Indonesian cuisine: what to eat region by region

September 25, 2019

If a lot of the local culture can be understood from food, Indonesia, with its variety of ingredients and typical specialties, will really be able to surprise you.

Bali local food in Indonesia

The culture and history of a nation cannot be separated from its food. For this reason a trip to Indonesia cannot be complete without having tried the local cuisine, trying to understand it and appreciate it, even if often different from Western taste.

Here are the foods to try area by area in Indonesia.

Gudeg in Yogyakarta

The city of Yogyakarta offers a great deal to lovers of good food wishing to experiment. To be tasted, however, there is absolutely the Gudeg, one of the specialties of this city. It is a dish prepared with unripe jackfruit, called gori, traditional herbs and sometimes with eggs and chicken. Accompanying these ingredients, there is the rice and cow skin made soft by cooking.

Any restaurant in Yogyakarta serves the Gudeg. The gori, before being used as an ingredient, is boiled with palm sugar and coconut milk for several hours, usually in a clay pot. Once ready, it is put in the dish with the other ingredients, often accompanied by garlic, shallots, coriander seeds and teak leaves. Gudeg has a sweetish taste, sometimes made spicy by sauces.

Indonesian gudeg dish
Traditional Gudeg is made with gori, herbs, eggs and chicken.

Making a good Gudeg is a long process, which requires quite long cooking times, sometimes even a day. Along with the rice, the Gudeg can also be served with pieces of fried bunch with chili and hazelnuts, curry chicken soaked in coconut milk, boiled egg, steamed tofu or a soy pie.

There are two types of Gudeg. There is a "wet" Gudeg served with a larger amount of coconut sauce which becomes similar to a broth. The jackfruit is caramelized and very sweet. The "dry" Gudeg has less coconut milk. Finally, there is also a Gudeg variant called Gudeg Manggar, in which the jackfruit is replaced by a coconut flower.

Lumpia in Semarang

The city of Semarang is the capital of Central Java province, where the legacy of Dutch colonialism still reigns, for example in the buildings of the old town. However, in some neighborhoods, there is also a certain Chinese influence, especially in the Chinatown district.

Here you can taste a typical dish of Semarang, Lumpia.

Lumpia dish, Indonesia
Lumpia is a roll made with shrimps and bamboo shoots.

This roll is filled with dried shrimps, bamboo shoots, chicken or scampi. The roll can be fried, and served with a sauce made from coconut sugar, shrimp, red pepper, water, white pepper, leek and tapioca starch.

Bandung cuisine

Bandung, the capital of the province of Java, is famous for its richness and gastronomic variety, ranging from street food to starred cuisine. One of the dishes to try absolutely during a stay in Bandung is the timbel, cooked with fried or roasted chicken, tempeh, fried tofu and a slice of fish with salt. Another specialty to try is the Batagor baso tahu goreng, literally fried meatballs and tofu.

Bandung typical dishes in Indonesia
Bandung area is famous for its rich gastronomy.

Pisang molen, on the other hand, is a sweet pastry filled with banana and cheese, while es cendol is made from ground rice, palm sugar and coconut milk. Also to be tried is Bandung's yogurt, sold in two types, one more liquid and one more dense.

The gehu-toge tahu is tofu with vegetable filling, pisang goreng is a fried banana, while the cireng-aci goreng is fried tapioca. Other fruits that are fried and eaten as snacks are the jackfruit (nangka goreng) and the pineapple (nanas goreng). The most popular dish, although not native to Bandung, is fried rice or Nasi goreng, often accompanied by shrimp, crab and seafood, chicken and vegetables, mutton and vegetables, salt fish and other ingredients according to preference.

Jakarta street food

Street food in Indonesia is a varied and surprising universe, especially in the lively capital of Jakarta, where there are stalls selling food for practically every meal of the day in every corner. It's worth taking advantage of it, right? On the streets of the capital you can buy a simple fried tofu but also the traditional Gudeg or Soto, a kind of vegetable soup, with chicken or mutton or pork with rice. The soto can be ayam, with chicken, or kambing, with ram. The typical soto of Jakarta is the Soto Betawi, but there are different types depending on the different regions, for example the soto Madura is typical of East Java, the soto Padang comes from western Sumatra, and so on.

At local stalls we also recommend buying the famous satay, pieces of chicken meat, pork, beef, lamb or goat (sometimes even fish), skewered in bamboo skewers that are grilled and then served accompanied by spicy seasonings. You can also find the traditional Nasi goreng or Nasi Rawon, rice accompanied by a beef soup with kluwak nuts.

Jakarta street food in Indonesia
Street food in Indonesia can be a pleasant surprise.

There are really dishes for all tastes in the streets of Jakarta!

Tintuan in Manado

Even Manado cuisine is interesting for lovers of good food. Manado cuisine is characterized by the use of tasty herbs and rather spicy dishes.

The capital of North Sulawesi is famous for a porridge, called Tintuan, which at first may seem unattractive and is actually very appetizing (although very spicy). It is a vegetarian dish, often served for breakfast.

