Comprising 17,508 islands, Indonesia covers a total mass area of almost two million square kilometres. The world’s third largest producer of coffee (after Brazil and Colombia), and the second-largest producer of palm oil (after Malaysia), Indonesia has been attracting travelers from around the globe touting their wares and hawking their spices and gold for centuries.
So it’s no surprise to learn that at one point in its history a large swathe of the Indonesian archipelago was dubbed as the “Spice Islands.” Since 2000 BC, rice has been part of the locals’ staple diet—accompanied by an assortment of vegetables, fish and meat. Hence it’s only natural that a rice-based dish called nasi goreng, or fried rice, which was inspired by Chinese immigrants, is one of Indonesia’s most popular culinary exports today.
Over the centuries, foreigners stamped their influence on the gastronomic map of the country. The Arabs introduced lamb and yoghurt in to the local diet; the latter has since been replaced by coconut milk; whereas the Indians brought with them ingredients like onions, mangoes and eggplant. The Portuguese, too, greatly affected Indonesian cuisine, with cassava (a starchy tuberous root), sweet potatoes, cauliflower and the like. And the Spaniards represented their influence with chili pepper, peanuts and tomatoes.
The result of strong global influences combined with Javanese flavors birthed local favorites which include rojak (spicy fruit salad), uli petataws (sweet potato fritters), es Apokat (iced avocado drink), tauhu goreng (fried tofu), mi bakso (noodles with beef meatballs in broth), sate (skewered meats dipped in spicy peanut sauce), babi guling (roastsuckling pig) and gado-gado (steamed vegetable salad mixed with peanut dressing). And the great thing about these sumptuous dishes is that they taste great regardless of whether you have them at high-end restaurants or street-side vendors.