When the Europeans had gone sailing to see the world, their main reason for leaving their ports was to secure a route that would lead them to the famed spice islands of the Far East.
The Dutch were pretty late in realizing their colonial aspirations. When they sailed to the east and spotted the islands of Indonesia, what they found was a land not only blessed with bountiful resources but also with an exotic cuisine that would make anyone’s taste buds burn.
Rice, like in any Asian country, is a staple food. Spices such as nutmeg and clove grow locally in the islands. The Indians brought the rest. Finally, a dish is incomplete if it’s not cooked in coconut milk and peanut sauce.
Here are some of the more popular dishes in Indonesia:
Every country has a national dish, and nasi goreng is the pride and joy of Indonesians. Stir fried rice forms the base of nasi goreng. The rice is cooked in light oil until it becomes golden brown. It is spiced with onions, garlic, and chili.
The rice is incomplete without its celebrated pair. This mystery side-dish could be as ubiquitous as the Indonesians themselves. Some people prefer satay over shredded chicken, while others top their nasi with prawn crackers, egg, and vegetables.
What makes this dish so endearing is that it could be found everywhere. From the humble stick sellers and roving vendors to the fancy restaurants in the most expensive tourist districts, satay forms part of the menu.
The basic dish, which consists of diced meat, is marinated and then skewered on bamboo sticks. Whether it is beef, chicken, fish, or even pork, the dish is grilled over firewood or charcoal.
Satay is then coated with peanut sauce and served with slices of onion and cucumber.
Vegans from distant lands need not to worry about not being able to eat anything that is truly Indonesian. Gado-gado is a dish equivalent to Caesar salad. The only difference is that while Caesar salad is topped with a Thousand Island dressing, gado-gado is drenched in a generous amount of peanut sauce.
The vegetables, which include cabbage, water spinach, bean sprouts, string beans, and boiled young jackfruit, are shredded, cut into bite size pieces, and then blanched. The dish is served in a plate with rice cakes and sliced eggs.
There are dishes that are served as staple meals, while there are those that are best prepared for special occasions. Rendang is one of those dishes best served when honoring guests or celebrating festivities
For starters, Rendang requires infinite patience and meticulous preparation. Its base ingredient is beef or chicken, which has to be cooked slowly in coconut milk and spices until the meat absorbs the liquid. After several hours of boiling, the dish is ready for consumption.
Rendang is served with glutinous rice and can be kept for weeks.
For a tropical country like Indonesia, a cool refreshing drink must complement every meal. Cendol gets its popularity for being the preferred dessert during hot summer days.
The dessert’s main ingredients are coconut milk, glutinous balls made from rice flour, and ice shavings. People often experiment by adding red beans, creamed corn, and grass jelly to improve its sweetness.
A seasoned traveler would say that you haven’t experienced everything until you get a sample of the local cuisine. Just a word of caution, though: it is best to look for a guide when embarking on a gustatory quest. And always remember this little piece of advice handed over to us by conventional wisdom: Eat how the locals do and you will appreciate the meal, spice, and all.