Top 30 Most Popular Foods in Indonesia
Asian countries are known for their rich diversity in both cultures and foods. Even by Asian standards, Indonesia offers a wide range of delicious cuisine that you must get a taste of whenever you visit. The majority of Indonesians are Muslims, and that’s why you won’t see any pork-based dishes in this list.
As an agrarian country, Indonesia is rich in farm crops such as rice, corn, and groundnut. Indonesia’s tropical climate also allows various fruits and vegetables to grow in its soil which, in turn, allows the development of various dishes that varies greatly from one region to the other.
Among the thousands of Indonesian dishes out there, these are the 30 most popular foods in Indonesia.
1. Nasi Padang
Nasi padang’s flavorful sensation even reaches overseas to Singapore – to which point even Singaporean often say they can’t live without it.
Nasi Padang is a flavour-rich dish originated from Padang, Indonesia. It is a rice-based meal topped with various dishes, including curries, chickens, fishes, and various parts of cow meats (sometimes even cow’s feet). The best way to eat nasi Padang is, according to 99% of Indonesian, by putting away your cutleries and digging in with your (clean) hands. Once you’re finished, wash down all the greasy goodness with a glass of refreshing iced tea.
2. Rawon (Beef Stew)
Upon setting your eyes on this soupy dish for the first time, the pitch-black broth might seem unusual and uninviting. However, don’t let the aesthetic fool you. The black broth is a result of kluwak (Pangium) that is used as one of the main spices for this cow meat dish.
The slow-cooking process allows the flavor to penetrate deep into the meat and tenderize it so good that it melts in your mouth.
3. Pecel (Savory Vegetable Salad)
Pecel is an Indonesian vegetable salad containing various boiled greens with a spicy peanut sauce as the topping. Pecel originated from East Java, but even so, every city in the region has its own version of the dish with several differences.
While the name pecel refers to the boiled vegetable dish, it is often served with rice, tempeh, and crackers – hence you will often see the word ‘nasi pecel‘ (pecel rice) on a restaurant’s menu. Indonesians often dub pecel as their local version of the western salad, but instead of mayonnaise, it uses the more flavorful peanut sauce (or often called sambal pecel).
4. Nasi Uduk (Flavored Rice)
Nasi uduk is another famous Indonesian dish originating from Jakarta. While in appearance, it is identical to steamed rice, it tastes much better due to spices involved in its cooking process.
The rice grains have to be cooked in coconut milk with bay leaves, lime leaves, lemongrass, and galingale to produce the delicious taste of nasi uduk. Like many other Indonesian foods, nasi uduk is often served with various other dishes such as sunny-side-up eggs, tempeh, and chickens with sprinkles of fried shallots and a spoonful of sambal to top it off.
5. Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)
While fried rice is famous all throughout Asia, it is one of the most popular comfort foods in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s take on fried rice often involves sweet soy sauce, scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, hot dog slices, as well as pickled cucumber and carrots (acar). If you are looking to try a different version of fried rice, there are many restaurants in Indonesia that offer nasi goreng gila (crazy fried rice), which is much hotter than regular fried rice.
6. Bubur Ayam (Chicken Porridge)
Everyone in Indonesia is familiar with chicken porridge – or bubur ayam. This country-famous breakfast dish is a savory, rice-based porridge served with soy sauce, crackers, fried shallots, fried peanuts, and shredded chicken.
You can usually find street vendors selling bubur ayam starting at 6 a.m, and they usually close out at around 10 a.m or earlier when they have sold out their stock for the day.
7. Ayam Taliwang (Roast Chicken)
Ayam taliwang is a chicken dish that originated from Western Nusa Tenggara. The chicken needs to be roasted with a seasoning that includes dried chilies, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, fried shrimp paste, galangal, brown sugar, and salt.
This smokey chicken dish is usually served with additional sambal sauce, roast rice, stir-fried kale, and fresh vegetables as refreshing garnish.
8. Ayam Betutu (Roast Chicken)
If you have visited Bali before, chances are you have tried ayam betutu – since it is one of the most popular traditional dishes on the island.
The chicken for this dish needs to be marinated in various spices and seasoning for a few hours – but most would recommend leaving it in the fridge overnight. Once the marinating is complete, the chicken will be roasted in husk fire until it is well-done. The low-heat husk fire allows a good cook to deliver a tender yet juicy chicken as if it was steamed instead of roasted.
9. Opor Ayam (Spicy Chicken Soup)
Opor ayam is one of the signature Eid Al-Fitr dishes for Muslims in Indonesia. This dish is primarily chicken boiled in coconut milk and several other spices, including bay leaf, lemongrass, galangal, and other signature Indonesian seasonings.
Opor ayam is typically served with steamed rice and its other forms, such as ketupat (a diamond-shaped rice cake) and lontong (tube-shaped rice cakes).
10. Asinan (Pickled Vegetables & Fruits)
Asinan is another one of the most popular foods in Indonesia that often stuns people with its making process. In a nutshell, asinan is a type of pickled food made by curing the food with vinegar or salt. There are two signature types of Asinan in Indonesia: Asinan Betawi and Asinan Bogor.
