Cuisine of Indonesia

Indonesia, International Cuisine


Andrew’s Essential Fiery Food Facts that a pyro-gourmaniac needs to Know

Part 5

Fiery Cuisines Part 3 Indonesia


Nowhere is this more true than in Indonesia, the fifth largest country in the world, an archipelago consisting of 18,000 islands, spanning one-eighth of the globe and occupied by 250 ethnic groups. Here tremendous ethnic diversity coupled with wave upon wave of cultural influence adds up to a world of pleasure for the culinary adventurer.

Indonesia’s indigenous techniques and ingredients merge with influences from India, the Middle East, China and Europe. And then there are the New World products brought by Spanish and Portuguese traders long before the Dutch colonized the islands.

Rice is Indonesia’s main staple except in Maluku (the Moluccas) and Irian Jaya (Indonesian New Guinea) where sago palm flour, sweet potatoes and cassava reign supreme. As in the rest of Southeast Asia, other dishes are eaten in extremely small quantities. Meat, fish and vegetables are condiments designed to flavour the staple. Sauces such as fiery sambals lend added character. Westerners, accustomed to eating much larger portions of meat and fish, find much of Indonesian food scorchingly hot.

Natural resources include rich volcanic soils and endless coastlines as the islands arc through both the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Although some coastal areas are fished out, fresh water possibilities include lakes, rivers, ponds and flooded rice paddies. Not surprisingly, fish and crustaceans, fresh and dried, play a major role in the Indonesian diet.

Flavourings indigenous to the islands establish strong family ties between Indonesian food and that of its Southeast Asian neighbours. Coconut milk, or santen, plays a critical role here as well as in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines. Indonesia shares the flavours of galangal, kaffir lime leaf and pandan with Thailand. Lemon grass and dried shrimp appear in the Philippines and Thailand both. Shrimp paste permeates the flavours of all three and Vietnam as well. Meanwhile delicious fruits and vegetables are common to the entire region.

But Indonesia’s culinary ties are closest to those Southeast Asian countries strongly influenced by India. In fact, if there are ancient Buddhist or Hindu sites to be found on a country’s soil, you can almost bet its cuisine will include ingredients such as cumin, coriander, ginger, and/or caraway. And you will find curries — highly spiced sauces often diluted with coconut milk and served with bite-sized bits of meat, fish and vegetables to enliven the blandness of rice.

Arab traders ultimately converted Java from Hinduism to Islam and exercised their culinary influence as well. Kebabs, marinated meat cubes threaded on skewers, were reinterpreted to become satay. Dill and fennel entered the repertoire of spices. Today Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Not surprisingly, goat and lamb are important meats, while pork is forbidden. It is eaten only in Hindu Bali and within the Chinese community.

Chinese merchants and traders meanwhile added their own indispensable contributions to the cookpot. Indonesian food would be unrecognizable without the wok, stir-frying, the soybean and noodles which thread their way throughout the cuisine in countless ways. Among their many vegetables, the Chinese brought mustard greens, mung beans, daikon radish and Chinese cabbage.

The Dutch, attracted by the nutmeg and cloves of Maluku, waged wars over the Spice Islands and ultimately colonized the entire archipelago. Colonization caused much suffering, but added the finishing touch when it came to flavours. Chili peppers from Mexico added their unmistakable sting. Peanuts from the Americas provided sauces for satay and gado-gado. Cassava from the Caribbean and sweet potatoes from South America furnished Maluku and Irian Jaya with their staples.

In this exotic world, Dutch colonizers sought the flavors of home. They imported cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, string beans, potatoes and corn, adding to the already vast array of vegetables. They also created an entertainment institution designed to present scores of different dishes at a single sitting. Rijsttafels might contain up to a hundred different dishes. Servants stood behind the chair of each guest ready to provide soothing morsels when necessary to cool a burning palate.

But a cuisine is more than the sum of its parts. Indonesian cooks adopted new tools, techniques and ingredients and indigenized them — some of the nearly beyond recognition. Ingenious home cooks used new techniques and forged ingredients unique to Indonesia.

Today soybeans provide not just nutritious beans for cooking on their own, soy sauce, tofu and sprouts, but tempeh, toasted soybean cakes fashionable in Western health food circles. Chinese soy sauce plays a role similar to fish sauce in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. But Indonesians enrich it by the addition of sugar, star anise, salam leaf and galangal to become kecap manis or sweet soy sauce, a key ingredient and a dynamite addition to any cook’s pantry. (Pronounce that “ketchup.” It’s the Indonesian origin of the English word.)

