Packed full of fresh herbs and powerful spices, Indonesian food is a taste sensation. Because the country is made up of 17,508 islands (it’s the largest archipelago in the world!), the food is incredibly diverse and varied. There are thousands of regional dishes scattered across the islands, but a few of the best Indonesian foods can be found in almost every restaurant.
You’ll discover different kinds of dishes depending on where you go. For example, the food in Sumatra is influenced by Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, while the food in Java is mostly indigenous, with a hint of Chinese influence.
The bright colors, different textures, incredible smells, and powerful flavors make Indonesian food a treat to dig into. Sometimes the presentation is so stunning that your plate will look like it belongs on an art gallery wall instead of on a table in a restaurant!
As the food is so amazing, Indonesia couldn’t settle on just one national dish. Instead, the country has five! Soto, rendang, sate, nasi goreng, and gado-gado are all considered to be Indonesia’s national dishes.
We’ve spent a lot of time traveling around and sampling as many of the best Indonesian foods we could get our hands on. Here’s a list of the 15 best dishes in Indonesia, so you know what to order during your trip!
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15 Traditional Indonesian Dishes
Gado-gado is as delicious to eat as it is fun to say. The traditional Indonesian “salad” is made of a selection of blanched vegetables, which doesn’t sound all that appetizing. But smother them in an addictive peanut sauce, and you’re guaranteed to be licking your plate clean!
The vegetables in gado-gado can change depending on what’s in season. The name translates as “mix-mix,” which describes the versatility of the dish and how it can be made with any veggies.
What always stays the same is the incredibly moreish gado-gado sauce. The main ingredient is roasted peanuts, which are pureed until they’re silky smooth. Aromatics like galangal, lemongrass, and garlic are added along with extras like terasi (shrimp paste), kecap manis (a sweet and thick soy sauce), lime juice, and coconut milk. Sometimes a little bit of sambal (chili paste) is added for a punch of heat.
Although the vegetables can change, beansprouts, spinach, chayote, cucumber, and a boiled egg are usually included. Potatoes or rice and tempeh or tofu are usually added, too. When the vegetables have been prepped, they’re all smothered in the delicious peanut sauce before being served.
2. Nasi goreng & mie goreng
Two variations of the same dish, nasi goreng is Indonesia’s answer to fried rice, while mie goreng is the same thing but made with noodles. Both dishes are so incredibly popular that you’ll find them in practically every restaurant you visit. Especially in Bali, where people can’t get enough of the stuff!
The dishes are mainly rice or noodles with a little bit of ground meat and finely chopped veggies mixed in. What really sets them apart from other fried rice and noodle plates is the kecap manis. This is a type of sweet soy sauce that stains the starchy ingredients dark brown and caramelizes them as they cook.
Nasi goreng and mie goreng are often topped with a sunny-side-up egg. The runny yolk gives the already rich rice and noodles even more flavor. Fresh cucumber slices and tomato wedges are almost always served on the side, too.
It looks so beautiful that it seems a shame to eat it. There’s a reason these are two of the most popular Indonesian dishes!
3. Bubur ayam
Also called chicken congee, bubur ayam is pure comfort food. You’ll find it available from hawkers along almost every side street you pass through. Wherever you see a long line of people, join it, and you’re sure to receive an amazing bowl of bubur ayam for a very reasonable price.
If you’ve been to China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, you may have had congee before. But unless you’ve been to Indonesia, you’ve never had anything like bubur ayam. It’s a super-thick rice porridge topped with chicken that’s been delicately simmered in a spiced broth before being fried or shredded and used to top the porridge.
Loads of extras are added, including cakwe pieces (Indonesian-Chinese deep-fried donuts), krupuk (prawn crackers), fried peanuts, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, fried shallots, sambal, and kecap manis.
There’s just so much going on that it’s impossible to ever get tired of bubur ayam. The best part is that this traditional Indonesian dish is often eaten for breakfast in Indonesia. What a way to start your day!
4. Sate ayam
Sate ayam may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. One of the best Indonesian foods, sate is a type of meat skewer that has been marinated in all kinds of delicious herbs, spices, and sauces before it’s grilled to perfection and served with a rich peanut sauce.
While sate babi (pork skewers) are popular, we absolutely love sate ayam (chicken skewers). There’s something about the delicate texture and juiciness of the chicken that just works so well with the flavor-packed sauce. It really takes on the smokiness of the charcoal when it’s grilled, too.
The marinade includes onion, garlic, fennel seeds, lemongrass, coriander power, candlenuts, lime leaves, kecap manis, sugar, and turmeric. You can tell just how much of a flavor bomb sate ayam is by looking at that long list of ingredients!
The rich and creamy peanut sauce provides a wonderful contrast to the powerful marinade. After you’ve tried it once, you’ll want to drizzle it on absolutely everything.