Asinan Betawi mainly covers salt-cured vegetables. The most common vegetables to use for Asinan Betawi are mustard greens, cabbages, lettuce, and bean sprouts. Sometimes you can also find Asinan Betawi in the form of salt-cured tofu.
Asinan Bogor, on the other hand, mainly covers vinegar-cured fruits. Asinan Bogor uses various fruits, but the most common ones are mango, papaya, ambarella, jicama, pineapple, and water apple. Asinan is one of the best dishes to snack on long road trips as well since their vendors are offering them at traffic lights and roadside tents.
11. Karedok (Fresh Vegetable Salad)
Karedok is another one of Indonesia’s vegetable-based cuisine, with a remarkable similarity to pecel. But one thing makes karedok different from other Indonesian plant-based dishes: instead of boiling the vegetables before serving them, karedok serves every ingredient fresh and uncooked.
The typical vegetables used to make karedok are cucumber, bean sprouts, basil, long beans, cabbage, and eggplant. Peanut sauce is also used to add some flavor to the otherwise bland and natural-tasting vegetable dish. The peanut sauce used to drench karedok typically contains peanuts, chili, galangal, Javanese sugar, vinegar, and shrimp paste.
12. Papeda (Sago Porridge)
Coming from the eastern part of Indonesia, papeda is one of the most iconic dishes from Papua. Papeda is a porridge made from sago flour, and since there are limited resources to farm rice, the majority of Papua’s citizens use papeda as a source of carbs.
Papeda is rather bland on its own, but you will get a unique cuisine experience that you can’t find anywhere else when paired with protein-rich foods like fish and eggs.
13. Indomie (Instant Noodle)
While technically Indomie is a brand of instant noodles, it is one of the most famous foods that has ever come out of Indonesia. Even if you live in the United States, chances are you have encountered Indonesia’s most beloved instant noodles in your favorite grocery stores.
Indomie’s iconic taste and practicality make it a perfect choice for a quick snack or to quench your late-night cravings.
14. Mie Aceh (Spicy Noodle)
Speaking of noodles, mie Aceh (Aceh Noodle) is a non-instant and rich-flavored Indonesian food that you should try whenever you come to the country.
As the name suggests, mie Aceh originated from Aceh, Indonesia. The noodle used for mie Aceh is a lot thicker and has more volume compared to others. The whole mie Aceh dish also has its signature orange color, making it an easy tell if you ever spot one in a restaurant. Mie Aceh is usually packed with seafood such as squid, crab, or shrimp.
15. Ketoprak (Bean Sprout Salad)
Ketoprak is another vegetable-based dish originating from Indonesia. Since there is plenty of lands suitable for agriculture, Indonesian have come up with various plant-based dishes that magically transform their crops into delicious dishes – ketoprak is one of them.
Ketoprak consists mainly of vegetables like bean sprouts and lettuce, but it also has bihun (vermicelli-like noodle), boiled egg, lontong, tofu, tempeh, and rice crackers. And again, peanut sauce is used to blend all the ingredients together.
16. Sop Buntut (Oxtail Soup)
Sop buntut is a soup primarily made from oxtail – a true testament of how creative Indonesians are when it comes to NOT wasting ingredients. Many other countries have come up with their version of oxtail soup. But Indonesian oxtail soup is unique, thanks to the tropical spices and seasonings available in the country.
The oxtail is roasted before it gets boiled with the broth and carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, green onion, and celery to get more of the savory goodness into the meat.
17. Lontong (Rice Cake)
Lontong is a tube-shaped rice cake wrapped in banana leaves that has a rubbery texture. While it is made of rice, lontong has a unique sensation when you combine it with soupy dishes like opor ayam (spicy chicken soup) or sayur asem (Indonesian vegetable soup since it absorbs less of the broth compared to rice.
Making lontong is one step more complicated than cooking rice. When the rice is half-cooked with all the water gone, the next step is to put it into tube shapes using banana leaves as the wraps. And then, the wrapped rice tubes are put into a pressure cooker (or anything that can steam) for hours to create the grain-less rice cake.
18. Pempek Palembang (Fish Cake)
Pempek, also called empek-empek, is a savory dish resembling fish cakes originating from Palembang, Indonesia. Since Palembang is a city surrounded by bodies of water, the majority of their citizens used to be fishermen – and they found a way to make a signature dish using fish meat.
Fish meat and cassava starch are two of the main ingredients to make pempek, but eggs, garlic, and salt are also used to perfect the taste and consistency. Even though pempek is a signature Palembang dish, you can find it all over the country.
Pempek is typically served with a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce called cuko to dip the fish cakes and balance the fishy taste.
19. Gudeg (Sweet Jackfruit Stew)
Yogyakarta, the birth city of gudeg, is famous for its rich cultural and historical values. Gudeg is a sweet stew with jackfruit as its main ingredient.
