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A Guide To Indonesian Food – What To Eat In Indonesia


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Latashia Gardner



Indonesia is a land of diverse cultures, rich traditions, and breathtaking natural beauty. One of the best ways to experience the vibrant culture of Indonesia is through its food. Indonesian cuisine is a fusion of flavors, influenced by various ethnic groups, including Javanese, Sumatran, Balinese, and more.


From aromatic spices to mouth-watering street food, Indonesian cuisine has something to offer for everyone. Whether you’re a fan of spicy dishes or prefer milder flavors, there is a wide range of options to tantalize your taste buds.


Indonesian cuisine is known for its bold and complex flavors. The use of ingredients like turmeric, lemongrass, coconut milk, and chili peppers adds a unique depth to the dishes. The combination of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors creates a delightful culinary experience.


Indonesia is home to a plethora of dishes that will leave you craving for more. From iconic dishes like Nasi Goreng and Sate to lesser-known gems like Gado-gado and Rendang, there is an abundance of flavors waiting to be explored.


So, whether you’re planning a trip to Indonesia or simply want to experience the vibrant flavors of Indonesian cuisine at home, this guide will introduce you to some of the must-try dishes that represent the essence of Indonesian culinary heritage. Get ready to embark on a flavorful journey through the diverse and delicious world of Indonesian food!


Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)

Nasi Goreng, or Indonesian fried rice, is a beloved dish that can be found all across the archipelago. It is a staple in Indonesian homes and is also readily available in street food stalls and restaurants. This popular dish is a delicious combination of stir-fried rice, vegetables, meat, and a variety of aromatic spices.


The key to a good plate of Nasi Goreng lies in the balance of flavors. It is typically made with leftover rice that is stir-fried with a mix of ingredients, such as shallots, garlic, and chili peppers. The addition of sweet soy sauce, known as kecap manis, gives the dish its signature rich and slightly sweet flavor.


While the basic version of Nasi Goreng includes vegetables like carrots, peas, and bean sprouts, it can also be customized to include additional toppings, such as shrimp, chicken, or beef. The dish is usually garnished with a fried egg, crispy shallots, and a side of pickles or prawn crackers.


Nasi Goreng is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed any time of the day. It is often served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and is commonly accompanied by a side of sambal, a spicy chili sauce, for an extra kick of flavor. Its affordability, delicious taste, and widely available ingredients make it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.


When in Indonesia, make sure to indulge in a plate of Nasi Goreng. It is a hearty and fulfilling meal that encapsulates the essence of Indonesian comfort food. Whether you enjoy it on the streets of Jakarta or in a local warung, Nasi Goreng is sure to satisfy your cravings for a tasty and satisfying meal.


Sate (Satay)

Sate, also known as Satay, is a popular Indonesian street food that has gained popularity worldwide. It is a dish consisting of skewered and grilled meat, usually served with a flavorful peanut sauce. Sate is known for its smoky aroma, tender meat, and mouthwatering taste.


Indonesia offers a wide variety of Sate, with different regions having their own unique preparations and flavors. The most common types of Sate include Sate Ayam (chicken Satay), Sate Kambing (goat Satay), and Sate Sapi (beef Satay). Each variation has its own distinctive marinade and grilling style.


The meat is typically marinated in a mixture of spices, such as turmeric, coriander, and lemongrass, which adds flavor and tenderizes the meat. It is then skewered onto thin bamboo or metal sticks and grilled over an open flame. The grilling process gives the meat a delicious charred exterior while keeping it juicy and succulent inside.


What sets Indonesian Sate apart is the accompanying peanut sauce. The sauce is made from ground roasted peanuts, mixed with sweet soy sauce, palm sugar, and chili for a perfect balance of sweetness and spiciness. This rich and creamy sauce complements the grilled meat, creating a harmonious combination of flavors.


Sate is often served with lontong (rice cake), cucumber slices, and shallot slices as a garnish. Some variations of Sate also include side dishes like rice, fried rice, or vegetable salad. It is a perfect dish to enjoy as a snack, appetizer, or even a main course.


