Indonesian Satay
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The Most Popular Indonesian Food

Last updated on December 22, 2014 by Liza Hawkins

Hello foodies! This is a guest post guide to the most popular Indonesian food from Chef Christopher, who hails from Singapore. Hope you enjoy! -Liza

Indonesian Food
Photo by inggriasto via Flickr

Flavorful may be too much of a cliché to describe food, but in Indonesia, the food is literally full of flavors. There’s sweet, salty, sour, hot, and pungent — you name it, they’ve got it. Indonesian food owes its complex and intense flavors to a wide array of spices, herbs, and seasonings such as coriander, nutmeg, lemongrass, and of course, chili.

Photo by kt.ries via Flickr

The kaleidoscope of flavors contained in Indonesian food can be traced back to its geographic and cultural diversity as a nation. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, consisting of 18,000 islands where over 300 ethnic groups reside. There’s even a group of islands known as The Spice Islands (Islands of Maluku) where the country’s native spices originated. Because of this geographical setup, Indonesian cuisine varies per region and has been molded from different influences such as Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Beyond Hot: Identifying the Most Popular Indonesian Food

While Indonesian food is not that well-known abroad, it certainly has a lot to offer and should grow more popular over time. Indonesian food at is available for people enamored with this cuisine. Here are some of the most famous Indonesian dishes and their special ingredients!

Nasi Goreng

The most prominent staple Indonesian fare is rice (nasi). Indonesians eat rice everyday, all day. Usually served steamed, rice is accompanied by one or two meat, fish and/or vegetable dishes during meals. It is also cooked with spices and other ingredients and can be made into desserts, noodles, and even wine. So important is this food in the Indonesian cuisine that fried rice or nasi goreng is considered the national dish of the country.

Special Ingredient: Kecap Manis

What makes nasi goreng different from other kinds of fried rice is kecap manis, which is Indonesian sweet soy sauce. It has a thick consistency and its sweetness is due to the addition of palm sugar.

Indonesian Satay

Satay (or sate) are pieces of meat, skewered and grilled, and served with peanut sauce.

Indonesian Satay
Photo by Miikka Skaffari via Flickr

The meat is usually chicken (ayam) but it can also be beef, goat, pork, mutton, fish, or even tofu. Celebrated as a national dish, it is one of the most well-known foods in Indonesia.

Special Ingredient: Peanut Sauce

Except for mutton (which is served with kecap manis), peanut sauce is what makes satay a standout from other grilled meat dishes. Known as bumbu kacang, Indonesian peanut sauce is not a very sweet sauce; rather, it has an earthy seasoning as it is made from various ingredients like garlic, shallots, tamarind, lemongrass, chili, and of course, fried peanuts. The use of peanuts is a main characteristic of Indonesian cuisine.

Beef Rendang

Literally means dry curry, rendang is a spicy, dry meat stew that originated inPadang, West Sumatra. Its most popular, and arguably the most delicious dish is beef rendang.

Indonesian Beef Rendang
Photo by Hopkinsii via Flickr

Special Ingredient:Coconut Milk

The rich flavor of beef rendang can be attributed to the coconut milk the meat is cooked in, along with a mix of ground spices.Since coconuts are abundant in Indonesia, the use of coconut milk is another trademark of Indonesian food. It is used widely in both savory and sweet dishes.


Considered a comfort food and a national dish, soto or coto is basically a soup composed of broth, meat, and vegetables. It is served in a wide range of variations depending on the region and main ingredient.

Special Ingredient: Turmeric

Perhaps the most popular variant of soto is soto ayam which is a yellow spicy chicken soup with lontong (pieces of rice cake) and/or noodles. The chicken broth’s yellow color is due to turmeric.


Cooking Indonesian food obviously requires distinctive spices and native ingredients that awaken the taste buds. There are plenty of spices and Indonesian food if you would like to create Indonesian dishes in your very own kitchen.

About the author: Christopher is a well known professional chef and professional blogger too, and here he is sharing the most popular Indonesian food around. Click here for more of Chef Christopher’s guest posts.

Hi, I'm Liza — a self-proclaimed word-nerd who loves getting lost in whimsical stories and epic movies. I have laid-back, practical attitude towards life and am always on the hunt for good eats, easy recipes, binge-worthy shows, relaxing road trip destinations, the perfect fizzy gin cocktail, and time to finish my novel!

6 Comments on “The Most Popular Indonesian Food

  1. I love this…everything sounds delicious on this list. I use a lot of turmeric in my cooking. I bet my family would love Kecap Manis. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for that. I want to make all these dishes…you’ve gotten me in the mood!

    Happy Holidays! Glad to have discovered your site.


  2. I really liked this article , I am from Indonesia , Indonesian food is very tasty . Try to imagine in Indonesia there are hundreds to thousands of ethnic , language and culture , which also means there are so many types of food . The problem is , many are not familiar with Indonesian food and there are some Indonesian food in the claims by our neighboring countries , such as rendang and sambal . Therefore, I hope you come and experience the unique culture and Indonesian food .. I ‘m sorry for my bad english , thanks

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