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Travel Guide > Asia > Indonesia

Indonesia Restaurants & Eating

  
 
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With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of cuisines, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java and now widely available throughout the archipelago. All too many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek it out.

The Javanese favor eating an array of comparatively simply seasoned dishes, the predominant flavorings being peanuts, chillies and sugar. In West Java, Sundanese food uses many fresh vegetables and herbs eaten raw, while Padang in Sumatra is famous for its spicy fare.

Both the Christian Batak and the Hindu Balinese are great fans of pork, while the Christian Manadonese are well known for eating bat and dog. Tamed Muslim-friendly versions of all three are available in malls and food courts, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing. And by the time you get to Papua in the extreme east of the country, you're looking at a Melanesian diet of taro and sago.

Rice

Across the entire archipelago the main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:

  • bubur nasi, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast
  • lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so it compresses into a cake
  • nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it spesial to get an egg on top
  • nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, a festive ceremonial dish usually moulded into a sharp cone called a tumpeng
  • nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste.
  • nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common accompaniment to Sundanese food
  • nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast

Noodles

Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good second in the popularity contest. Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world's largest instant noodle manufacturer. A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp.

  • bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc)
  • kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce

Soups

Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:

  • bakso/baso ("BAH-so"), meatballs and noodles in chicken broth
  • rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality of East Java
  • sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind
  • sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish
  • soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients

Main dishes

Popular main dishes include:

  • ayam bakar, grilled chicken
  • ayam goreng, deep-fried chicken
  • cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables
  • gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce
  • gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta.
  • ikan bakar, grilled fish
  • karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
  • perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel)
  • sate (satay), grilled chicken and lamb
  • sapo, Chinese-style claypot stew

Condiments

Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together. There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)!

Crackers known as kerupuk (or keropok, it's the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common are the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter light yellow emping, made from the nuts of the melinjo fruit.

Desserts

Dessert in the Western sense is not common in Indonesia, but there are plenty of snacks to tickle your sweet tooth. Kue covers a vast array of traditional cakes and pastries, all colorful, sweet, and usually a little bland, with coconut, rice flour and sugar being the main ingredients. Es teler, ice mixed with fruits and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations and is a popular choice on a hot day.

Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons. Popular options include mango (mangga), papaya (papaya), banana (pisang), starfruit (belimbing) and guava (jambu), but more exotic options you're unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit (salak) and the alien-looking local passionfruit (markisa).

Probably the most infamous Indonesian fruit, though, is the durian. Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armor-plated coconut the size of a human head, and it has a powerful odor often likened to rotting garbage. Inside is yellow creamy flesh, which has a unique sweet, custardy, avocadoey taste and texture. It's prohibited in most hotels and taxis.

Dietary restrictions

The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants serve only halal food and are thus safe for Muslim travellers. This includes Western chains like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut. The main exception is ethnic eateries catering to Indonesia's non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine, so enquire if unsure.

Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge. Tofu (tahu) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are an essential part of the diet, but they are often served with non-vegetarian condiments. For example, the ubiquitous sambal chili pastes very often contain shrimp, and kerupuk crackers with a spongy appearance, including those always served with nasi goreng, nearly always contain shrimp or fish. (Those that resemble potato chips, on the other hand, are usually fine.)

Eating by hand

In Indonesia eating with your hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common. The basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball of rice, which can then be dipped into sauces before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb. There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the toilet. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
Eating by hand is frowned on in some "classier" places. If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint.

Places to eat

Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$1 (Rp 10,000). However, the level of hygiene may not be up to Western standards, so you may wish to steer clear for the first few days and patronize only visibly popular establishments.

The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally "five feet". Depending on whom you ask, they're named either after the mobile stalls' three wheels plus the owner's two feet, or the "five-foot way" sidewalks mandated during British rule. These can be found by the side of the road in any Indonesian city, town or village, usually offering up simple fare like fried rice, noodles and porridge. At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat.

A step up from the kaki lima is the warung (or the old spelling waroeng), a slightly less mobile stall offering much the same food, but perhaps a few plastic stools and a tarp for shelter.

Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specializing in a type of food or style of cuisine. Nasi Padang restaurants, offering rice and an array of curries and other toppings to go along with it, are particularly popular and easily identified by their soaring Minangkabau roofs. Ordering at these is particularly easy: just sit down, and your table will promptly fill up with countless small plates of dishes. Eat what you like and pay for what you consumed.

Another easy mid-range option in larger cities is to look out for food courts and Indonesian restaurants in shopping malls, which combine air-con with hygienic if rather predictable food. In addition to the usual Western suspects, major local chains include EsTeler 77 best known for its iced fruit desserts (es teler) but also selling bakso (meatball), nasi goreng (fried rice) and other Indonesian staples, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localized Japanese fare. Bakmi Gajah Mada (GM) is a famous Chinese noodle restaurant chain.

A restoran indicates more of a Western-style eating experience, with air-con, table cloths, table service and prices to match. Especially in Jakarta and Bali, it's possible to find very good restaurants offering authentic fare from around the world, but you'll be lucky to escape for under Rp 100,000 a head.

Restaurants in Indonesia

Fusion Kayu Manis
Kayu Manis is the hidden gem of Sanur. It's a little home stay with cheap rooms that has a restaurant at the front with only a few tables. The chef has worked in big hotels before and with his team in the kitchen, they produce original and fine food. Try the Bal... more
 1 Fans, Mid Range, US$ 10-12 per person, in Sanur
Chinese Atoom Bara
Chinese restaurant specialising in seafood. It appears unimpressive but the food is fantastic.
in Denpasar
 
Local Ayam Goreng Nyonya Suharti
Extremely famous fried chicken cooked with an old family recipe from Java. A bit out of the way but definitely worth the effort in getting there.
in Denpasar
Local Ayam Taliwang
A restaurant noted for the Lombok speciality of Ayam Taliwang (grilled or fried young chicken). Spicy and delicious.
in Denpasar
 
Bakery Bali Bakery
Long established bakery and bistro/cafe. Very good quality bread, pastries and cakes produced fresh every day. Large lunch and dinner menu which includes local favourites and some well chosen international dishes.
in Denpasar
Indonesian Cianjur
Named after a town in West Java, its dishes are influenced by Sundanese cuisine. A little out of the city centre in the suburb of Renon. The grilled and sour-sweet Ikan Gurame is especially recommended.
in Denpasar
 
Local Kak Man
This place is an absolute institution. Truly excellent Balinese food including bebek betutu (smoked duck).
in Denpasar
Indonesian Kereneng Night Market
This market starts up at sunset eveyday and is open until dawn. All manner of Indonesian food served from dozens of stalls. It is rough and ready, but the food is excellent and 100% authentic.
in Denpasar
 
Indonesian Warung Nasi Bali
Excellent local food at very good prices. Highly recommended for a real tate of Indonesia in a very authentic environment.
in Denpasar
Indonesian Warung Wardani
Excellent Indonesian cuisine. Look no further than the Nasi Campur (rice with various spicy side dishes) which is what everyone comes here to eat.
in Denpasar
 
These are just 10 of 472 Restaurants in Indonesia. Show more.




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