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Indonesian - Cooking and Food[edit | edit source]

Overview of Indonesian Cuisine History[edit | edit source]

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is surrounded by tropical oceans and spans the equator. Often known as the Spice Islands, it has been a major source of many spices traded around the globe since ancient times. Ginger, black and white Peppercorns, cubeb pepper, long pepper, and Galangal were exported to medieval Europe, while others such as nutmeg and cloves grew nowhere else in the world. The diversity of its cultures is reflected in the range of localized cuisines and traditional eating habits. The many different cultural regions each have their own individual and unique culinary traditions. Additionally, many Indonesian dishes show influence from contact with Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, and Dutch cuisines.

Like people in most Asian countries, Indonesians eat three meals a day, with rice as the staple food except in Maluku, parts of Nusa Tenggara, and Irian Jaya, where sago palm flour, cassava, and sweet potatoes are the staple food. An Indonesian meal most commonly consists of soup, steamed rice, several main dishes (based on red meat, chicken, fish and crustaceans, and vegetables), with tropical fruits for dessert. These are often served and eaten at once, which can be an entirely new experience to Westerners who are used to eating meals served as one course after another. A typical Indonesian breakfast consists of coffee and nasi goreng, fried rice made with rice left over from the previous night's dinner. Lunch is steamed rice, a meat or fish dish, vegetables and soup. Indonesian suppers are light and consist of dishes similar to those eaten at lunch. Leftover dishes are generally served at the following meal, so there is little waste. Desserts of seasonal fruits complete a typical Indonesian lunch and supper. Snacks are popular, too, commonly eaten in mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and before bedtime, often purchased from wandering street vendors. These can include savory dishes like saté (skewered grilled meat with various sauces), sweets such as pisang goreng (banana fritters) and tapé (fermented sticky rice or cassava), and sweet-and-savory dishes like rujak, made of sliced and chopped fruits and vegetables with a sauce of ground peanuts, sugar (brown, red, or palm), and hot chiles.

Curries (spicy sauces diluted with coconut milk) and the addition of cumin, coriander, and caraway in many Indonesian dishes may have been influenced by contact with India. A variety of soybean products, such as tahu (tofu), taogé (soy bean sprouts), and ketjap (soy sauce); different kinds of noodles; and the popular bakso (fish dumplings in soup) are legacies of early and continuing contact with Chinese merchants who traveled to Indonesia. The Dutch brought vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and string beans, adding them to the wide number of vegetables already available in Indonesia. The Arabs brought kebabs (skewered meat cubes), martabak, and dill and fennel seeds were added to Indonesia’s already vast array of spices.

The so-called rice table (rijstafel), an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch in colonial times from the typical Indonesian feast, is perhaps an aspect of Indonesian cuisine most familiar abroad. Since becoming independent from the Netherlands in 1948, Indonesia has turned itself from a rice importing nation to a rice exporter, and has established itself as the fifth largest producer in OPEC.

Cuisines of Indonesia[edit | edit source]

Map of Indonesia - Click to enlarge

Indonesia comprises over 17,500 islands - about 6,000 of which are inhabited, more than 300 distinct ethnic groups, and over 700 languages, many of them related. Additionally, Indonesia is divided by the Wallace Line, so the climates, as well as indigenous flora and fauna, are significantly different to the west and the east, with the east (Nusa Tenggara) being considerably drier. Thus there is no single Indonesian cuisine, but rather a wide range of different culinary traditions, localized to specific regions, some with well-known cuisines.

In West Sumatra the region inhabited by the Minangkabau ethnic group is famous for its hot spicy dishes. This cuisine is often known by the name of the area's major city, Padang, and Padang restaurants are not uncommon on other Indonesian islands and overseas. Usually the food is prepared on the spot, outside the restaurants of Padang, so that people can see the fresh food and its consistence as they walk inside.

In North Sulawesi spicy food is also very common, and Pork is served there as well. This is basically an exception, because pork is usually not used in any of the Indonesian dishes, most of the population being Muslim, although pork can be found in Chinese restaurants in Indonesia.

The island of Java is divided into several distinct cultural regions. The cuisine includes vegetables, soybeans, Beef, and Chicken, whereas in other regions, especially the eastern parts, seafood is the chief protein. Savory dishes in Central Javanese cuisine are often distinctively sweet.

The island of Bali is possibly the best known to foreigners, and Balinese cuisine is distinctly different from the cuisines of Java, Padang, and other regions. Because the Balinese are Hindu Bali, not Muslim, they often eat pork, and drink local alcoholic beverages, such as tuak, palm wine, and brem Bali, rice wine.

Peranakan or Nyonya Cuisine combines Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, and other influences into its own recognisable blend. The old word nonya (also spelled nyonya) was a term of respect and affection for Peranakan women of some social standing, partly “madame” (in the French sense) and part “auntie”. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled, often in port cities, and inter-married with local Indonesians.

Indonesian Food Glossary[edit | edit source]

Finding the ingredients for an Indonesian Recipe is not so easy when you do not know the names of the ingredients. Take time to make a list of ingredients and the name they may be found under at the Local Markets.

Preparation Methods for Indonesian Cooking[edit | edit source]

Most ingredients are sliced, chopped, or otherwise cut up into small pieces so they cook relatively quickly and are easy to eat in the traditional manner, which is with the fingers of the right hand, or the more modern method, with a spoon, forks being generally used to push food into the spoon.