Whether you’re strolling through the bustling streets of Jakarta or exploring the local food markets in Bali, you are bound to find Sate being cooked over hot grills. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor this iconic Indonesian street food and experience the explosion of flavors that come with each bite of tender, grilled meat dipped in the delectable peanut sauce.



Gado-gado is a popular Indonesian salad that showcases the diversity and abundance of fresh vegetables in Indonesian cuisine. The name “gado-gado” literally means “mix-mix” in Indonesian, reflecting the variety of ingredients that come together to create this colorful and nutritious dish.


At its core, Gado-gado consists of a medley of blanched or raw vegetables, such as cabbage, bean sprouts, spinach, and cucumber, topped with a generous serving of boiled potatoes and eggs. The salad is then smothered in a thick and creamy peanut sauce, which adds a burst of flavor to the dish.


What makes Gado-gado truly unique is its versatility. While the basic ingredients remain the same, the dish can be customized to suit individual preferences. Some variations include the addition of tofu, tempeh (fermented soybean cake), or even shrimp crackers for added texture and flavor.


The peanut sauce, known as “bumbu kacang,” is the heart of Gado-gado. It is made by grinding roasted peanuts with spices, garlic, palm sugar, and tamarind paste. The result is a thick and creamy sauce with a delightful combination of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors.


Gado-gado is not only a tasty dish but also a nutritious one. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber from the assortment of fresh vegetables, it provides a healthy and balanced meal option. It’s no wonder that Gado-gado is a popular choice among health-conscious individuals and vegetarians.


Whether enjoyed as a light lunch or a refreshing side dish, Gado-gado captures the essence of Indonesian cuisine – the harmonious blend of flavors in a dish that celebrates the abundance of fresh and vibrant ingredients. So, next time you visit Indonesia, be sure to try Gado-gado for a taste of the country’s culinary ingenuity.



Rendang is a traditional Indonesian dish that has gained worldwide recognition as one of the most flavorful and delicious beef dishes. Hailing from the Padang region in West Sumatra, Rendang is a slow-cooked curry known for its tender meat, rich spices, and complex flavors.


This iconic dish is made with chunks of beef that are simmered for hours in a fragrant blend of spices and coconut milk. The spice paste, known as “rempah,” is the foundation of Rendang and typically includes ingredients like shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and a variety of aromatic spices such as cloves, star anise, and cinnamon.


What sets Rendang apart from other curries is its unique cooking process. The beef is cooked with the spices and coconut milk over low heat, allowing the flavors to infuse into the meat and creating a thick, rich gravy. As the liquid evaporates, the meat absorbs the flavorful spices, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture and an explosion of taste with every bite.


Rendang is characterized by its deep, earthy flavors, with hints of sweetness, spiciness, and umami. The dish has a complex flavor profile and can range from mildly spicy to fiery hot, depending on the amount of chili used in the recipe.


Traditionally, Rendang was served during special occasions, celebrations, and weddings. However, it has now become a popular dish served both in Indonesian households and in restaurants worldwide. It is typically enjoyed with steamed rice or traditional Indonesian flatbread known as “lontong” or “ketupat.”


Indulging in a plate of Rendang is a culinary experience that transports you to the heart of Indonesian cuisine. The tender meat, rich spices, and luxurious coconut gravy will leave you craving for more. Make sure to savor this iconic dish when you visit Indonesia or try your hand at making it at home using traditional recipes for an authentic taste of Indonesian cuisine.



Soto is a flavorful Indonesian soup that is loved by locals and visitors alike. It is a comfort food that is commonly enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Soto is made with a clear broth, infused with a variety of aromatic spices, and filled with a combination of ingredients.


There are many regional variations of Soto throughout Indonesia, each with its own unique characteristics. Some popular variations include Soto Ayam (chicken soup), Soto Betawi (Jakarta-style soup), and Soto Padang (Padang-style soup). Despite the differences, all Soto recipes share a common love for fragrant spices and fresh ingredients.


The base of Soto is a flavorful broth made by simmering chicken, beef, or other meats with herbs and spices. The broth is typically seasoned with ingredients like lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and turmeric, which give it a distinct aroma and taste.


