A Brief Indonesian Food Primer

Bakso (meatball noodle soup)

Bakso (meatball noodle soup)

A big concern for many travelers is “What will I eat overseas?!”  There are so many TV shows these days that showcase international dishes that seem unusual, bizarre, or even downright unappetizing to Western palates. As entertaining as these shows might be, I think they do a disservice to would-be travelers.

Before we get into the basics of Indonesian food, let me tell you that the places we’ll be taking you in Bali & Lombok all have a huge Western food selection, as well: pizza, pastas, burgers, fries, etc. So, if you’re in need of some comfort food or familiar tastes, you’ll be well taken care of.  (BJ & I maintain that Ubud, Bali has some of the best Italian food in the world!)

One more note: Vegetarians will find plenty to eat in these areas, particularly with the addition of tofu and tempeh. Pescatarians (those who eat fish) will be in heaven, and we’ve successfully toured with Celiacs (allergic to gluten) in this part of the world with no problem.

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng

Indonesian food is extremely accessible to foreigners, even though it may go by unfamiliar names. In addition, tofu and tempeh are easier to find in Indonesia than anywhere else in SE Asia. (Tempeh is a soy protein similar to tofu but less processed and with greater health benefits due to its fermentation. It’s actually quite delicious!)  Check it out!

  • Nasi Goreng = fried rice (Nasi means rice, and Goreng means “fried.”)  This can be served with meat or tofu/tempeh; typically has a fried egg on top and shrimp rice crackers on the side.
  • Mie Goreng = fried noodles (Mie = noodles).  Typically wheat noodles—think “Top Ramen” style.
  • Sate (satay) = BBQed meat (or tofu/tempeh) on skewers.
  • Bakso = meatball soup, but can be any sort of meat, including fish.
  • Gado gado = bear with us on this one, as it sounds off-putting but is delightful.  It’s a salad of cooked greens and sprouts with peanut sauce on top, served with tofu/tempeh, a boiled egg, and a fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and sometimes green beans.  Typically also served with rice crackers. Somehow it all works, and is a solid vegetarian choice.
  • Gado Gado

    Gado Gado

    Lumpia = fried spring rolls

  • Cap Cay (chap chai) = stirfried vegetables, Chinese-style, with meat or tofu/tempeh
  • Beef Rendang = recently won a CNN Reader Poll for best dish in the world (click here for that story). This dish features beef that is slooooow cooked in a flavorful curry until you’re left with melt-in-your-mouth brisket-style beef with just hints of spice. Addictive.
  • Soto ayam = chicken soup


A Quick Glossary

Ayam = chicken

Ikan = fish

Tahu = tofu

Air = Water (I know!)

Teh = tea

Kopi = coffee  (note: coffee is served as a fine powder that is mixed with hot water, not usually a drip-brew.)