Indonesian cuisine is well-known for its colourful flavours and enticing aromas. 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 with countless unique cultures, Indonesia offers a wide array of amazing dishes each with distinctive characteristics. Today, we are going to share a list of the best Indonesian food, a testament to just how amazing this country is!
#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 and sticky rice 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 result is a delicious tasting treat and one of our favourite Indonesia foods. The thing that differentiates one sate from another is the type of meat as well as the sauce, which is most commonly peanut based. Among the most popular meats include chicken and goat, while sauce popularity is much more spread out.
Street food in general is often associated with being unhealthy. This stereotype is mostly true, but Gado-Gado certainly breaks that notion. Contrary to many street foods which are often considered unhealthy, Gado-Gado primarily consists of nutritious vegetables and other wholesome ingredients. This includes eggs, onion, cucumber, and many others. This mix of ingredients are then 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, and is our trusted, go-to dish when we're in the region and craving something tasty, substantial and easy-to-find. You can pretty much add virtually any ingredient to your 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 not just for me, but anyone else who loves 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 in our opinion 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 you that its 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, ensuring that the beef is 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, and we recommend adding a scoop of ice cream for an extra decedent dessert!
#13 Pecel Lele
While many might not consider catfish an appetising choice, the slimy catfish is 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 an Indonesian 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 now looked through different types of top Indonesian food from side dishes to main courses, and desserts including several of our favourites.
It is proven that Indonesia makes really good use of the availability of spices in their heart-warming dishes. Every dish has its own history and taste profile which makes it feel even more special and unique!
Frequently Asked Questions about Indonesian Food
1. What are the staple ingredients in Indonesian cuisine? Indonesian cuisine is diverse and varied, but common staple ingredients include rice, coconut milk, spices like turmeric, galangal, and lemongrass, and proteins like chicken, beef, and fish.
2. Are there vegetarian or vegan options in Indonesian food? Yes, there are several vegetarian and vegan dishes in Indonesian cuisine. Gado-Gado, for example, is a salad made primarily of steamed vegetables and served with a peanut sauce. Tempeh, a soybean product, is also a popular protein substitute for vegetarians.
3. Is Indonesian food always spicy? While many Indonesian dishes are known for their heat, not all are spicy. The level of spiciness can often be adjusted based on preference. Dishes like Nasi Goreng and Soto can be mild, while Rendang and Ayam Taliwang can pack a punch.
4. I have a sweet tooth. What Indonesian desserts can I try? Indonesia has a rich array of desserts. Cendol is a popular choice with its green rice flour jelly topped with brown sugar and coconut milk. Lapis Legit, often considered the country’s national cake, is also a must-try with its cinnamon-infused layers.
5. Where can I experience authentic Indonesian food? While Indonesia as a whole offers a gastronomic adventure, regions like Bali, Jakarta, and Padang are particularly renowned for their culinary delights. If you're travelling to Indonesia, local street markets and warungs (small family-owned restaurants) are great places to taste traditional dishes.
6. How has Indonesian food been influenced by other cultures? Indonesia's strategic location has made it a melting pot of cultures. As a result, its cuisine has seen influences from India, the Middle East, China, and Europe. This blend of cultures has given birth to dishes that are uniquely Indonesian yet carry hints of international flavours.
7. Are there any drinks commonly paired with Indonesian meals? Teh manis (sweet tea) is a common beverage. Additionally, many enjoy jamu, a traditional herbal drink believed to have medicinal properties. If you're looking for something cooler, es kelapa muda, a drink made from young coconut water and its soft flesh, is a refreshing choice.