Going to Southeast Asia for the first time and tasting that spectrum of flavors – that certainly changes my whole palette…A lot of dishes I used to love became boring to me.-Anthony Bourdain
Any place called “The Spice Islands” has got to have an amazing cuisine. Indonesia’s got that and then some. Located at the crossroads of the great trade route between the Middle East and Asia, Indonesia has, through the centuries, lured traders, pirates, and immigrants, all eager to share in the riches. The culinary influences of India, China, the Middle East, and Dutch colonists have melded with the use of local spices and herbs to create a distinctive blend that makes Indonesian cuisine one of the world’s greats.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. It is made up of 13,000 islands stretching 3,200 miles from top to bottom. Many distinct regional cuisines exist, often based upon indigenous culture with some foreign influences sprinkled in. Indonesia has over 5,000 traditional recipes. Sumatran cuisine, for example, often has Middle Eastern and Indian influences, featuring curried meat and vegetables. On the other hand, Javanese is mostly indigenous. The cuisines of Eastern Indonesia are similar to Polynesian cuisine. Elements of Chinese cuisine can be seen in foods such as noodles, meatballs, spring rolls, and fried rice.
Indonesian dishes have complex flavors that combine tastes of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Most Indonesians favor spicy food with sambal, a spicy chili sauce with various ingredients (notably hot red chilis, shrimp paste and shallots) which is a staple condiment at all Indonesian tables. Creamy coconut milk can be found in most dishes.
Make the Great Dishes of Indonesia at Home
The MHT team has updated and simplified some of the very best traditional recipes from all over Indonesia. Now you can cook these amazing dishes in your own kitchen to share with friends and family so they too can experience these exciting dishes. Lets get cooking!
Order Indonesian Ingredients Here:
Listen to Indonesian Jams:
Cook MHT’s Indonesian Recipes:
Foods Unique to Indonesia
Although Indonesian cuisine varies from region to region, it also has common threads:
Kecap Manis – Kecap manis a sweet soy sauce originating in Indonesia. It’s made by combining soy sauce with palm sugar or jaggery and flavored with various different spices. The Chinese originally introduced soy sauce to Indonesia where they made it their own by adding palm sugar and molasses. More than anything else, this viscous sweet soy sauce defines Indonesian cuisine.
Bumbu – Bumbu is the unique combination of vegetables used to cook many Indonesian dishes. Some combination of ginger, galangal, shallot, garlic, shrimp paste, hot chili peppers and candlenuts are pounded to a paste and fried first to make a base for the rest of the dish to cook in. Bumbu is the foundation of Indonesian cooking, much like mirepoix is to French and sofrito is to Latino cooking.
Chili Peppers – Indonesians love their hot chilis. They can be found in cooked in dishes, thinly sliced atop dishes as a garnish, or found as a condiment on every table. That condiment, called sambal, is made from crushed hot chili peppers and is essential to eating Indonesian. There are hundreds of sambals across the country, the chili base modified by the availability of local ingredients and the dishes it’s served with. The most popular is Sambal Oelek.
Coconut – Living in the tropics of southeast Asia means palm trees with coconuts. Flaked coconut flakes, coconut oil, and coconut water are used to cook and top a many dishes. It is the creamy liquid extracted from the coconuts’ meat, coconut milk, makes the region’s cuisine speciaL. The Indonesians’, however, have taken the special to spectacular! The creaminess of coconut milk is merged with the unique combination of bumbu, kecap manis, and aromatics such as lemongrass and duan salaam to create truly impressive dishes.
From the Earth – Indonesian make exceptional use of vegetables that grow below the earth. Galangal, ginger, and turmeric roots along with lemongrass, garlic, shallot, and chili pepper, when combined and pounded to a paste then fried, creates the bumbu that is the foundation of Indonesian cuisine.