A Taste of Indonesia
By Timothy Vivian-Shaw
Jakarta hums in the midday sun. Cars crawl through crowded streets and its citizens hustle and bustle with all the usual hurry of a capital city. The air is dense with a chorus of roaring motorbikes, chatter, barking dogs, humidity and the intoxicating smells of Indonesian cuisine.
Found across the city are small stalls selling ‘Gorengan’, meaning quite literally ‘fried things’. These small vendors have a variety of snacks on offer including spring rolls, tofu, fermented soy beans, yams and pineapple. These fast-food delicacies fuel Jakarta, providing a pitstop for the commuters and visitors who navigate this bustling and vibrant city.
Another city staple is Soto Jatawi, Indonesia’s iconic beef soup. It is a dish of stalls and roadsides, quiet cafes and even Jakarta’s finest restaurants. Much of the food found throughout the city is influenced by the cuisines of nearby nations such as Thailand and Malaysia, but Soto Betawi is Jakarta’s own. Each venue will have their own closely-guarded recipe for the soup, but all are brimming with hearty spices and herbs.
For many taking their first steps in Indonesia, Gorengan and Soto Betawi will act as introduction to the country’s cuisine. When exploring the far flung corners of this sprawling nation, visitors are guaranteed to be surprised by the wide spectrum of cuisine available to them: spicy curry dishes, fresh and flavoursome seafood, and some of the world’s finest coffee.
Sharing coastline with Pacific and Indian oceans, it’s clear to see why Indonesia's cuisine is full of flavours of the sea. The nation has one of the largest aquaculture industries on the planet and is a major exporter of tuna, shrimp and seaweed. What better place to taste this wonderful produce than from the white sand shores of Indonesia's stunning islands?
When deciding upon an island to while away the day you will be spoilt for choice in Indonesia. There are more famous choices like Borneo, Bali and Sumatra that offer verdant scenery and impressive biodiversity, but why not stray from the beaten path and visit a hidden gem? The Gili Islands. These three small and remote islands provide the perfect juxtaposition to the bustling life of Jakarta (and not a dog or motorbike in sight!)
The simple and tranquil life of the Gili Islands demands a simple and flavoursome dish to compliment it. Fresh catches from the surrounding waters are wrapped in banana or plantain leaves to prepare them for steaming. Save for a few spices -ginger and chili are staples- there is little else to this dish, allowing for a subtle flavour combination which is sure to refresh and invigorate.
From one island to another, Indonesian explorers will find another signature product that’s treasured the world over - coffee. The country is the 4th largest grower and exporter in the world and Java’s beans are widely considered the finest Indonesian variant. The island is dotted with volcanoes, many of which are still active, which contribute to the rich and fertile soil in which the coffee plants are grown. This gives the brew a full-bodied and earthy flavour, perfect for any caffeine addict.
Coffee in Indonesia is traditionally served black or with sweet condensed milk and is generally accompanied with a delicious savoury pastry known as Bakpao. Bakpao is a steamed bun with a choice of fillings ranging from beef, pork and chicken to soybeans, mung beans and peanuts. For lovers of coffee, Bakpao is certainly not something to be passed up.
Lastly, and rather strangely, a highlight of a journey to Indonesia is a culinary opportunity unlike any other. Known as the the ‘king of fruits’, the durian is a is a large spiny fruit, often weighing over a kilogram. It is widely banned from being consumed in airline cabins, on public transport or in hotels, on account of the pungent and nauseating smell it produces. There is more to this fruit, however, than its large size and terrible smell. The reasoning behind its crowing as the king of fruits is due to its exquisite taste. The best description of the durian’s flavour comes from british naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace,
“...It is neither acidic nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durian is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.“
Want to get to know Indonesian food a little better? Why not send an enquiry to our lovely local experts or head to our destination pages for more information.