If you’re a Singaporean foodie, then you’ll love visiting Indonesia. This huge archipelago is known for its highly diverse culinary heritage, which not only highlights homegrown Indonesian flavours but also the rich and colourful influences of the Chinese, Indian, Arab, and European gastronomic traditions, among many others. Some of their dishes can be reminiscent of Singaporean ones, but plenty more are wonderfully singular in taste and character.
To start your Indonesian food crawl, here are some destinations you may want to visit first.
Batam City is located in the province of Riau Islands, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) off the southern coast of Singapore. For many tourists, Batam City is a shopping hub, as well as a destination for affordable spas and wellness centres. However, for locals, this city is a foodie haven. Its busy streets are jam-packed with restaurants and curbside food stalls selling local specialties. You can easily check into a Batam City Hotel within a strategic location, surrounded by all of these food establishments. You can sample everything from ayam bakar (roasted chicken) and mi goreng noodles to goreng pisang (fried banana) sprinkled with cheese and doused with condensed milk. If you love pancakes and waffles, you should also try martabak. This is essentially a deluxe, supersized version of the min jiang kueh or peanut pancake.
North and South Sulawesi
If you love spicy food, North Sulawesi is the perfect destination for you. In particular, the capital Manado is famous for its rica-rica style of cooking. Rica-rica, or sometimes just rica, is a blend of spices like bird’s eye chili, garlic, ginger, red and green chili peppers, shallots, and some salt and sugar to taste. This spicy mix is then cooked in coconut oil mixed with lime leaf and juice, as well as bruised lemongrass. Rica-rica is used for a variety of dishes, but most especially for chicken, meat, and seafood. For something sweet, try the klapertart, a coconut pudding with raisins and strips of young coconut meat.
Meanwhile, on South Sulawesi, most of the popular foods are soup-based like the capital Makassar’s trademark coto Makassar. This spicy and savory soup is a version of the traditional Indonesian soto soup, made from beef and beef innards like the heart, intestines, liver, or even the brain of the cow! Another popular soup in South Sulawesi is konro. This is made from beef ribs and a mixture of spices like cinnamon, coriander, and tamarind. The soup achieves its signature dark brown color from keluwak, a seed that requires careful preparation to remove its poisonous components.
Bali is not just a beach paradise, it’s also a foodie paradise. From Seminyak to Ubud, Bali is simply the place to go if you’re looking to swim, explore, party, and eat delicious food. Some of the best dishes to try in Bali include the babi guling, a suckling pig stuffed with a spicy paste and rubbed with turmeric before being roasted whole over a wood fire. Bebek betutu or smoked duck is also a unique and popular Balinese dish. The duck is carefully rubbed and stuffed with spices, then wrapped in either betel nut bark or areca palm leaves. It’s then smoked for about 12 hours using the embers of rice husks. Make sure to notify the restaurant at least a day before, so they can properly prepare the bebek betutu. Finally, another local favourite in Bali is nasi campur or mixed rice. What’s great about this dish is that there’s no specific rule regarding the ingredients; you’ll always be surprised by what combination of meat, fish, and vegetables you’re going to get!
Indonesia’s capital is a great destination for street food. In fact, you can sample many of the dishes from all over the country by just staying in Jakarta. For the full experience, you may want to eat from both a warung and a pedagang kaki lima. A warung is a family-run restaurant, while a pedagang kaki lima (literally “five feet trader”) is a street food cart. The five feet or legs refer to the cart’s two wheels and a leg stand plus the two legs of the vendor.
For specific dishes, you can’t go wrong with the national dish nasi goreng, as well as nasi uduk, ikan bakar (grilled fish), gado gado, and satay. Another must-try is Jakarta’s own version of the soto, the soto betawi. It’s a beef soup made creamy by coconut milk and eaten with achar pickles and rice.
Compared to most Indonesian dishes, Javanese dishes are more sweet than spicy. This is due to the use of gula jawa (palm sugar) or kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) in many Javanese recipes. What’s more, Javanese cuisine is much simpler than other Indonesian specialties.
Some of the most popular Javanese dishes include soto Jepara, which is made with chicken instead of beef. Tumpeng rice is also a favourite, often served with chicken, omelettes, potato perkedel (fried patties), tempeh orek (fried soybean cake), and sambel goreng ati (beef liver in sambal). For some traditional Central Javanese and Yogyakarta dish, try the gudeg yogya. It’s made from young jackfruit meat, boiled with palm sugar, coconut milk, and a variety of spices. The Yogyakarta version of this dish has a reddish color from the addition of a few leaves of the Javanese teak.
It’s impossible to try each and every Indonesian dish with just one trip. The country is composed of more than 18,000 islands, after all, and each place will surely have a certain version of every dish. For a foodie, though, the challenge is part of the fun! So book a trip to Indonesia today and experience their incredible food scene.