Places

A Bite for Beginners: Indonesia 101

3:59 PM


There’s no place on earth quite like Indonesia. A collection of beautiful islands the historic trading post has long been a melting pot of cultures - Malay, European, Arab, Chinese, Javanese and Indian - and this is reflected in the vibrancy of the cuisine you can find there. Home to over 10 million people, it's capital Jakarta just begs to be explored by those with an interest in exotic flavours.

Nicknamed Indonesia’s ‘Capital of Splendour’, the city can offer every culinary experience from authentic street food to refined haute cuisine. With such a complex and regional food scene, Indonesia’s food is best experienced in the country itself. Taking a foodie trip to one or several of the archipelago’s islands is an experience not to be missed.

Fine Dining in Jakarta
The capital houses some globally renowned fine dining establishments that can offer a unique experience to travellers. Basing yourself in Jakarta is a great way to explore the island of Java as well as the rest of Indonesia. Many choose to explore the city from the base of a short-term rental let, in order to experience the real life of the country. The first step is to use a lettings site to find a property, such as https://www.rumah.com/rumah-disewa/di-area-jakarta-selatan-idjk03, and then you're ready to make some restaurant bookings. And you may find more to discover than you thought - Namaaz Dining is Indonesia’s first gastromolecular fine dining establishment. Mixing cooking with the cutting edge of science, you’ll encounter some remarkable delights in unusual forms that put the fun back into your foodie experience. This is food that will keep you guessing and has the power to surprise and delight. It can get booked up far in advance, so make sure you reserve a table as soon as your flights are booked. If you prefer Eastern flavours, OKU is Japanese dining par excellence. Located in the prestigious Kempinski Hotel, you’ll encounter a very modern, metropolitan twist on traditional Japanese dishes, all with the trademark exquisite presentation of chef Kazumasa Yazawa. Meanwhile, over at VIEW by Andrew Zarzosa you can sample Euro-centric cooking with an Asian slant. Beautiful small plates of delicacies are the running theme here, making for a great evening to share with a group of friends. Even more so when you consider the awe-inspiring views you’ll be surrounded by as you sit on the 22nd floor of the Fairmont Hotel. So relax, sip a cocktail and enjoy the view of twinkling lights while you dine. Still wanting to get a true taste of the country? Nusa Indonesian Gastronomy has to be your next port of call. Getting to the heart of the country’s traditional dishes, you’ll be served up what chef Ragil Imam Wibowo has called ‘an edible story of Indonesia’. Let your taste buds explore the heritage of this beautiful country and get to know the history behind each meticulously crafted dish on the menu.

Exploring Indonesian Street Food
Of course, sitting alongside the premium restaurants, Jakarta has a buzzing street food scene that you won't want to miss out on. With such a diverse mix of cultures to draw on, the food is as eclectic as the people - comprised of over 300 separate ethnic groups. This has created a highly regional cuisine based heavily upon indigenous populations- with over 5,000 traditional recipes. In Sumatra, you will find a heavy Middle Eastern influence, along with Indian flavours. There are lots of vegetables and curried meats such as gulai. Meanwhile, if you venture over to Java, you’ll find a much more indigenous range of dishes similar to Polynesia. There is also a strong detectable Chinese influence in noodle based dishes and items like spring rolls. Street food gives you the chance to sample a range of complex and rich flavours.  Many are flavoured with sambal, the famous shrimp paste that is a staple condiment that lends a hot and spicy flavour to many savory Indonesian dishes. You may want to try a nasi goreng, satay and gado-gado or a beef rendang. Indonesia’s national dish is tumpeng - a cone shaped rice dish with a selection of meats and vegetables made using a woven bamboo container. The rice can be made in a variety of ways - either steamed, cooked with coconut milk or flavoured with kunyit, or turmeric. The dish also features shredded coconut, boiled egg, fried chicken, salted anchovies and peanuts. The cone shape has a symbolic meaning and is supposed to represent the harmony of nature, always including a balance of egg, meat, vegetables and seafood. The top of the cone is traditionally served to an honoured guest at social events.

Other street food to be found in Jakarta includes empal gepuk, or sweet and spicy fried beef, semur - a beef stew in sweet soy sauce, sweet dry fried tempeh - which is a fermented soy bean cake, perkedel kentang or mashed potato fritters, and sambal goreng ati or liver in chili sauce.


A History of Taste
Due to its location and abundance of natural resources, Indonesia has a long history of being at the centre of much international trade. European traders, most notably the Dutch, traded with and colonised the islands, bringing with them flavours, cooking techniques and ingredients from the New World, which have merged with indigenous dishes and those from other trading nations such as India and China. The Arab influence is also considerable in many of the country's celebrated dishes. Known as the ‘Spice Islands’,many native flavours such as nutmeg and cloves also derive from the surroundings. This has all combined to create a beautifully diverse and richly layered tapestry of food - there is always some new twist to be discovered.

Customs and Polite Eating
Should you be invited to eat in an Indonesian home, it's certainly worth understanding the habits and customs. Meals tend to be based around the staple dish of steamed rice, with a colourful array of soups, vegetables and meat or fish side dishes, which are all served on large plates. Each guest will have their own plate, filled first with rice, usually served first to the eldest member of the family. Meals are eaten with a spoon held the right hand and a fork in the left, used to push food into the spoon. As most dishes have bite-sized pieces, knives aren't usually in use. In Western Java and Sumatra, some also use their hands to eat. Chopsticks are sometimes used at street food stalls, but not usually in the home. You can expect to find rice and noodle dishes, ones based around starchy vegetables such as yams, sweet potato and cassava, or fruits such as breadfruit and jackfruit. Sago is frequently made into either a congee- or type of savoury porridge - or cooked as a pancake in the home. The main meal is usually cooked in the late morning, to be eaten at lunchtime. Some Indonesian families do not observe regular mealtimes, meaning many dishes are designed to remain edible when cooked and left to stand at room temperature. To drink, you’ll often find jasmine tea served or fruit juices such as guava, mango and soursop as well as the coffee varieties islands like Java are famous for. As a majority Muslim nation, alcoholic beverages are somewhat more rare and unlikely to be served in an Indonesian home. Beer can be found though, with the most popular being Bintang, which is produced domestically. There is also some preference for whisky, with Drum Green Label having even won international awards.


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