Each variation of Soto showcases different ingredients. Soto Ayam features tender chicken pieces, rice noodles, bean sprouts, and various toppings such as fried shallots, celery leaves, and lime wedges. Soto Betawi is known for its rich and creamy broth, made with beef and served with beef stew, coconut milk, and potatoes. Soto Padang features beef chunks, rice cakes, and is traditionally served with emping crackers.


One of the key elements of Soto is the condiments that accompany it. These include koya (a mixture of fried garlic, shallots, and shrimp crackers that lends a crunchy texture), sambal (spicy chili sauce), and lime juice. These condiments add layers of flavor and enhance the overall taste of the soup.


Whether you’re seeking comfort on a rainy day or want to savor the diverse flavors of Indonesian cuisine, a bowl of Soto is the perfect choice. The warm broth, fragrant spices, and combination of tender meats and fresh ingredients make it a beloved dish that truly embodies the essence of Indonesian comfort food.


Nasi Padang

Nasi Padang is a renowned Indonesian culinary treasure that originated from the Padang region in West Sumatra. It is a feast of flavors, textures, and spices, showcasing the richness of Minangkabau cuisine. Nasi Padang refers to a plate of steamed rice served with an array of flavorful dishes.


As you sit down at a Nasi Padang restaurant, you will be greeted with a parade of small plates and bowls, filled with vibrant and mouth-watering dishes. The dishes range from savory curries, spicy stir-fried vegetables, tender braised meats, and crispy fried delights.


One of the highlights of Nasi Padang is the iconic Rendang, a slow-cooked beef dish simmered with aromatic spices and coconut milk until it becomes tender and bursting with flavors. Other popular dishes include Gulai Ayam (curried chicken), Dendeng Balado (spicy beef jerky), and Sambal Goreng Udang (spicy stir-fried shrimp).


When dining at a Nasi Padang establishment, you have the freedom to pick and choose the dishes that appeal to you. The waitstaff will bring out a wide variety of dishes to your table, and you can select the ones that catch your eye. The prices are typically based on the number of dishes you choose.


Nasi Padang is not only known for its delectable dishes but also for its bold and robust flavors. The dishes are often spicy, with the use of chili peppers, turmeric, lemongrass, and other aromatic spices. The combination of flavors creates a complex and satisfying dining experience.


For those who appreciate the diverse and flavorsome cuisine of Indonesia, Nasi Padang is a must-try. It allows you to explore the rich culinary heritage of the country and indulge in a feast of flavors. So, when you visit Indonesia, don’t miss the opportunity to savor the delightful Nasi Padang experience.



Sambal is a staple condiment in Indonesian cuisine that adds a fiery kick to any dish. It is a chili-based sauce or paste that is beloved by Indonesians for its ability to elevate the flavors of a meal. Sambal is not just a condiment; it is a taste sensation that brings heat, tanginess, and a burst of flavor to every bite.


There are countless variations of sambal throughout Indonesia, each with its own unique blend of ingredients and heat levels. Common ingredients in sambal include chili peppers, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste, lime juice, and various spices like coriander and cumin.


Sambal can range from mild to extremely spicy, depending on the type and quantity of chili peppers used. It is a versatile condiment that can be customized according to personal taste preferences. Some sambals are smooth and saucy, while others are slightly chunky with bits of chili and other ingredients visible.


Indonesians consider sambal an essential part of their meals, and it is commonly served alongside rice dishes, grilled meats, fried snacks, and even soups. It is often used as a dipping sauce or added as a topping to enhance the flavors of a dish.


Every region in Indonesia has its own signature sambal, reflecting the local culinary traditions and ingredients. For example, Sambal Matah from Bali combines shallots, lemongrass, and lime juice for a refreshing and tangy flavor. On the other hand, Sambal Terasi is a popular sambal from Java made with shrimp paste for a savory umami taste.


Whether you prefer a mild sambal to add a touch of spice or a fiery sambal to set your taste buds ablaze, Indonesian cuisine offers an array of sambal options to suit your preferences. Exploring the different varieties of sambal allows you to experience the vibrant chili culture of Indonesia and adds depth and excitement to your culinary adventures.



Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy-based food that is gaining popularity worldwide for its versatility and nutritional benefits. It is made by fermenting whole soybeans, which are bound together into a compact cake-like form. Tempeh is known for its unique texture, nutty flavor, and high protein content.


