Our 10 best foods of Indonesia

So get this, Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands with strong Hindu, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and Middle Eastern influence.

The country is one massive colourful fabric of different races, languages, ethnicities: over 300 ethnic groups are united under the mighty Indonesian archipelago.

This is also true of the food, one of the most vibrant and colourful cuisines in the world, full of intense flavours. Here’s our 10 best traditional food of Indonesia:

#1 NASI GORENG: Indonesian fried rice

Nasi goreng is a popular Indonesian staple, kind of like what pad Thai is to Thailand. Nasi means rice and goreng means fried.

A nasi goreng usually includes meat (usually chicken), vegetables, cooked with spices, shallots, garlic, tamarind, chilli, served with sweet soy sauce seasoning and crackers.

There's a lot of cross over with the Malaysian cuisine, particularly on Borneo island which shares borders with both countries. We tried our first nasi goreng here and of course many many more when we visited Bali, the Gili islands and Flores.

Nasi goreng best traditional food of Indonesia Borneo island
Sebastien about to go face down into this plate of delicious nasi goreng at The Last Frontier near the Kinabatangan River on Borneo island

#2 NASI CAMPUR: the National dish

Nasi campur is said to be the National dish and certainly one of the best traditional food of Indonesia we tried. It means mixed rice and it is literally that: rice served and mixed with a variety of local dishes, like chicken satay, grilled chicken, beef rendang, vegetables, salad and prawn crackers.

A nasi campur meal reminded us a bit of an Indian thali in that it is a tray with lots of different local prizes.

Nasi Campur best traditional food of Indonesia and the National Dish
Stefan trying his first Indonesian nasi campur in Nusa Dua, south Bali

#3 CHICKEN SATAY: barbecued yumminess

Chicken satay barbecued in the streets are a quick, cheap and very tasty Indonesian treat. This is a Muslim country so they will mostly be chicken or beef, unless you go to a Chinese owned restaurant who is more likely to serve pork satay.

We tried a more unique type of beef satay, which were folded and cooked around lemongrass sticks at our cooking class in Ubud, Bali.

Chicken satay best traditional food of Indonesia cooking class Ubud in Bali
Sebastien proudly showing off his freshly made lemongrass chicken satay sticks

#4 A ROYAL RIJSTAFFEL MEAL

The Royal Rijstaffel is a Balinese tradition dating back to the Dutch colonial era of the 19th century and literally translates as rice on table

The rice is served with a variety of accompanying local dishes by a group of female waitresses who dance their way over to you, accompanied by traditional music.

The local dishes are Indonesian but the rijstaffel originates from the colonial Dutch who introduced it to impress visitors with the exotic abundance of their colony.

 

#5 BABI GULING: suckling pig

Babi guling is a pig roast and literally involves barbecuing an entire pig. it is a specialty from Bali and reminded us of traditional Filipino food, lechon.

Bali has retained its Hindu influences, which is why such a dish is popular in a predominantly Muslim country where pork is not eaten.

The babi guling is stuffed, then cooked with spices ranging from lemongrass, black pepper, turmeric, coriander seeds and garlic.

Babi guling one of best traditional food of Indonesia from Bali
A babi guling roasting pig on the spit roast in Bali

#6 GADO GADO

Gado gado is an Indonesian salad comprising vegetables in a spicy peanut sauce, often served with fried tofu and a hard boiled egg.

Gado comes from the verb menggado and means to consume something without rice.

Gado gado in Indonesian literally means mix mix and refers to the fact that this is a rich mixture of vegetables (like potatoes, beans, bean sprouts, spinach, corn and cabbage), along with tofu and eggs, mixed with a peanut sauce.

Gado gado vegetarian best traditional food of Indonesia in Ubud, Bali
Stefan trying gado gado

#7 TEMPEH

Tempeh is great stuff for vegetarians who still want a good protein source. It is made from fermented soy beans and originates from Java, one of the largest islands of the Indonesian archipelago. It has a higher content of protein, fibre and vitamins.

In Ubud, we tried a delicious vegan tempeh toast salad at the “Fresh Raw Vegan” restaurant.

Tempeh one of our favourite best traditional food of Indonesia
Sebastien proudly showing off his tempeh toast salad at raw vegan restaurant called Fresh in Ubud, Bali

We saw tempeh and tofu being produced from scratch at the Merombok village on Flores island then sold in mass to the local villagers.

There was something so peaceful about watching all those baskets of tempeh fermenting away with the heat from the stove rising and the young local boy in the village working hard in the background.

Tempeh Indonesian traditional food
One of the boys of the Merombok village on Flores island making fresh tempeh

#8 SAYUR URAP

Indonesian sayur urap is a blanched vegetable based salad with shredded coconut dressing. Sayur means mixing, so sayur urap means mixing any blanched vegetables with spices and grated coconut until it is well blended.

It originates from Java with variations all over the country. In Bali, it is known as lawar and sometimes meat is used, like pork, so it would be called lawar babi. Check out our recipe for Indonesian sayur urap.

Ssayur urap one of the best Indonesian traditional foods
Sebastien proudly displaying his freshly made Indonesian sayur urap from our cooking class in Ubud, Bali

#9 PERKEDEL JAGUNG

Indonesian perkedel jagung are deep fried corn cookies, usually eaten for special occasions such as the birth of a baby or a wedding. They are also popular street food throughout the country and great for vegetarians.

We learnt to make perkedel jagung corn snacks during our travels in Bali. All was going just fine until greedy Sebastien decided to steal the entire tray for himself…

Perkedel jagung sweetcorn fritters one of our favourite Indonesian traditional foods
Sebastien stealing all the perkedel jagung sweetcorn fritters at our cooking class in Ubud

#10 COFFEE PARADISE

Coffee production is big business and Indonesia is the world's 4th largest producer. We are coffee addicts (especially Stefan, Sebastien is more of a wine addict) and after caffeine paradise in Vietnam, we were dead excited to try it here.

Each of the Indonesian islands we visited has its own kopi (coffee) beans, producing its own specialty named after it. For example on Flores island, you'll have kopi Flores and on Lombok island, expect some delicious kopi Lombok.

Coffee one of Indonesia best traditional food and drinks
Stefan enjoying a yummy kopi Lombok for breakfast

Actually on Bali, Java, Sulawesi and Sumatra islands, another type of coffee is sadly very popular: kopi Luwak, made from civet pooh.

The cute civet cats feed on coffee cherries but they can't digest the stone (which is the coffee bean) so they poop it out. This is then collected, cleaned and roasted, to produce the most expensive coffee in the world (prices reach £460/$700 per kilogram).

However, civet coffee is regarded more as a novelty and also quite sad. The civets are kept in cages all day like battery chickens and force fed coffee beans. They are deprived of exercise, a proper diet, space to move and therefore quickly die.

We decided to just give kopi Luwak a miss, opting for the yummy local island brews instead.

Civet coffee a delicacy best avoided in Indonesia
Help protect these really cute animals by avoiding kopi Luwak

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10 best traditional foods of Indonesia

About the author

Hi there! We are Stefan and Sebastien, Greek/French couple behind the travel blog Nomadic Boys. Since we met in 2009, we have been travelling all around the world together, visiting over 100 countries.

Our mission is to inspire you, the gay traveller, and show you that you can visit more places in the world than you thought possible, by providing a first-hand account of our travel adventures, to help you plan a fun and safe trip.

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