Fresh herbs and a plethora of spices – this is the phrase that summarizes Indonesian food best. Indonesian cuisine is truly bursting with flavors. The process of selecting the best dishes from the country that offers a delicious array of fried curries, noodles, and vegetable salads with exotic peanut dressings was not easy at all. So, this list might lack some of the very popular Indonesian foods but contains gems like our favorite dessert Kek Lapis.
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The term ‘satay’ refers to meat skewers not only in Indonesia but in all the countries in Southeast Asia. However, history tells us that the streets of Indonesia are the place where this food originated and was later popularized by Arab traders.
Today, satay is considered a national dish in the country. These meat skewers can be made with different types of meat, with chicken and goat being most popular ones. Mutton and rabbit are also commonly used, whereas westernized versions also include beef or pork.
The ‘secret ingredient’ that makes this Indonesian food so unique is the marinade. Well, to be more precise, marinades. Some recipes require marinating the meat in a turmeric-based mixture, whereas others call for sweet kecap manis soy sauce. Then, the meat is skewered and grilled over very hot & smoky charcoal. Finally, it is covered in a rich peanut sauce.
Soto is a traditional meat soup. The only constant in this Indonesian food is the broth, whereas the rest of the ingredients vary depending on the region. The most commonly used meat types are chicken, goat, and beef. Soto Betawi is the most popular version of this soup. It originated in Jakarta and it is well-loved for its creamy, coconut-milk base. It is usually topped with fried garlic & shallots, then seasoned with sambal.
We decided to make the Soto Ayam version, a spicy chicken soup combined with either compressed rice cut into small cakes or noodles. This liquid Indonesian food is seasoned with turmeric which gives the signature yellow color. Sometimes Soto Ayam is served with hard-boiled eggs, fried potato slices, fried shallots, or celery leaves.
#3 Nasi Goreng
Another national dish, Nasi Goreng is a simple but very flavorful Indonesian food. The fact that it is also very cheap makes it popular throughout the country. The rice is fried in a wok pan with some oil or margarine. Its sweet twist and uniqueness come from the thick soy sauce called kecap. After it is cooked, the rice is complemented with a salty seasoning and garnished with crushed chili sambal, garlic, and acar (pickled carrots and cucumbers). Varieties of Nasi Goreng can include meat slices or beans combined with a fried egg.
#4 Tahu Bakar
In Indonesia, tofu is considered a poor man’s snack, which automatically means it is a very common ingredient. Tahu Bakar are pockets of crispy fried tofu that look like small pockets. They have a distinct golden color and bright flavor and are best when served with sweet soy sauce & chili.
#5 Ayam Pelalah
Аyam Pelalah is an authentic Balinese dish. It is comprised of shredded chicken which is first grilled and then seasoned with a number of spices. Ayam Pelalah is usually served along with Nasi Campur (mixed rice).
Even though Indonesian food coming from Bali, like Ayam Pelalah, is generally time-consuming, people in Indonesia consider it to be worth the effort since they believe food is a sacred offering to God. Top this Indonesian food with some juice of limau lime, a fruit commonly used in Balinese cooking to enhance the flavor.
The term gado-gado translates to ‘mix-mix’ and refers to a Jakartan peanut sauce salad. Its base is comprised of compressed rice cakes, eggs, and vegetables like boiled long beans, bean sprouts, potato, spinach, and corn. Besides that, tofu, tempe, and cucumber are often added.
This combination of ingredients makes gado-gado a very fulfilling salad which can be eaten as a main dish. No wonder it is one of the most popular street foods in Indonesia. People in the capital like covering their gado-gado with a peanut or cashew sauce but as you move eastwards throughout Indonesia, the dish gets sweeter. Actually, the nut sauce is the first item of the salad that the vendors will mix up and the one that gives gado-gado its richness and heartiness.
Rendang is the dish that ended up on top of CNN’s world’s best foods list! Those who have tried it, agree that the position is completely deserved. Rendang is a truly remarkable Indonesian food. This curry-like dish originated in the island of Sumatra but is widely popular throughout Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
There are two main variations of rending – one that is drier and is considered to be the original version, and another that contains more gravy. Both versions, however, are usually made with beef, cooked together with shallots and garlic and accompanied by lots of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, and dry chilies. The ingredient that distinguishes this Indonesian food from curries is desiccated coconut, which contributes grainy texture to the dish.
#8 Kek Lapis
Kek Lapis is Indonesian layer cake which certainly looks beautiful but is rather difficult to prepare. The batter for each layer of the cake needs to be precisely measured. When baking, you need to pay close attention and remove the layer (yes, Kek Lapis is baked one layer at a time!) just when it gets light brown.
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However, if you get this cake right, you will realize that it is worth the effort. This sweet Indonesian food is based on butter and eggs (some versions call for yolks only, while others include whites as well). Then, spices are added to obtain the distinct exotic flavor and beautiful aroma. Kek Lapis is very rich and filling and therefore served in small pieces. It is one of the favorite holiday & special occasion desserts in Indonesia.
I believe that food should not only taste good, but make you feel good as well and that is why I am so interested in exploring ingredients, preparing meals, and finding ways to make the whole cooking experience fun and exciting! Being a blogger for MyGreatRecipes unites my two passions – food and writing, and I am enjoying every second of it!