5. Nasi campur
Not to be confused with the fried rice dish that is nasi goreng, nasi campur is a mixed rice dish that’s like having a little buffet on your plate. It may be simple, but this is one of the best Indonesian foods to try, and you’ll find it everywhere.
A mound of white rice is placed in the center of the plate and accompanied by a number of other tasty Indonesian dishes made from meat, vegetables, peanuts, eggs, and seafood. Nasi campur is hugely popular throughout Indonesia. And after your first bite, you’ll be able to see why. It’s a great way to try a number of different Indonesian foods on a single plate.
It’s tricky to list exactly what goes into nasi campur, since the ingredients differ from one place to another and are dictated by what’s readily available. But a type of Indonesian curry, fried or stewed meat, fried shrimp or fish, different vegetable fritters, eggs, and tofu or tempeh items are usually included.
Some places in Indonesia love this dish so much that they’ve made their own regional variation. In Java, you can order a nasi rames, and in Bali, you can ask for a nasi campur Bali.
Bakso (sometimes written baso) is an Indonesian meatball soup that you’ll find all over the place, from swanky restaurants to family-run eateries and street vendor stalls. It’s a fantastic thing to eat as part of a main meal or even on its own as a snack.
Indonesian meatballs are really similar to Chinese meatballs. So much so that some people believe they were originally introduced to the islands by Chinese immigrants. Others think they were a copy of Western-style meatballs brought over by Dutch colonists.
It doesn’t really matter where they come from. What does matter is that they’re delicious! They’re made from lean ground meat, fish, or seafood (or a combination of all three!) with a little bit of garlic, some fresh coriander, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Compared to most other Indonesian dishes, bakso is super simple, but sometimes the most basic dishes are the best.
The most common way bakso is served is as mie bakso. This is when the meatballs are floating in a soup with some noodles, beansprouts, leafy greens, chilies, and crispy shallots.
7. Sayur asem
If you need to get some more veggies into your diet, sayur asem is the way to do it. This traditional dish is a soup made from all kinds of vegetables floating in a rich tamarind broth.
Sayur asem was invented by Sundanese people in the Jakarta, Banten, and West Java regions. But it proved to be so popular that it’s considered to be one of the best Indonesian foods found all across the country today.
It has an incredible flavor profile that’s sweet, sour, and spicy all at the same time. This is mostly thanks to the broth, which is surprisingly complex. Chilies add spice, tamarind and tomatoes add sourness, lemongrass adds freshness, ginger and galangal add earthiness, and shrimp paste adds a wonderful umami flavor.
Like many Indonesian dishes, the vegetables that go into sayur asem change according to the time of year and who is making it. Slices of corn on the cobb, tomatoes, chayote, cabbage, snake beans, melinjo leaves, and melinjo nuts are often used, but not always.
8. Beef rendang
Beef rendang is a type of Indonesian curry with the most incredible flavor and texture. This stuff is cooked so well that it melts in your mouth and will leave you wanting more with every bite.
The beef is gently simmered in spiced coconut milk for hours until all the liquid has been evaporated. This cooking method gives this traditional Indonesian dish a remarkable taste and quintessential texture.
All kinds of flavor-packed ingredients go into making this beef rendang. Cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom pods, lemongrass, tamarind pulp, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger, and coconut milk are just some of them! Because there’s so much that goes into the curry, it has a powerful, unique flavor you won’t get anywhere else.
In Indonesia, beef rendang is usually served with plain white rice. It’s the perfect accompaniment to counteract the powerful flavors of the spiced beef. It was originally reserved for special occasions, but it’s loved by so many people that you can find it available every day in many restaurants.
Ketoprak is one of the best vegan dishes in Indonesia. It’s made of a number of ingredients that don’t sound like they’d work well together, but they really do!
Thin vermicelli rice noodles are loaded up with chunks of fried crispy tofu, crisp beansprouts, and a savory peanut sauce. Longton (an Indonesian rice cake steamed in banana leaves) is often added, too.
Different places finish ketoprak off with different garnishes. Kecap manis, fried shallots, and cucumber often accompany it. Prawn crackers and hardboiled eggs are sometimes included, too. If you’re following a plant-based diet, it’s worth asking about the garnishes just to make sure what you’ll be served.
The combination of soft, crunchy, and chewy textures, along with the sweet, sour, and savory flavors make ketoprak an incredible dish you’ll want to order again and again. If you’ve ever thought you didn’t like tofu, ketoprak is sure to change your mind.
One of Indonesia’s most popular fried snacks, gorengan is essentially any type of food that’s coated in a flour-based batter and deep-fried until golden brown. You’ll find all kinds of gorengan available from street carts throughout Indonesia.