Not surprisingly, Indonesia has created a mix of flavours which exerts its own influence abroad. Satay has crept up the Malay Peninsula to become one of Bangkok’s u street foods. Indonesian food plays a major role in the melange of cuisines found in Singapore. After years of colonial intimacy, the Dutch are avid fans and some of the best Indonesian restaurants abroad can be found in the Netherlands.

History can be dry as dust or it can be fresh and tasty. Eating our way through Indonesia allows us to appreciate the significance of this country as a cultural crossroads where the great art, religions, political powers and economic forces meet and interact — and lets us ache for just another bite.


Sambal Terasi


sambal in the daily menu of Indonesia people, sambal seems can’t be separated. Although, Sambal is not the main menu, but its presence is always awaited among other main dishes. The dishes would be tasteless without sambal and one of the most popular sambal among Indonesians is Sambal Terasi



15 red chilies, sliced and seeded

2 Tbs. dried shrimp paste

2 medium-sized tomato, chopped

2 small shallots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised

2 Tbs. oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 Tbs. salt

1 Tbs. lime juice


Heat oil and saute shallots, chillies, garlic and tomato until they are fragrant. Take out from the wok and set aside.

Grind or blend all the fried ingredients with dried shrimp paste, salt and palm sugar, until smooth in mortar.


Spicy Tempeh Goreng


This is my favourite Indonesian Dish


Tempeh is a clever Indonesian innovation of naturally culturing soybeans injected with rhizopus mold spores collected from rice that is then wrapped in banana leaves, pressed to about 2cm rectangular cakes, and fermented. Tempeh is a rich source of vegetable protein, vitamin B12, and natural fiber, and now very popular worldwide as an alternative to animal protein.

Tempeh’s rich nutty flavor combined with a piquant sambal is a pairing that stirs the appetite and tantalizes the taste buds. Tempeh also makes a compelling case for supporting the idea of sustainable agriculture and a healthier diet to share with your friends and family.



oil for shallow frying

250g tempeh, sliced

½ Red Onion, finely sliced

2-3 birds-eye chillies, finely chopped

1 Red Habanero seeded and chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 teaspoons grated fresh galangal

1 stem lemongrass, white part only, sliced

4 fresh kaffir lime leaves

2 tablespoons shaved palm sugar

1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soya sauce)

1 tablespoon light soya sauce or to taste


Method :

Heat 1.5cm oil in a large fying pan over high heat. Cook the tempeh in batches for

1-2 minutes or until lightly browned. Drain.

Heat the extra oil in a wok, add the onion, chillies and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until soft.

Add the remaining ingredients and 1/3 cup (80ml) water and cook for 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat, add the tempeh and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until heated through. Add a little water, if necessary, to prevent any sticking.


Sateh lilit – Minced Balinese seafood satay


Sateh lilit is traditional Balinese food. This is a very popular dish for Balinese people. It has a strong connection with the traditional ceremonies in Bali. The sateh lilit is commonly made with sea fish



300 g  snapper skinned and deboned

300 g medium green prawns, peeled, deveined

90 g desiccated coconut, moistened with 2-3 tsp water

1 tbs Thai green curry paste

5 Kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced

2 Habanero chillies, chopped

1 tbs brown sugar

Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

3 lemon grass stalks, trimmed

1 tbs olive oil

Lemon wedges, to serve



Place the fish fillets and prawns in the food processor and process until smooth. Put into a bowl and add coconut, curry paste, lime leaves, chillies and brown sugar. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the lemon grass stalks lengthways into four 20 cm. Mould 2-3 tbs of the fish mixture around the end of each lemon grass length.

Place on a plate, cover and place in the fridge for 3 hours to allow flavours to develop.

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan on medium heat.

Place the sate skewers on their side in the pan and cook on medium heat, turning occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned and just cooked through.


Hot Spicy Eggplant (Terong Balado)




10 eggplants

5 boiled egg or fried egg

10 large red peppers

1 tomato

2 onions

3 cloves garlic

2 slices galangal

1 stalk lemongrass

2 tbsp salt

½ tsp sugar



Cut eggplant into 2cm cubes. Fry until it is brownish.

Cut onion, garlic, tomato, and red pepper the same size as the Eggplant . Fry until it is withered. Mix all together.

Saute spices, salt, and sugar in some oil. Add Lemongrass and galangal until it is fragrant and oily.

Put egg in and the mixture.

Simmer for a while over medium heat in order that the spice is soaked into egg. Add fried eggplant and mix.