Indonesian cuisine is well-known for its colourful flavours and scintillating aroma. In fact, according to the Taste Atlas 2022 rankings, Indonesian food was voted the 4th best cuisine in Asia ahead of Thai and Korean cooking.
Being a vast country containing countless unique cultures, Indonesia offers a wide array of amazing dishes each with its own distinct characteristics. Today, we have compiled for you the best of the best that Indonesian cuisine has to offer!
#1 Kerak Telor
Kerak Telor is a very popular Indonesian street food that has its roots in the Betawi culture of Java. It is essentially an omelette made by first grilling shallots together with sticky rice that was mixed with eggs. The cook will then add a meat of choice along with shredded coconuts, before finally simmering the dish on top of burning coal. With a crunchy texture and crisp flavours, it is especially loved by children although it is often enjoyed spicy.
There are actually several types of Soto in Indonesia, each with its own unique twists. While you could argue that every single one of those iterations belongs to this list due to how delicious they are, we would like to spotlight the Betawi version of the dish, aptly named Soto Betawi. This dish contains juicy cuts of beef, lemongrass, tomatoes, potato, and shallots that are served in an amazing creamy broth made using coconut milk.
Similar to soto, there are several types of Sate in Indonesia. All of them share similar characteristics: the dish consists of a piece of meat skewered on a stick and grilled over hot coal served with a sauce. The thing that differentiates one sate from another is the sauce, which is most commonly peanut based, and type of meat. Among the most popular meats include chicken and goat, while sauce popularity is much more spread out.
#4 Gado - Gado
One thing people often associate with street food anywhere in the world is that they are unhealthy. This stereotype is mostly true, but Gado - Gado certainly breaks that notion. It is one of the healthiest street foods out there since it is mostly made from vegetables and other healthy ingredients. This includes eggs, onion, cucumber, and many others. This mix of ingredients will then be covered in an appetising peanut sauce.
#5 Nasi Goreng
Literally translating to fried rice, versions of Nasi Goreng can be found in other countries as well such as Malaysia, Singapore, and China. However, Indonesian Nasi Goreng is popular for having the richest flavours out of the bunch. You can pretty much add any ingredient of your liking when making Nasi Goreng, but if you want to follow the traditional route make sure to add fried eggs and shallots to the mix!
There are 2 types of Martabak in Indonesia, the sweet kind and the savoury kind. Savoury martabak is made using eggs, flour dough, and meat (usually beef or chicken). They are then layered in a similar fashion to a cake and then fried. Sweet martabak is made in a similar fashion, the only difference being instead of using eggs and topping the dish with meat, toppings such as milk, chocolate, peanuts, cheese, and sprinkles are used.
#7 Ayam Betutu
Bali’s most famous dish, Ayam Betutu is chicken that is garnished with Balinese herbs and spices before being grilled. With the help of these spices, which include lemongrass, chilli, tamarind pulp, and salam leaves, Ayam Betutu possesses a flavour profile that cannot be mirrored by any other chicken dish: it is zesty, fresh, and hot making it perfect for those who love spicy food.
Hailing from the city of Palembang, the popularity of Pempek has skyrocketed in recent years. Nowadays you can find people enjoying this dish in every corner of Indonesia, and even in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. One Pempek dish often comes with different types of Pempek, each dish a different shape and a different level of crispiness. However, all of them are made from tapioca and fish, fried, before then being served alongside a Cuko, a rich and heavy sauce made using garlic, chilli, vinegar, and sugar.
#9 Lapis Legit
Most iconic Indonesian food is heavy and savoury, but here we change it up a bit with Lapis Legit. It is often considered the country’s national cake and somewhat resembles a sponge cake in terms of texture and consistency. What makes this cake different from other sponge cakes is that it is made using cinnamon, a well - loved sweet additive in Indonesia.
Up next we have the menacing - looking Rawon. It is a kind of beef stew that possesses a savoury, pitch black broth. If that doesn’t sound appetising, then we guarantee that the taste will change your mind. This stew has a strong yet delicate flavour to go along with an enticing aroma. It is made using a slow cooking process, so you can be sure that the beef will be tender and juicy. Oh, and don’t worry about the stew’s colour, since that came from Pangium, the main spice used for this dish.