Gorengan comes in many different sweet and savory forms. Pisang goreng (sometimes called banana fritters) is made from thick sleeves of plantain that are coated in a sweet batter before they’re fried until crisp. Plain pisang goreng tastes great on its own, but some people jazz it up a bit and add honey, chocolate, or even cheese.
Tape goreng (sometimes called rondho royal) is also incredible. This snack is made with slices of fermented cassava. It sounds a bit unusual, but as soon as you bite into the sweet, crisp outer shell, you’ll be hooked!
Other gorengan worth trying include cempedak goreng (made from a fruit similar to jackfruit), bakwan jagung (a corn fritter), tempeh mendoan (made with soft tempeh), and cireng (made with tapioca flour and spices).
When you’re in the mood for a hearty sweet treat, find somewhere that sells martabak. This indulgent snack is made of a thick pancake stuffed with all sorts of rich, sweet fillings. The combination of the thick, fluffy pancake and the decadent filling is incredibly addictive!
Our favorite martabak filling is chocolate and peanuts. The two flavors are already a match made in heaven. But stuff them inside a pancake and they’re even better!
Other delicious fillings include banana slices, Nutella, and condensed milk; banana slices, grated cheddar cheese, and condensed milk (it sounds bizarre but tastes amazing!); and peanut butter and jelly. Some places offer savory versions, but the sweet ones seem to be more popular and common.
Martabak is pretty tricky to make. It’s more challenging than a standard American pancake. Watch the street sellers, and you’ll see they’ve got special pans to get the pancakes super thick and fluffy without burning them.
Sambal is a staple condiment in Indonesia. You rarely have to ask for it because it’s almost always included on your plate or in your dish.
It’s a flavor-packed chili sauce or paste based on a variety of different chili peppers. Shrimp paste, ginger, garlic, scallions, shallots, palm sugar, and lime juice are incorporated to make sambal more intense and complex. Just a tiny spoonful of the stuff is enough to add some serious heat and flavor to any dish.
There are many different variations of sambal. It can be smooth or coarse, cooked or raw, red or green. But it’s always made of chilies and certainly packs a punch. Traditionally it’s made using a pestle and mortar, but it’s often made in a food processor or blender, too.
Sambal is so popular that it’s spread around the world. It originated in Indonesia, but today you can find it in Malaysia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and even the Netherlands.
13. Nasi rawon
Also known as Indonesian black beef soup, nasi rawon is instantly recognizable for its deep-dark color. It’s a type of rich soup that’s made with tender beef cuts and a handful of local spices.
One of the most important ingredients in nasi rawon is black keluak nuts. These nuts have a smoked, earthy scent and bring a natural nuttiness to the dish. They’re also responsible for the characteristic black color.
Across Indonesia, nasi rawon is most commonly served over steamed rice. Plenty of other garnishes are included for added texture and flavor, too. Bean sprouts, sambal, boiled eggs, and crispy shallots are commonly served alongside it.
Different parts of Indonesia make nasi rawon in different ways. For example, they rarely include black keluak nuts in Bali. This makes Balinese nasi rawon more brown than black, and it doesn’t have the same nutty flavor you’ll find elsewhere.
14. Sop buntut
Sop buntut is a delicious, soul-warming soup that you’ll find on practically every restaurant menu throughout Indonesia. It’s made by simmering flavor-packed oxtails in a clear broth with a unique salty, spicy flavor.
Chunks of carrots and potatoes are added for color and texture, while garlic, shallots, and onions give it an extra layer of flavor. A little bit of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg contribute to the dish’s classic Indonesian taste.
When you find sop buntut on a menu, it’s likely to be the most expensive thing on there. It’s not unusual for this soup to be more than twice the price of anything else. The reason for the high price tag is that oxtail is surprisingly expensive in Indonesia. It usually costs the same as fine cuts of beef.
But don’t let that put you off. Eating out in Indonesia is budget-friendly for most people – even if you choose to order sop buntut!
15. Babi guling
One of the most popular dishes in Bali, babi guling is beyond delectable. It’s made by cooking a whole pig over an open fire while slowly rotating it by hand for hours. The result is a wonderful texture and smoky flavor that will leave you ordering seconds!
Before it’s cooked, the pig’s skin is rubbed all over with turmeric, and it’s stuffed with a basa gede spice mixture made up of coriander, shallots, turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, chili, and garlic. All these seasonings give babu guling its incredible and complicated flavor profile.
Each plate of babi guling comes with a piece of ultra-crispy skin, a chunk of juicy meat, and a tablespoon of the flavor-packed stuffing. Steamed rice, fresh vegetables, and spicy sambal are usually added to complete the plate.
Babi guling is most often reserved for special occasions and formal gatherings. But you can also find it in warungs (casual restaurants that serve traditional Indonesian food) throughout the island of Bali.
That completes our list of the best Indonesian foods. Did we miss must-try foods in Indonesia? Tell us your favorite Indonesian food in the comments below!
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