Indonesian cuisine is an oversimplication
Just like many things in Indonesia, the food is as diverse as it gets. Every ethnicity in the country holds unique recipes specific to their culture. The popular Padang cuisine, for example, uses a lot of chili and spices to keep people warm, as they live in cold highlands. In addition, one dish can have dozens of versions across localities. The famed satay, for example, has at least 20 different recipes adopted in different regions, depending on the local taste and availability of ingredients.
Rice is always the main dish
Rice is like the most important stuff that must be present during breakfast, lunch, and also dinner. The goddess of rice, Dewi Sri, is highly revered in Java and Bali and because of this divine inspiration, almost everything comes with rice on the side – even carb-loaded meals like noodles or potatoes. For many people, meals like bread, cereal, or even pizza count only as snacks, as they are not consumed with a portion of rice. Indonesians also use rice to make various desserts, such as tasty rice pudding. Aside from rice, some cultures in Indonesia have other staple foods such as cassava, sweet potatoes, and corn.
Influenced by Chinese cooking
Indonesian food carries a lot of influence in its own right, but Chinese immigrants contributed a great deal in making Indonesian cuisine what it is today. As Chinese immigrants settled in Indonesia, every wave of arrival saw its traditions and recipes integrate with local culture. Even the famed nasi goreng was adopted from a Chinese tradition of frying leftover rice in the morning. A lot of Chinese-origin dishes in Indonesia have been assimilated so deeply that many people don’t even realize their roots. This includes popular street food dishes like siomay, bakso meatballs, and bakmi.
Indonesia and halal food
Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, a reality that extends to the realms of food. Since the arrival of Islam in the archipelago, many traditional recipes have been modified to comply with the principles of halal, most evidently by substituting pork with other meat. Nowadays, pork dishes are rather hard to come by – except in non-Muslim regions and Chinatowns.
Indonesians love their spices
Indonesia is home to the Moluccas archipelago, known as the fabled ‘Spice Islands’ sought out by 16th-century European nations. The country is credited with introducing the world to a tapestry of new flavours and sensations. Indonesia remains one of the world’s top producers of spices, giving us nutmeg, clove, galangal, pandan leaves, and others which are incorporated into many traditional recipes. These native spices soon mix with other herbs introduced from India and China, such as turmeric, lemongrass and scallions. An authentic traditional recipe may list almost a dozen herb and spice ingredients to make one dish, resulting in a remarkable and distinctive taste loved by many.
Everything tastes better with sambal and krupuk
There are dozens of sambal (spicy condiment) recipes known in Indonesia. If the French pair their meals with wine, you’ll learn that dishes in Indonesia go with certain sambal to make it complete. The same goes with krupuk or crackers. Sambal and krupuk may come with the dish you order or provided as a condiment on the restaurant table. Indonesians can be content with really simple food as long as there is sambal and krupuk to accompany it.