Ten meals to look for in Indonesia – This is our short list of our favourite food in Indonesia. The dishes are mainly from the Java region, which is where we spent the majority of our time in country. Java is predominately Muslim, so you will notice a lack of pork. We really enjoyed the wide variety of vegetarian dishes and especially the tempeh and tofu snacks. All the dishes were incredibly good value, typically costing no more than Rp35,000 for a main course (less than US$3 /£2).
A soup, often found from roadside vendors as well as cafes and restaurants. The basic version is a broth with meatballs. Upgrade it to include ribs too. Always served with a crispy wanton, and a few condiments. The important element is the quality of the broth. Look for the broth pot.
A national dish, found everywhere. Seasonal vegetables including sprouted soy beans (either steamed or stir fried), tossed in a peanut sauce. Sauce varied tremendously in consistency and spice levels from place to place. More filling than you think it will be.
Bubur Ayam – Chicken Porridge
Sounds like you should not and will not like this, but try it and be amazed that you do. Nothing like a porridge really and much more like a soup. The porridge bit is cooked rice purée in the bottom of your bowl, almost silken in texture. Add to this some chicken, soy beans, bean sprouts, spring onions, and a choice of other condiments, ladle over the beautiful chicken stock and top with chili sauce, soy sauce and lime juice to taste. To be found everywhere from street vendors to top restaurants. Especially good for breakfast, but can usually be found anytime, anyplace. (The key to this is a good broth. Expect the cheaper places have less condiments and more porridge)
Translated, this is noodles and chicken, but this is also the name of a meal. Can be served dry or as a soup. The noodles are yellow (Mie) , the chicken (Ayam) is shredded. Add lots of the sauces – both red chilli and the brown sweet soy.
Nasi Campur – or Celebration Rice
Literally translates to ” country rice”, but served at celebrations in this style. It is rice, surrounded by small portions of a variety of other things, usually two or three vegetable dishes. (ie beans with coconut, greens in peanut sauce) and one or two meat dishes (chicken with chili, beef Rendang). For celebrations the rice is coloured using all natural flavours. Sometimes used sweet. Yes – lots of ways to have rice.
Rendang – beef or mutton
Massively different wherever you choose to eat this. It varies from a quick dry stir fry to a slow cooked thick sauce stew, sometimes spicy, sometimes not at all. Best is from Bandung/Sudanese cooks. (Does not photograph well!)
Cap Cay (and Oseng-oseng)
Pronounced as “cap chay”, this is basically a stirfry vegetable dish. Chicken is often offered as an optional extra, shredded on top. The dish is always saved with a thin sauce/juice. It’s always about the vegetable – the cook has their own signature combination – you don’t get to select which veg. Mushroom Cap cay in Borobudur is particularly fantastic, although they call it oseng-oseng there. If there is a difference in these dishes I apologise.
A must try as a speciality of Java, especially good in Yogykarta. It is unripe young jackfruit, boiled for hours in palm sugar, spices and coconut milk. It is quite sweet and is served with rice, boiled egg and sambal, also accompanied by tofu and fried cow skin (with hairs!). We searched for the best place to eat it and got there (finally) before they ran out (as they do most days). Not our favourite, but it needed to be included.
And finally, our top pick of Indonesian food is…..
Tempeh and Tofu snacks
So many to choose from! Often we tried two or three at a time, not always knowing what they were called, or what we might find inside the parcels. Found everywhere. I am still looking for a good recipe so I can cook the delectable parcels at home.
One of the really great ways to try Indonesian food is to go to a local style restaurant. Typically, they precook the food and display it in the window. At first we thought this was neither hygienic nor appetizing if we are to eat cold precooked meals. However, this is the normal way of displaying food and we never had any tummy troubles. As a guide, we try to frequent places that are busy with locals and will point to something we have not yet tried. Time after time we had fabulous food this way, many delious slow cooked meat dishes as well as very tasty vegetable dishes. Okra is something we had never enjoyed until eating it in Indonesia! The displays for a place with a variety of dishes is always the same – upturned bowls and plates, just like this picture. By the way, you do get used to food not being hot.
And one to avoid
A Balinese speciality that Asians seem to love and most westerners don’t really get what the fuss is about. The duck is spatchcocked, then bashed to a thin layer then deep fried. Often little meat (country ducks) and quite dry. Expensive in comparison to other meals. Nothing like crispy duck Peking style.