decent Indonesian food in Singapore. One of the best is Cumi Bali, where you can pick up a beef rendang set meal, but for us, Pagi Sore is great too, especially their ikan goreng balado – a whole deep-fried seabass with padang-style balado chilli.