The chief cooking methods are pan frying, deep frying, simmering in broth, steaming, and grilling. Most cooking is done over a wood or charcoal fire, or on a small kerosene stove. Western style stoves and hot plates is also popular.

For many dishes, onions, garlic, spices, and chiles are often first sauteed in vegetable oil. Then, depending on the dish, the other ingredients may be added to the pan, or the cooked seasonings may be added to a cooking liquid.

Coconut milk is used in the preparation of some dishes. Banana leaves are used to wrap some dishes before cooking, such as Ikan Pepes, to retain moisture and hold the ingredients together.

Lunch, the primary Indonesian meal, is generally prepared throughout the morning. All dishes are served at once, although not all will be hot, fresh off the stove. Most meals include long-grain rice as the main dish, with meats and vegetable dishes on the side. The dishes are often accompanied by several Sambals, which are actually spicy relishes that are mixed with the food.

Special Equipment for Indonesian Cooking[edit | edit source]

When sitting up an Indonesian kitchen there are a few essentials that will not only make your meals a success but will also make it much easier to prepare them. The most important equipment when starting to prepare an Indonesian meal, are the solid wooden chopping block and a heavy cleaver, for everything from mincing the ingredients to chopping Chicken, meat, or vegetables.

When you plan on cooking in an Indonesian manner, you will be in need of a pots, spatulas, turners, scrapers, serving spoons, forks and tongs. Also, a rectangular or saucer-shaped volcanic rock grinding stone (cobek), together with a wood or stone pestle (ulek) is used in grinding spices needed for the recipes. A woven bamboo steamer is always good to have in preparing many Indonesian dishes. When deep frying ingredients in oil, a wok or kuali is ideal, since it requires less oil then a conventional deep fryer. Additional tools for deep-frying in a wok include a frying shovel or spatula and an almost flat wire or mesh strainer for removing crisps and fritters.

Deep serving dishes are required for the traditional dishes cooked in broth. Cover lids and insulated food carriers are useful to keep the temperature of the food constant, if you plan on serving the dishes at their optimizal temperature.

  • Solid Wooden Chopping block or Heavy Wooden Cutting Board- The larger sizes are most appropriate for this style of cooking.
  • Heavy Cleaver- used in combination with the chopping block or board, it is invaluable for chopping up meats and seafood, bruising stalks of lemongrass, or smashing cardamom pods so they release their fragrance.
  • Food Processor, Blender, or Electric Spice Grinder- In Indonesian cuisine often the first step is grinding or crushing the seasonings that form the basis of each dish. To do this, traditionally and still popular nowadays especially in Indonesia itself, the cook uses a granite or volcanic grinding stone together with a granite pestle. This is also often used to serve sambal (chili sauce). However, in this modern era and in other countries outside Asia, it can be hard to find these tools. Therefore a food processor, blender, or electric spice grinder will do this task.
  • Wok- ideal for deep frying because it requires less oil then a conventional deep fryer. Moreover, it allows just the right amount of evaporation for those dishes which begin with a large amount of liquid and finish with a thick sauce.
  • Frying Shovel or Spatula- is an essential partner of a wok.
  • Woven Bamboo Steamer- A bamboo steamer is preferred to a metal steamer because it absorbs more moisture rather than letting it fall back into the food. Also this steamer fits perfectly inside a wok just above the boiling water.
  • Electric Rice Cooker- since plain white rice is the main dish in most Indonesian meals. This is much more convenient than the traditional dandang rice cooker, which requires a fair bit of attention, since the rice is first partially boiled, then finished by steaming.

Indonesian Food Traditions and Festivals[edit | edit source]

Indonesian food traditions have been inherited from ancient civilizations, indigenous and foreign. For example, Hinduism, which arrived in the Indonesian archpelago in the 5th century CE, left its legacy in the famous Javanese and Balinese dances, and made the balance between nature and eating habits important. Spanish and Portuguese traders brought New World ingredients, such as chiles, peanuts, and tomatoes, a century before the Dutch colonized most of the archipelago. The arrival of Islam in the 15th century reduced the consumption of indigenous pork and added religious festivals with their concommitant fasts and feasts. Because of Indonesia's numerous ethnic groups and religions, what is celebrated in one place may not be in another, so festivals depend on the religion as well as local eating habits.

One significant tradition in Indonesian culture is the display and presentation of food known as slamatan. Dishes aren’t served separately in different courses, but rather all together in form of a big buffet, so everyone can have any dish, sweet or salty.

A new development is the international Indonesian food festival held in June. People celebrate their special cuisine all over the country. Special feasts take place, and Chicken Satay, Gado-Gado, recipes containing mainly seafood, and light salads are offered in a big buffet, along with the performance of traditional dances.

People in Indonesian Food[edit | edit source]

  • Are you into Indonesian Cooking and would like to be interviewed?

Indonesian chefs are very creative at combining available ingredients by their own personal methods, resulting in original and delicious dishes. Indonesian chefs are passionate about their traditional dishes and enjoy presenting them to foreigners and visitors of their native lands, people who have never tasted these dishes before. Like cooks in many other parts of the world, Indonesian chefs often keep some of their ingredients or methods secret, and do not reveal them, in order to maintain the originality of their dishes. A chef needs great skill to coordinate every dish so all are ready in the same time, no matter whether its bakmi goreng" (fried noodles), gado-gado" (vegetables salad with a Peanut sauce), or a soup that needs to be served hot.

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