Dish of Tintuan from Manado, Indonesia
Tintuan is a porridge served for breakfast.

It is prepared with rice and vegetables, including pumpkin, sweet potato, cassava, spinach, corn and other vegetables, flavored with garlic, chives, ginger, salt and bay leaves. To understand if you are about to eat a good Tintuan just look at the color: when the yellow of the pumpkin, corn and sweet potato has been absorbed by the rice, be ready to lick your mustache. Tintuan can be accompanied by salt fish or noodles.

Lontong Sayur in Medan

You cannot go to Medan without tasting the Lontong Sayur Medan, a protein-rich dish to be consumed at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It consists of a vegetable soup with coconut milk, tofu, tempeh, steamed rice in banana leaves, boiled eggs, sambal, rendang and side dishes of your choice.

Lontong Sayur dish from Medan, Indonesia
This soup made of vegetables and coconut milk can be served for breakfast, lunch and even dinner.

You can find it both in restaurants and steet food stalls in the cities.

Top specialties in Makassar

Makassar is the capital of the southern Sulawesi province, an access point for the exploration of eastern Indonesia and the Toraja lands. But the city also boasts a rich culinary heritage, ranging from fish dishes to desserts. Among the dishes to taste is the Konro soup, a spicy soup containing beef and dark broth, enriched with savory spices, including coriander keluwal, nutmeg, cinnamon, tamarind, cloves, bay leaves and other spices. The soup is served with steamed rice or rice patties.

Another typical dish of the city is the Coto Makassar, a variant of the Indonesian soto and composed of beef and various animal entrails, frequently accompanied by rice cakes.

Dish of Coto Makassar, Indonesia
Coto Makassar is made of beef and several animal entrails.

Being Makassar a seaside town, of course you can also taste excellent fish and seafood dishes, caught fresh from the ocean. To try is the fish that locals call Kulu-kulu, with a particular shape but really appetizing. Then there are tasty crabs, even to eat as street food.

NyukNyang are typical Makassar meatballs in a soup. This dish, known as Bakso, is widespread throughout the archipelago, but the NyukNyang are the typical Makassar variant, prepared with beef or pork.

Finally there is the Es Pisang Ijo, literally "green banana ice", made with steamed bananas wrapped in a mixture of green rice flour similar to pancakes, to which a cream of coconut milk and a syrup is added, and finally ice cubes. Es Palu Batung is prepared with the same sweet cream, in this case the banana slices are not wrapped in the dough, but steamed before being served. Both desserts can only be prepared with particular types of bananas: Es Pisang Ijo with Saba bananas, Es Palu Butung with plantains.

Lapis Legit: the traditional cake

The Lapis Legit is the traditional Indonesian cake. A layered cake, introduced by Dutch settlers, but rarely found in Holland today and which is very common in Indonesia. Preparation times are very long and patience is a common and appreciated feature for the Indonesian people.

Lapis Legit cake from Indonesia
Lapis Legit is a cake made of eggs, spices and butter.

The cake is made with many eggs, Indonesian spices, plenty of butter, preferably Dutch. Each layer is baked individually and then overlapped, up to even 18 layers on top of each other.

A different Satay for every island

Satay is a very popular dish in Indonesia, so much so that there are different variations based on geographical regions. These are pieces of marinated meat topped on bamboo skewers, which are cooked on a fire fired with coal and then seasoned with tasty sauces. It is one of the most famous and widespread dishes in Indonesia, as in all of Southeast Asia.

The different cultures and ethnicities of the archipelago have developed their own version of the satay, which varies for used spices, sauces and even for the method of preparing the skewer.

Basket of Indonesian chicken satay
In Indonesia you can try many variations of Satay.

For example, there is the Sate Ayam, or Chicken Satay, prepared with chicken, accompanied by soy sauce, shallot or chopped pepper. It is the most widespread form of satay in Indonesia and in the world. The Sate Kambing uses instead diced lamb meat, marinated with pineapple in small pieces, and served with two types of sauces to choose from, peanut or soy.

Sate Maranggi is originally from Purwakarta, in West Java, and uses lamb or beef marinated in a green pepper sauce and sugar cane vinegar, served in a shallot and tomato dish. Sate Kerang is typical of Surabaya, East Java, and is prepared with boiled scallops, marinated with lime leaves, ginger, tamarind juice and soy sauce. Once ready, it is grilled or sautéed in the pan to make it blacken on the edges. In Central Java, the Sate Buntel is eaten, with minced beef or lamb, wrapped in a layer of animal fat and stuffed on the spit like a small sausage.

The Sate Padang, prepared with beef or beef tongue, accompanied by lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and turmeric, comes from Western Sumatra. Before being served with a thick and spicy sauce, it is grilled. Sate lilit is a Bali specialty, it is prepared with different types of meat, including chicken, pork, fish or even turtle. To these pieces of coconut, lime juice, coconut milk and shallot are added. The whole, minced, is wrapped around the skewer and grilled over the fire.

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