Indonesian food! Oh how I totally love you! Yes, Indonesian food is just amazing and many varieties to choose from. But for sure the key of any Indonesian food is her sambal. The hot sauce. As I say, “if you are not sweating it is not spicy hot enough!” Now, I am not saying that sambal should hide the food taste. No way! But it should bring it out with an extra “bang, pow, I want more of that dish.” Yep, sambal does enhance the taste of Indonesian dishes. There are different types of sambal. I like the red paste on that has a slight sweetness to it. It has a combination of chilies, sharp fermented shrimp paste, tangy lime juice, sugar, and salt all ground together to make the “wow factor” come more alive in your mouth.
I could go on with all the types of Indonesian dishes that I love. But pictures tell a better story (shown above).
- Satay for sure is on the top. Satay Madura is the best. Have it wrapped in banana leaf and served with lontong (sticky rice cakes) or white rice and peanut sauce. Yikes! I am starving at this very moment!! Then there is satay lalat (fly satay). No, not actual flies. But the pieces of meat on the stick / tusuk are so small that it looks like cooked flies on the stick. This type of satay is so sate because more of the meat /chicken is marinated and the barbecue smoke/fire hits more parts of the meat/chicken. This, satay lalat, can only be found on the island of Madura, I think.
What I love is going on the street and waiting for the satay pushcarts (called kaki lima – five legs) to come by. This is the national dish of Indonesia but is a toss-up with nasi goring / fried rice. “Stomach – stop growing at me!”
- Then there is bakso – a favorite of mine as a kid. It is a savory meatball noodle soup. The meatball can be springy or rubbery and are no bigger than a golf ball. The meat is made from chicken, pork, or beef. They are sold mostly from push carts (kaki lima). Add fied shallots, boiled egg and wontons with a lot of juice and there you have it!
- Soto is another favorite of mine. Soto is a soup and Soto Ayam (chicken soup) is how I usually like it, calling my name. I like more of the East Java version of clear liquid then as a coconut milk base. Add noodles and rice as well as boiled egg and some extra veggies and you have an amazing dish.
- Nasi Goreng – another favorite of mine. This is fried rice. Fried rice or Sate is a toss-up when it comes to the national dish of Indonesia. This dish is made with a sweet thick soy sauce called kecap which is pronounced ketchup. It is one of the main sauces used in many Indonesians foods. As an adult I have learned more about Indonesian then as a child. I realized that Indonesia is full of flavors from her foods to her cultures. For sure, that would make sense with over 17,000 islands that are part of the Indonesia archipelago. I am not an expert of Indonesian cuisine even though I love to eat her foods. But I do know that the Central and East part of Java like their foods more sweet and spicy. Kalimantan (also known as Borneo) like their foods more salty. The island of Bali has her own taste of foods and the only place where pork is one of her main dishes. Sulawesi (the four legged island) likes their food spicy but not as sweet as on the Eastern part of Java (also called Jawa). Since I lived most of my life in East Java (Jawa Timur) I like my food spicy and sweet. Thus, I think the best sate is from the island of Madura (just east of East Java as an example).
You can get Nasi Goreng istimewa (special fried rice) which comes with a fried egg (or any style you want your egg) with a couple sticks/tusuk of sate.
- Nasi (rice) Rawon is another dish I love. It is an East Java beef stew full of goodness! It has a heavy accent on the keluak nut which gives it her nutty flavor and a deep black color. Add garlic, shallots, giner, turmeric, and red chili to make this a great spicy delicious dish.
- Mie ayam (chicken noodles) is another favorite of mine. Bakmie (type of noodles) is boiled in stock and big slices of gravy-braised chicken is added. Chives and sambal are then added to provide extra flavor. The noodles is what gives this dish its “power.”
- Bakpao is not really a meal but more of a snack. Of course you could make a meal out of this for sure. Usually street vendors (kaki lima – 5 legged cart – actually the cart has 3 legs and the person pushing of course 2 legs. Thus, the “five legged” cart – there are tons of these throughout Indonesia and one of the best ways to have a good meal. It is so funny to see people stare at me as I eat from them – an orang bule ((loose translation – a foreigner)) talking Indonesian and eating from the kaki limas).
They are a meat filled bun and that all fluffy and warm to the touch. You can get the sweet versions which are filled with chocolate or green beans. You will know if you are getting the sweeter version of this dish by seeing a colored do on the top of the bun.
