Written by: Angie from Feet Do Travel
Travel and food go hand in hand. Obviously. We all need to eat, and trying new foods in different countries is part of immersing yourself into local cultures.
We have spent a year in Indonesia and everyone says “oh I love Indonesian food”, so it only seems natural to put together this post of the must try Indonesian dishes.
Not everyone enjoys spicy food, myself included. Sy is the opposite end of the spectrum and loves a dish so ridiculously hot, it awakens his sinuses and burns his belly. Indonesian dishes cater to both our tastes.
If you are visiting Indonesia, you must try some of these delicious Indonesian dishes.
Selemat Makan (Enjoy Your Meal)!
Indonesia is a vast archipelago of five large islands, and over 13,000 small islands covering 1.9 millions square miles. It’s the largest archipelagic country in the world with more than 300 ethnic groups. Naturally there is a lot of diversity within its cuisine. Rice is the staple diet so nearly all dishes are served with nasi puti (white rice).
All of these dishes can be found throughout Indonesia including the other Gili Islands such as Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, but our recommendations will be from Gili Air, Lombok. The word “Lombok” in the local Sasak language means chilli, so it won’t surprise you to learn that the key ingredient for Indonesian dishes is …. Chilli.
The green and red Lombok chillis are often made into sambal, the fiery sauce condiment which accompanies most dishes. If it doesn’t, and if you want your dish pedas (spicy), just ask for sambal. The local people love to give you spicy sambal, it’s almost a rite of passage if you can tolerate their home-made spicy sauce
1. Beef Rendang
I’m starting with one of my personal favourites, Beef Rendang! Slow-cooked beef with a mixture of herbs and spices, chili and coconut milk served with rice. According to tradition, a true rending is diligently stirred for hours during the cooking process until the coconut milk has evaporated, and the meat has absorbed the spices. Dating back to the 16th centre, rendang originated in Minangkabau, Sumatra and was served on special occasions to honour guests (for example birth or circumcision ceremonies), wedding feasts and festive occasions such as Hari Raya (Eidal Fitri, the end of Ramadan celebrations). Sometimes rending is really spicy, other times not so much. Not all places serve a “traditional slow cooked” rending, instead they fry the meat and add a rending sauce meaning the meat can be a little more chewy – just to warn you!
Our recommendations: Blue Marlin (80,000 IDR), Mowies (90,000 IDR), Ruby’s (75,000) Green Chili (40,000 IDR)
2. Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)
One of Indonesia’s signature dishes, Nasi Gorang is sold everywhere from street vendors to high-end restaurants. Stir-fried rice with sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) served with mixed vegetables, an egg on top, a choice of meat if desired and a few prawn crackers. It differs from Chinese fried rice as it’s stronger and spicier and has a more aromatic flavor due to the generous amounts of sweet soy.
Our recommendation: Panchy Robeck, 30,000 IDR, but can easily be found from street vendors for 10,000 IDR
Mie Goreng (Fried Noodle)
One of the most common fried noodle dishes in Indonesia, Mie Gorang is made with thin yellow noodles, fried in cooking oil with garlic, sometimes vegetables, served with an egg on top and meet/fish/shellfish if you desire. It is sold absolutely everywhere, from street hawkers to high-end restaurants. This dish is derived from the Chinese chow mein and believed to have been introduced by Chinese immigrants, with the adaptation of sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) for mild sweetness. If you want it pedas (spicy), just ask for Sambal.
Our recommendation: Lalapan (the street vendor), from 10,000 IDR
Gado Gado translated means “mix mix” or “medley” and is a mixture of vegetables served with a peanut sauce dressing and rice. It is thought to be a Sundanese, West Java street food initially sold from mobile food carts but, due to its popularity, is now on all Indonesian menus in some variety. The only hard and fast rule is the vegetables are blanched (lightly cooked in boiling water). You can have long beans, white cabbage, bean sprouts and water spinach, although the beauty of this dish is every place can put their own unique stamp on it and cook it slightly differently – but don’t forget the peanut sauce!
Our recommendation: Musa Restaurant 65.000 IDR.