The jackfruit stew is boiled for hours in a mix of coconut milk and palm sugar to achieve a creamy texture and rich flavor. The hours of boiling process also tenderize the jackfruit to the point where it melts in your mouth before you can even chew it. Like many other Indonesian dishes, gudeg is commonly served with rice, hard-boiled eggs, chickens, and tempeh.
20. Gado-Gado (Vegetable Salad)
As another vegetable-based dish, gado-gado is a healthy dish made of various boiled vegetables, including long beans, tempeh, tofu, corn, carrot, and cucumber. However, this dish is not always vegan-friendly since it is often served with a hard-boiled egg in the mix – so keep that in mind.
Gado-Gado uses a sweet peanut sauce to bind all the ingredients together – unlike pecel that uses savory and spicy peanut sauce.
21. Kerak Telor (Fried Egg Dish)
Kerak telor, when translated word-for-word, means eggshells – but it is not actually a dish made from eggshells. Batavian people create Kerak telor, and as such it is most common around Jakarta.
Kerak telor is a dish made from eggs and sticky rice mixed with other ingredients such as ginger, galangal, sugar, salt, and garlic. The mixture is then cooked on a charcoal stove with an even heat spread to achieve a shell-like consistency on the dish’s outer part – hence the name.
22. Rendang (Slow-Cooked Beef)
Rendang is one of the most popular foods in Indonesia – and it has been cited to be one of the most delicious dishes in the world. In a nutshell, rendang is slow-cooked beef with various spices and seasonings involved to create a flavorful taste.
To make rendang, you will need coconut milk, chili, ginger, galangal, turmeric, shallots, lemongrass, garlic, and other spices to slow-cook the beef (or other types of meat you want to use) for up to 4 hours.
This slow-cooking process is what gives rendang its rich and creamy texture to the center of the meat.
23. Bakso (Meatballs)
Meatballs are universal and can be found worldwide, but bakso is Indonesia’s unique take that combines meatballs and soup. Bakso typically contains meatballs, fried dumplings, tofu, and fried tofu served with soup.
You can find bakso almost everywhere in Indonesia, from street vendors to high-end restaurants. It is one of the most famous comfort dishes during the rainy season in Indonesia.
Soto is another popular Indonesian soup dish that contains tender shredded chicken, noodles, vermicelli, green onion, and eggs that are submerged in a bowl of delicious broth. Two of the most popular types of soto are soto ayam and soto mie – but there are plenty of other variations that you can find throughout the country.
You can enjoy soto as a soup dish on its own, but Indonesian normally enjoy it with rice, lontong, or ketupat.
These skewered meat are popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and other neighboring countries.
The most popular satay is satay ayam (chicken), followed by satay kambing (lamb) and satay daging (beef). Other than those variations, dozens of derivations can range from satay kulit (chicken skin), satay usus (chicken intestines), satay ati (chicken liver), and many other obscure satay that the locals love.
26. Gulai (Spicy Chicken Soup)
Gulai is a soup dish primarily made of chicken meat cooked in coconut oil until it is tender and juicy to the core.
According to the local historians, gulai originated from Sumatra – as shown by its spicy and greasy characteristics. The various spices and seasonings used to cook gulai result in a rich flavor that will definitely make you want seconds.
Pepes or pais is not a dish, but more of a cooking method that is very popular throughout the entire Java island in Indonesia. There are plenty of pepes dishes, but the most common ones are fish and chicken. The ingredients, spices, and seasonings are all bundled together in a banana leaf wrap, then roasted. Even though the seasoning for pepes has increased in variations to improve the taste, some spices are iconic to pepes: bay leaves, tomatoes, and chilis.
Serabi is bowl-shaped cakes that are made primarily from rice flour with various toppings to enrich the flavor.
Originally, surabi as a snack is often divided into two variations: serabi manis (sweet) and serabi asin (savory). These original variations are plain – the only difference is that one is sweet and the other one is salty. However, as times goes by and more people are experimenting with their take on serabi, plenty of variations have emerged. There are dozens of topping options that you can find in street vendors and restaurants from banana to melted cheese.
29. Tempeh Goreng (Fried Tempeh)
Tempeh is one of the most famous South-East Asian cuisines that you can find all over the world. One of the easiest and best ways to cook tempeh is by simply frying it in sizzling hot cooking oil with a pinch of salt as seasoning.
Tempeh is made from soybeans and therefore offers a considerable amount of protein for your daily needs. Of course, there are other ways to cook the tempeh. But if we are talking about the most popular foods in Indonesia, tempeh goreng will always be on that list.
30. Pecel Lele (Fried Catfish)
While it shares the ‘pecel’ name from another dish on this list, pecel lele is an entirely different food that offers an entirely different experience.
Pecel lele is fried catfish dish served with sambal sauce along with some fresh vegetables on the side. This dish is ubiquitous throughout Indonesia in general, but especially in Java. Street vendors that sell this dish are open in the evening. Pecel lele is also an incredibly affordable dish, which contributes massively to its popularity.
Indonesia is a country with much more culinary richness that you can explore. While you can try to make some of these dishes yourself, the experience you can get from visiting Indonesia and trying out the authentic version is irreplaceable.