Eating and drinking

1 Food
2 Regional cuisines
3 Drink


The main staple across the archipelago is rice. Today, alternatives such as corn, sweet potatoes and sago, which are grown primarily in the dry islands of the East, are regarded as 'poor man's food', and rice is the preferred staple.

Indonesians will eat rice - or
(milled, cooked rice) - at least three times a day. Breakfast is often left-over rice, stir-fried and served up as
nasi goreng
. Mid-morning snacks are often sticky rice cakes or
pisang goreng
(fried bananas). Rice is the staple for lunch, served up with two or three meat and vegetable dishes and followed by fresh fruit. The main meal is supper, which is served quite early and again consists of rice, this time accompanied by as many as five or six other dishes.
(grilled skewers of meat),
(a nourishing soup) or
(noodles, a dish of Chinese origin) may be served first.

In many towns (particularly in Java),
vendors roam the streets with carts containing charcoal braziers, ringing a bell or hitting a block (the noise will signify what he or she is selling) in the early evenings. These carts are known as
kaki lima
kaki lima
(abbreviated to PK5 in newspaper reports) also refers to hawkers who peddle their wares from stalls and from baskets hung from shoulder poles.

Larger foodstalls tend to set up in the same place every evening in a central position in town. These
, as they are known, may be temporary structures or more permanent buildings, with simple tables and benches. In the larger cities, there may be an area of
, all under one roof. Often a particular street will become known as the best place to find particular dishes like
(savoury meat pancakes) or
gado gado
(vegetable salad served with peanut sauce). It is common to see some
. These are stalls selling dishes from Tegal, a town on Java's north coast. More
formalized restaurants are known simply as
rumah makan
, literally 'eating houses', often shortened to just 'RM'. A good place to look for cheap stall food is in and around the market or
; night markets or
pasar malam
are usually better for eating than day markets.

Feast days, such as Lebaran marking the end of Ramadan, are a cause for great celebration and traditional dishes are served.
are made at this time (they are both versions of boiled rice - simmered in a small container or bag, so that as it cooks, the rice is compressed to make a solid block). This may be accompanied by
sambal goreng daging
(fried beef in a coconut sauce) in Java or
(curried beef) in Sumatra.
Nasi kuning
(yellow rice) is traditionally served at a
(a Javanese celebration marking a birth, the collection of the rice harvest or the completion of a new house).

In addition to rice, there are a number of other common ingredients used across the country. Coconut milk, ginger, chilli peppers and peanuts are used nationwide, while dried salted fish and soybeans are important sources of protein. In coastal areas, fish and seafood tend to be more important than meat. As Indonesia is more than 80% Muslim, pork is not widely eaten (except in Chinese restaurants) and in some areas, such as Bali, Christian Flores, and around Lake Toba in Sumatra, it is much more in evidence.

Regional cuisines

Although Indonesia is becoming more homogeneous as Javanese culture spreads to the Outer Islands, there are still distinctive regional cuisines. The food of
embraces a number of regional forms, of which the most distinctive is
, a Sundanese dish, consists of raw vegetables and is said to be the only Indonesian dish where vegetables are eaten uncooked. Characteristic ingredients of Javanese dishes are soybeans, beef, chicken and vegetables; characteristic flavours are an interplay of sweetness and spiciness. Probably the most famous regional cuisine, however, is
food, which has its origins in West Sumatra province. Padang food has 'colonized' the rest of the country and there are Padang restaurants in every town, no matter how small. Dishes tend to be hot and spicy, using quantities of chilli and turmeric, and include
(dry beef curry),
kalo ayam
(creamy chicken curry) and
dendeng balado
(fried seasoned sun-dried meat with a spicy coating). In
Eastern Indonesia
, seafood and fish are important elements in the diet, and fish grilled over an open brazier (
ikan panggang
ikan bakar
) and served with spices and rice is a delicious, common dish. The
of Sulawesi eat large amounts of pork, and specialities include black rice (
nasi hitam
) and fish or chicken cooked in bamboo (
). There are large numbers of Chinese people scattered across the archipelago and, like other countries of the region,
restaurants are widespread.


must be boiled for at least five minutes before it is safe to drink. Hotels and most restaurants should boil the water they offer customers. Ask for
air minum
(drinking water). Many restaurants provide a big jug of boiled water on each table. In cheaper establishments it is probably best to play safe and ask for bottled water, although consider the environmental impact of this.

Mineral water
' - of which the most famous is
('aqua' has become the generic word for mineral water) - is available in all but the smallest and most remote towns. Check the seal is intact before accepting a bottle.

bottled and canned drinks
are widely available in Indonesia and are comparatively cheap. Alternatively, most restaurants will serve
air jeruk
- citrus
fruit juices
- with or without ice (
). The
coconut milk
is a good thirst quencher and a good source of potassium and glucose. Fresh fruit juices vary greatly in quality; some are little more than water, sugar and ice. Ice in many places is fine, but in cheaper restaurants and away from tourist areas many people recommend taking drinks without ice. Javanese, Sumatran, Sulawesi or Timorese
(coffee), fresh and strong, is an excellent morning pick-you-up. It is usually served
kopi manis
(sweet) and black; if you want to have it without sugar, ask for it
tidak pakai gula
. The same goes for other drinks habitually served with mountains of sugar (like fruit juices).
(milk) is available in tourist areas and large towns, but it may be sweetened condensed milk.
(tea), usually weak, is obtainable almost everywhere. Hot ginger tea is a refreshing alternative.

Although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, alcohol is widely available. The two most popular
- light lagers - are the locally brewed
brands. Wine is becoming more popular, although you need to ask for a wine list, and choose from that before it is clandestinely brought out. Imported
are comparatively expensive, however, a number of local brews including
(rice wine),
(rice whisky) and
(palm wine) are available.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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