- Cah kangkung – I don’t eat this that much but it is really a good vegetable dish. It is water spinach which is a common river weed. It is stir fried with sweet soybean sauce and then huge slices of garlic, chili, and shrimp paste is added. This dish is also known as the “poor man’s food.” The cah indicates its Chinese orgins. There are a lot of Indonesian dishes that originate from China. A lot of these dishes have morphed into the Indonesian cuisine with a few Indonesian touches. So it is a joy to eat Indonesian Chinese foods. From sweet and sour chicken/pork, to cap-cay (a Chinese flavored vegetable dish).
- Martabak is another great snack food that can become your meail. It is more of a snack food like bakpao. It comes as a spongy thick crepe made with tons, and I mean tons, of lard. So it is not your everyday snack – or it shouldn’t be. The sweet version looks more like a pancake fill with gooey chocolate, peanuts, or cheese. While the non-sweet version one is made from crispy pulled like filo that is flattened in a wok as egg and minced meats are piled into this starch heavy snack.
- Ketoprak – I just started eating this dish. It is really more of a quick meal. It is made from vermicelli, tofu, packed rice cake and bean sprouts. It is a simple street dish that tastes mostly of peanus and spice but is filled to the hilt of carbs. I like it for a quick meal but it is just a filler for my real meal of the day.
- Rendang – A famous curry meat that takes a bit of time to cook well. I am not a fan of curry (a little is ok) so this is not my favorite dish. But I have added it because, if done right, it is an amazing beef dish and one everyone should try. If you get the dried version it tastes and looks more like jerky. The secret of this dish is her gravy which wraps around the beef for hours until the beef is tender to the touch and taste. This dish is mostly served for honored guests and special occasions.
- Ikan bakar – “burnt” or cooked fish. Fish in Indonesia is served whole. Yes, you get the whole head to tail on a platter in front of you. If Americans (westerns are not comfortable with this usually) are not comfortable with this then I would not order it. But it does taste good, as long as you don’t mind that those eyes on the platter are staring at you! One has to be careful in eating this because the bones have to be carefully taken away from your hand (yes it is usually eaten with your hands and not with fork and knife because you are sharing the whole platter with all at the table). It really is just grilled fish, plain and simple. Marinated with typical trove of Indonesian spices and served with a soy and chili-based sauce. Makasar (South Sulawesi) is known to have the best ikan bakar.
- Indomie – yes, this is the staple of any Indonesian and for sure any American college student. It is instant noodles beloved by all. You can get this at grocery stores or any small mom and pop shops throughout Indonesia. In fact, if a store does not sell this important staple, no matter how small the village store is, then that store will go out of business quickly. Easy to make – add hot water to the packet of chemical-induced flavoring before it fills your stomach. Sometimes you will see Indonesians add boiled egg with green sprouts and chili sauce.
There are many more Indonesian dish I like. But there are too many to list. I also love Indonesians fruits. Durian – the wonderful smelly fruit (the only food I like that Andrew Zimmern does not like – I take my hat off to Andrew for eating all kinds of “interesting” foods – but his episode to Malaysia a couple years ago had him try to eat the durian fruit ((end of the show)) and he couldn’t. So I am proud to say that is the only food that I beat Andrew Zimmern on!!) Then there is rujak (star fruit) and jambu (Syzygium fruit) fruits I love. The salak fruit (“snake” fruit due to the texture of her skin) is one of my favorites. I remember eating this all the time when we took the ferry ride to and from Madura to the city of Surabaya – East Java. It is a sweet fruit but also can be sour. It is sooooo good!
Then I love es campur – fruit in shaved ice. It is so good especially on a hot day (and almost every day in Indonesia is hot). You will usually see coconut, sea weed, milk, syrup, jackfruit and many other types of fruit in this shaved ice dish. Es teler is a sister version of es campur. Es teler is a fruit cocktail with avocado, coconut, meat, jackfruit, and other fruits served with a coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. Cnedol is a traditional dessert served in a cup to drink. It is popular throughout East Java. The basic ingredients of this cup of loveliness is coconut milk, jelly noodles mad from rice flour with green food coloring, shaved ice, and palm sugar. I also love it when they add red beans, glutinous, rice, and grass jelly. It can also be served without ice. But I prefer ice due to the coolness of the drink. And, if you are lucky it will have durian flesh and chocolate condensed milk.
Well, that is it for now. I am starving –go figure!!!