#11 Nasi Padang
Sometimes referred to as Cai Fan outside of Indonesia, those who have tried this dish before often describe them as heavenly. Nasi Padang comes from, no surprise, the city of Padang, and consists of rice surrounded by a number of smaller dishes including braised parts of beef, fish, grilled chicken, curry, vegetables, and a plethora of other food. Eating Nasi Padang in Indonesia is a very unique experience where the restaurant will bring about 3 dozen plates of different dishes to your table and you can just choose to eat the ones you want. No menus are required!
#12 Pisang Goreng
Simply put, Pisang Goreng is a deep-fried banana - basically Indonesia's take on a banana fritter. It is a staple of Indonesian street food and can be found in nearly every road junction. It is made with much more batter than banana, which forms the crispy texture that locals love so much, while still maintaining the creamy interior of the banana inside. Truly the perfect dish to snack on!
#13 Pecel Lele
Most people don’t find the slimy catfish an appetising prospect to eat, but Indonesians say otherwise. Pecel Lele food stalls can be found on nearly any road in big cities, a testament to how high the demand for this food is. It is a dish that consists of deep-fried catfish served with steamy white rice, hot sambal chilli, and crispy tempeh.
Speaking of Tempeh, it is also one of the most common staple foods in Indonesia. A lot of people like to simply eat this dish with white rice and a bit of sweet soy sauce on top. So what is it exactly? Tempeh is made by mashing and shaping soybean before deep frying and adding a pinch of salt on top. It is super easy to cook, making it perfect for the next time you are mulling over what to make for dinner!
#15 Babi Guling
One of the most popular dishes amongst tourists and locals would be babi guling or also known as spit roast pig. Babi guling is an all-around pork heaven with different types of ways they serve their pork! From its crispy pork skin to its fried and skewered meat. The pig is roasted on an open fire for hours along with different types of herbs and Balinese spices. The meat is very tender and juicy and is usually served with sticky rice and sauted vegetables.
#16 Nasi Uduk
Nasi uduk is a must-try dish when visiting Indonesia, especially Jakarta. It is a coconut-infused flavoured rice, paired with other side dishes to make a complete meal. Nasi uduk has a savoury taste to it and is made by steaming the rice with bay leaves, lime leaves, lemongrass, and coconut milk. Side dishes such as tempeh, sunny side-ups, chicken, and sambal are usually served with nasi uduk.
#17 Opor Ayam
If you like a flavourful stew chicken, this one’s for you! Opor ayam or spicy chicken soup has its signature yellow colour coming from the turmeric used. Processed by boiling chicken in coconut milk, bay leaves, and Indonesian spices create a vast and special taste. This dish is usually served with boiled eggs and Indonesian rice cakes.
#18 Ayam Taliwang
Another chicken dish that would have your mouth water would be Ayam taliwang. It essentially is a type of Indonesian-style grilled chicken with its own twist on flavour and spice. This dish has an astringent flavour coming from the charcoal grill it is cooked on. The chicken would be half-cooked on the grill, then proceed to be marinated with a spicy sauce made from garlic, chilli, oil, etc. It is then grilled again until it has that crispy charcoal colour.
Indonesian foods are known for being very deep into their spices, but this dish takes the cake! Rendang or slow-cooked beef is considered one of the most flavourful and unique dishes from around the world and certainly one of our favourite South East Asian curries. Rendang is heavily seasoned with spices such as lemongrass, shallots, ginger, galangal, coconut milk, and many more. Since it is slow-cooked beef, making this on your own can take up to over four hours. However, the results are truly worth it! With its full-bodied flavour, you should never pass up an opportunity to try this dish!
Moving onto a dessert item, we have cendol which essentially is a green rice flour jelly topped with brown sugar sauce, and coconut milk and served on top of shaved ice. Cendol is very iconic because of its unique look and sweet taste. Many desserts in Indonesia contain brown sugar as a main ingredient and cendol is one of the most popular ones. It may sound like such a simple dessert, but the delectable sweet brown sugar taste makes you come back for more!
We have looked through different types of Indonesian food including side dishes, main courses, and even desserts. It is proven that Indonesia makes really good use of the availability of spices used for their heart-warming dishes. There is no doubt that a huge majority of Indonesian cuisine has a very luscious and flavoursome taste to each. Every dish has its own history and origin which makes the food feel even more special and unique!