Home to a multitude of languages and ethnic groups with influences from all over the world--including China, India, and Portugal--Indonesia features a cuisine that has grown into one that is complex and reflective of its history and culture.

Due to its complex culinary style, the cuisine has increasingly gained popularity over the world. In fact, CNN has even created its own list of 40 traditional Indonesian dishes that have taken the world by storm.

However, due to its eclectic nature, there has been much debate about what Indonesian food really is. In hopes of giving you, our readers, a general idea of what constitutes authentic Indonesian cooking, we've prepared this Quick Guide to Indonesian Cuisine.


Indonesian food, much like many others in Southeast Asia, is based around rice as a staple. As such, meat and vegetable dishes are usually eaten with boiled plain white rice. Also, due to the country's Chinese and Dutch influences, many Indonesian dishes are reflective of wheat as a staple.


Being a predominantly Islamic country, it's likely that you won't find any Indonesian dishes that contain it. Rather, Indonesian cuisine is centered on proteins such as chicken, duck, beef and goat meat. Furthermore, due to its archipelagic geographic location, fish is widely used in this cuisine.


Indonesian cuisine makes wide use of leafy vegetables such as spinach, papaya and cassava leaves. These vegetables are likely to be sautéed in garlic. Other vegetables such as corn, shallots, and chayote are used in clear soups, curries, and stir-fried dishes.


With influences from India, it's easy to see why the Indonesians have developed such a complex spice palate for their dishes. In addition, Indonesia's Malaku islands (also known as "Spice Islands") have contributed to the development of its cuisine.

With spices such as nutmeg, cloves, and pandan locally grown, these spices are usually essential in the cooking of traditional food. In addition, Chinese-influenced spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, and coriander have also made their way into the Indonesian spice palate.

One very important aspect of Indonesian flavors is soy sauce, which was adopted from the Chinese. However, Indonesian cuisine uses a local version of the Chinese influence in the form of sweet soy sauce, which includes the addition of palm sugar into the supposedly salty sauce.


Indonesian food usually features specific tastes: peanut sauce and coconut milk.

Peanuts, having been introduced by Spanish merchants, have made their way into staple Indonesian foods as ingredients for dipping sauces and marinades. The Indonesian peanut sauce is known to have refined earthy flavors and featuring a delicate mixture of savory, sweet and spicy flavors.

The wide use of coconut milk in the cuisine rises from the abundance of coconut trees in the archipelago. It is used in a wide range of Indonesian cooking from savory dishes, to desserts, to beverages. The cuisine utilizes two different kinds of coconut milk: thin milk for soups, and thick milks for curries and desserts.

Overall, Indonesian cuisine is one that delivers a unique combination of flavors: from the oriental feel of the Chinese, to the exotic spices of India, to the sophisticated seafood of the Portuguese. While the true essence of Indonesian cuisine may still remain unclear, it's usually best to just learn through experience.

This delectable cuisine is definitely one-of-a-kind and will satisfy your taste buds in ways you never even imagined. Happy eating!