About the food of Indonesia

Indonesian sunrise. Photo by Fotoherby

Not hundreds. Not thousands. Not even 17,000.  Nope. Experts state that “more than 17,000 islands make up Indonesia.”

Either they lost count or they simply wanted an even number. Regardless, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with over 300 languages spoken. And, guess what? 11,000 of those islands are uninhabited.

I wonder, if I’m really nice, if they’ll let me have one?

Rice Paddy in Bali by Yves Picq

Hmm. Maybe not.

Of course, I’ll be happy to settle for a few Indonesian meals.

The food is rich, highly spiced, and incredibly flavorful. We’ve already dabbled in Indonesian food on this Adventure, as their influence stretches far into neighboring countries.

We made bakso noodle soup [recipe], an amazing concoction that is also enjoyed in East Timor. The soup is a masterful balance of clean, fresh flavors, punctuated by a spicy pop from the beloved sambal (hot sauce).

Almost a year ago we made Sayur Lodeh with rempah [recipe], a fragrant shrimp coconut curry served with lontong (rice steamed in banana leaves) [recipe]. The rempah is made with lemongrass, cashews, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Absolutely intense in the best possible way.

Other common Indonesian dishes include satay – skewered beef [recipe], chicken, or pork – with peanut dipping sauce [recipe]. The meat is marinated in a savory blend of garlic, ginger, onion, and kecap manis, their beloved sweet soy sauce. It’s so thick it pours like molasses, sluggish even on a hot day.

A crowd-pleaser is Indonesian fried rice (nasi goreng) [recipe] – typically a simple dish seasoned with little more than onion, garlic, and kecap manis. The rice can be served any time of day but is particularly beloved in the morning with cow’s eyes (a.k.a. fried eggs) on top.

If you crave a fresh salad, Indonesia has plenty of those. One favorite is gado gado [recipe], made with boiled potatoes, eggs, young jackfruit, green beans, and more. Served chilled with peanut sauce, it’s at once filling and refreshing.

Desserts are as fresh as the fruit in season, although many other confections abound.

As you drift from island to island, you’ll delight in discovering local variations and specialties. One of the most popular places in Indonesia is Bali. I first read about Bali in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love.” She says they typically ask you three questions upon meeting you in Bali:

Where are you going?

Where are you coming from?

Are you married?

The most important questions in the world, if you ask me.

Clouds rolling in over rice terraces in Bali. Photo by Chensiyuan


  1. Brian S. says

    Sooo much to say about Indonesia! But I’m too lazy to write so I’ll just leave something I wrote in 2002. It’s about Bali and it’s beautifully written:

    I visited Bali long ago and, though I never returned, it has always been close to my heart. When I visited that quiet, gentle island, I felt a lot like the aviator in “Lost Horizon” who was blown off course over China and ended up in Shangri-La. The village government, surprisingly efficient and humane, amazed me. “Balinese local government,” I wrote a few years later, “is a socialist dream come to life.; village councils, with one member chosen by each family, supervise land use and water rights, lend money to needy members, and regulate all aspects of daily life. But the secret of village harmony is not how the people are governed but what they share. Shared religion, shared tradition, shared culture, and countless festivals — times for happiness and sharing — bind the village together. Religion, art, work, play: sometimes it is hard to say where one leaves off and the other begins.

    “All this is true in Bali, and it is true throughout Asia. What makes Bali stand out, even in Asia, is the richness and profusion of its art: its paintings and its plays, and its dances, its sculpture, its puppet theater and its gamelans, which are orchestras of xylophones whose music shimmers like moonlight on water. But Bali’s fecund, exotic culture, its gentle people, and its long sandy beaches have attracted crowds of tourists who are slowly destroying the culture and souring the kindness and turning the peaceful beaches into crowded holiday camps.

    “Most of the travelers stayed at Kuta Beach, a warren of cheap but pleasant hotels where the only Balinese in sight were souvenir vendors and soft-drink sellers. There were so many of them that they formed a constant procession as they shuffled between the sunbathers and the sea.”

    Proud, independent villagers, turned by rising land prices into waiters and souvenir hawkers (and, who,incidentally, are banned from the very nightclubs that were bombed). Rarely has an indigenous culture been subjected to as massive and sustained assault by an alien culture.It is a tribute to Balinese resiliency that the spirit of village life has survived.

  2. Tina says

    Perhaps they didn’t want to be specific on the number of islands because there are several half and quarter islands included and the math got to be too much for them?!

  3. elisa waller says

    ooo I am excited….and I hope to answer the first two questions in complete sentences someday soon….<3

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