Indonesia is a country with a long history, fertile landscape, diverse culture, and people – which all give influence to the ingredients, way of cooking, and cuisines served on the table. When eating in Indonesia, there are a lot of dishes to try, and some dining etiquette to keep in mind.

Where to eat out

When traveling, it is more likely you are eating in Indonesia in restaurants or other eating places. Here are some places to eat out:

  • Restaurants: Comfortable eating places which the food is cooked and served as ordered. They usually have a proper menu, cashier, and attending staff to serve the customers.
  • Café: Convenient eating places with air-con and fewer sitting areas than restaurants, usually serving light meals and some drinks.
  • Warung: simple family-owned open-air eateries, usually specialized in one particular dish. Food is usually cooked ahead of time and served throughout the day at room temperature, or can be ordered a la carte. Price is affordable and favorite of local people.
  • Street vendors: cheap and delicious food with local taste, where the food is usually cooked individually.

Dining etiquette

When eating in Indonesia, the manner is simple, but it is always good to know some tips on dining etiquette to make your experience more enjoyable.

  • When invited to a home, wait to start eating until the host invites you to eat when the food and drink are served.
  • Food can mostly be eaten either with fingers (of right hand) or with a spoon in the right hand and a fork in the left hand. If you choose to eat with your fingers in warung where the washbasin is not available, it is acceptable to rinse your right hand with drinking water and let the drops fall to the ground, or dip only your right hand in the bowl of water with lime when available.
  • During Ramadan in Indonesia, avoid eating and drinking in public during the fasting period.

Regional variations

Indonesia consists of more than 17,000 islands, making it very diverse in terms of the food. Each region has its variations and distinctive flavor of cuisines:

  • Padang (West Sumatera) food is spicy, and the favorite is beef rendang (beef coconut curry). You can encounter many Padang restaurants almost everywhere in Indonesia, where you can choose anything you like from the bowls stacked up in the shop window.  Another version of Padang restaurants serves many small dishes to your table (you should see the waiter bringing eight plates on each arm!) with the warm steam rice, and you only pay for the food you eat.
  • Central Java and East Java (such as Yogyakarta, or Solo) are known for their sweeter food, including the curries. One of the most famous traditional dishes is called Gudeg. Gudeg made out of raw jackfruit cooked with coconut milk and teak leaves (hence its brown color) and it’s usually served with eggs, chickens, tofu, and krecek (cooked beef rinds).
  • Balinese authentic food has several options for spiciness, including the babi guling (suckling pig), betutu (a wah of cooking for a slow-cooking smoked dish in a coal fire for 6-7 hours), and lawar (Balinese food/meat salad, usually consumed with suckling pig or mixed rice).
  • Eastern Indonesia, including Nusa Tenggara Timur, people eat less rice and more into sago, corn, cassava, and taro. Fish is also more popular instead of chicken.
  • Manado food in North Sulawesi is also popular throughout the country for its spices and sambal, including rica-rica (hot and spice mixture used to cook meat or seafood), bakasang (traditional salt-fermented fish sauce), and tinotuan (porridge rice with mixed vegetables and often served with salted fish, chili sauce, and crackers).

Typical food in Indonesia

No matter where you are in Indonesia, you will more likely to see and enjoy these typical Indonesian foods, which are:

  • Tumpeng is the stewed food arranged around a tall cone-shaped mound of yellow rice (stained with turmeric), usually served during special occasions and festivals.
  • Satay is the grilled skewer meats served with peanut sauce, widely served all eating places throughout Indonesia. Chicken satay is the most common one, and satay from Madura is said to be the best.
  • Fried rice is also very common in Indonesia, suitable to be served in any meal. It is the stir-fried rice mixed with various ingredients, including meat (chicken, beef, pork, salted fish, seafood, etc.), eggs, vegetables, etc. Though this dish can be found throughout Asia, Indonesia’s version is very tasty, and sometimes cooked with shrimp paste.
  • Gado-Gado is the vegetable salad served with peanut sauce, in which the taste is very rich and creamy. This food can be the best option for vegetarians as it is sold almost everywhere in Indonesia – though it is the Betawi original.
  • Tempe is a very typical Indonesian dish. It is basically a fermented soybean compressed into a cake, and can be cooked with any dishes or independently – perfect for vegetarians as it contains protein. Its fame has already spread to the West, making it become one of the foods you must try in Indonesia.
  • Avocado is usually served sweet and considered as fruit. It is blended with ice and chocolate condensed milk – you can order this as a drink, namely avocado juice.
  • Durian, native to South East Asia, usually has either the fanatic lovers or haters. Its odorous power makes some people sick, so the airlines and some hotels prohibit this fruit from being brought into the flights and rooms. While for some people, this fruit deserves its name as “king of fruits” due to its rich flavor and custardy texture.
  • Other tropical fruits are also worth trying and eating in Indonesia, including the mangosteen (manggis), jackfruit (nangka), starfruit (belimbing), rambutan, salak (snake fruit), and soursop (sirsak).