In Indonesia, tempeh is a staple in many households and is used in a variety of dishes. It can be prepared in different ways, such as frying, grilling, or simmering in various sauces. Tempeh can also be crumbled, sliced, or marinated to suit different cooking styles and flavor profiles.


What sets tempeh apart from other soy-based products is the fermentation process. During fermentation, natural cultures transform the soybeans into a firm texture and develop a distinctive flavor. This process also makes tempeh easier to digest and increases its nutritional value.


Tempeh is a great source of plant-based protein, making it an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans. It is also rich in essential amino acids, fiber, and micronutrients like iron and calcium. It is often viewed as a healthier alternative to meat, as it is low in fat and cholesterol.


In Indonesian cuisine, tempeh is used in a variety of dishes, such as Tempeh Goreng (fried tempeh), Sambal Goreng Tempeh (spicy stir-fried tempeh), and Tempeh Sate (grilled tempeh skewers). It can be added to stir-fries, curries, soups, and salads, or enjoyed as a standalone protein-rich snack.


For those looking to incorporate more plant-based options into their diet or explore the flavors of Indonesian cuisine, tempeh is a must-try ingredient. Its versatility, health benefits, and unique taste make it a popular choice for those seeking a flavorful, nutrient-dense addition to their meals.



Martabak is a beloved Indonesian street food that is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. It is a delightful treat that can be either sweet or savory, often likened to a stuffed pancake or a thick crispy crepe. Martabak is versatile, delicious, and a must-try when exploring Indonesian cuisine.


There are two main types of Martabak: Martabak Manis (Sweet Martabak) and Martabak Telur (Egg Martabak). Martabak Manis is a sweet version filled with a variety of delicious fillings, such as chocolate, cheese, peanuts, or a combination of these. It is cooked on a flat griddle, creating a crispy exterior and a gooey, flavorful filling.


On the other hand, Martabak Telur is a savory version that features an omelet-like filling. The base is made of a thin layer of dough containing eggs, minced meat, vegetables, and a blend of spices. It is then folded and cooked until golden and crispy, resulting in a delicious and satisfying snack.


Martabak is often enjoyed as street food, with vendors setting up their stalls in the evenings. It is a popular choice for those seeking a quick and tasty bite. You can find Martabak vendors in various parts of Indonesia, offering a wide range of flavors and fillings to satisfy your cravings.


Whether you prefer the sweet variant with its decadent chocolate and cheese fillings or the savory one with its flavorful egg and meat combination, Martabak is a treat for the taste buds. The contrasting textures of crispy and soft, along with the bursts of sweet or savory flavors, make it a delightful indulgence.


When in Indonesia, don’t miss the opportunity to try Martabak from a street vendor or a Martabak specialty shop. It’s an experience that will immerse you in the vibrant street food culture and leave you craving for more of this irresistible Indonesian delicacy.



Indonesia’s rich and diverse culinary heritage offers a tantalizing array of flavors and dishes that reflect the country’s vibrant culture. From the aromatic Nasi Goreng to the fiery Sambal, the mouthwatering Satay to the complex Rendang, and the comforting Soto to the indulgent Martabak, Indonesian cuisine has something for everyone.


Exploring Indonesian food is not just about satisfying hunger; it’s a journey of discovering the unique ingredients, cooking techniques, and cultural influences that shape each dish. The use of aromatic spices, fresh herbs, and a wide variety of ingredients creates a harmonious mix of flavors that excites the palate.


Indonesian cuisine embraces bold and contrasting flavors, from sweet and spicy to tangy and savory. It showcases the skillful balance of ingredients and the creativity of Indonesian cooks who transform simple dishes into culinary masterpieces.


Whether you’re wandering through bustling food markets, dining at local warungs, or trying your hand at cooking Indonesian recipes at home, you’ll experience the warm hospitality and rich culinary traditions of the Indonesian people.


So, venture beyond your culinary comfort zone and dive into the world of Indonesian food. Let your taste buds be tantalized by the diverse flavors, vibrant colors, and intriguing aromas of this beautiful country. Embrace the boldness, the richness, and the sheer joy that Indonesian cuisine brings. Selamat makan (enjoy your meal)!