5. Nasi Campur
I love Nasi Campur because it really is a “locals” dish sold absolutely everywhere by street vendors. No matter where you visit in the Indonesian archipelago, you will find this dish. This dish can vary greatly, but all start with a scoop of nasi putih (white rice), then small portions of a mixture of dishes including vegetables, peanuts, tempe, boiled egg, omelet, jackfruit, chicken, beef, small fish, sweetcorn fritter – a bit of anything and everything really. Of course, to finish off this tasty, cheap and filling dish what should you add? Sambal! You go it!
Tip: Everything is cooked in the morning and kept inside a glass counter which does mean it sits around for a few hours. Best to visit late morning/lunchtime not only for the food to be warm, but the turnaround of the food is also higher so it will be fresher and you’ll have more choice.
Our recommendation: “The harbor lady”, 20,000 IDR but as a local you can buy it for 10,000 IDR
6. Chicken Sate (or Sate Ayam)
Originating in Java, chicken satay is an adaptation of the Indian kebab brought by Muslim traders. Now a national dish throughout Indonesia, it can be found almost everywhere; from street vendors to high-class restaurants. Chicken Satay is seasoned, grilled, skewered chicken served with a peanut sauce and rice. I have lost count of how many times I have eaten this dish and it’s definitely one of my favorites. You can also have lots of other meats and vegetables as Sate. Another favorite of Sy’s was Sate Kambing (Goat).
Our recommendation: Warung Kampung, 30,000 IDR, street vendors sell 5 sticks for 10,000 IDR
7. Chicken Curry
Another contender for Indonesia’s signature dish, chicken curry is a creamy, vibrant color, getting its gorgeous yellow from the spice turmeric. When a good chicken curry is served, it will hit multiple senses and will smell as delicious as it looks and tastes. Originating from Java, it’s best described as a fusion of Thai and Indian curry, often with a spicy kick. As always, sambal can be added for extra spiciness. Apparently, Kare is different to Kari and is not to be confused, but often are.
Our recommendation: Warung Sunny, 55,000 IDR, but you can find it for as little as 20,000 IDR
8. Lalapan Ayam (Fried chicken with raw vegetables)
Lalap is a Sundanese raw vegetable salad served with sambal (of course, a dish without sambal is rare!), and dates back thousands of years. Any vegetables can be used but it’s mainly long beans, cabbage, lettuce, tomato or cucumber.
So what is the difference between Lalapan Ayam which is fried chicken, and Ayam Gorang which is fried chicken. The raw vegetables side dish, and that’s all. This is one of Sy’s go-to dishes and one of his favorites in Indonesia, he has been known to have this for lunch and dinner in the same day.
Our recommendation: Panchy Robeck (35,000 IDR), but you can buy it for 20,000 IDR
Martabak means “folded” in Arabic but it’s unsure if it originated in Yemen, Saudi Arabia or India. Due to its simple and inexpensive nature, it’s now a popular street food but also found in small warungs. Martabak is a stuffed omelet pancake filled with vegetables, sometimes meat and/or cheese, folded, then fried until golden and crisp. Not for those on a diet!
Our recommendation: Warung Bambu (south) or Warung Ada (north) 30,000 IDR (cheaper from street vendors)
10. Pisang Goreng
Pisang Gorang is deep fried banana or plantain and can be eaten for breakfast, snack or dessert. If you want to know how to make your fruit unhealthy – cover it in batter then deep fry in hot oil. You can eat it as it is, or for extra yumminess, sprinkle cheese, chocolate, condensed milk or honey over the top. De-lic-ious! Some homestays serve pisang gorang for breakfast but you can buy it from street vendors and warungs. You will find it on the dessert menu in restaurants. It was introduced in 1511 by the Portuguese who ate banana fritters for breakfast, but it does have different names throughout Indonesia.
Our recommendation: Warung Sunny, 25,000 IDR but street vendors sell for much less
Thank you Angie for sharing your favorite dishes with us. We can’t wait to try some of your recommendations! Want to know more about Angie’s adventures? Check out her really cool travel blog here.
The Gilis are a great place for foodporn lovers. From sweet to very spicy, but always fragrant, full of flavor and with a teaspoon of love. Would you like to know what our favorite restaurants on the Gili Islands are? Check out our Gili Foodie page.
Feel free to share the sunshine!