The diverse food culture of Indonesia is spread over an archipelago of 14,572 islands, making it the world's largest island state. The country immediately borders Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Malaysia. Other countries that surround Indonesia are Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Australia and the Indian-led Nicobars. The island state has a total area of 1,904,569 km². With a population of 260,580,739, it is the fourth largest country in terms of population.


Formerly the Indonesian archipelago was called the Spice Islands. And not unjustly, many spices come originally from Indonesia. And those spices are one of the reasons that Indonesian cuisine is so special.



The most famous islands of Indonesia are Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Bali and Sulawesi. In addition, there are still about 6000 inhabited islands, which are often much less known. All these islands, with their very diverse cultures and peoples, have their own eating habits. The majority of the Indonesian population is Muslim and that plays a role in the food, but pork is also available. The most famous food outside of Indonesia comes from Java, Sumatra and the Bali tourist paradise.


External influences

The first newcomers in Indonesia probably came from India. They arrived around the first century AD and brought with them Buddhism and Hinduism, they also brought aubergines, cucumbers and chickpeas and imported curries in the local kitchen.


When Buddhism also reached China, Chinese came to Indonesia to get acquainted with their religion and they also took their eating habits, including the wok and new vegetables such as cabbage. Soybeans were also an important addition. The real large groups of Chinese only came to Indonesia when the Dutch settlers went in search of cheap labor.


The Europeans also brought various new products such as peanuts, avocado, tomatoes, chili peppers and pineapple. In addition, they brought Christianity with them. And the Dutch called the rice table into life, a meal where several dishes at the same time came on the table.


Arab traders also visited the islands and they brought their kebabs, which were turned into satay by the Indonesians. It was these traders who ensured that Java was eventually converted to Islam and later other islands followed. Today Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and it follows that lamb and goat meat are popular. Pork is only eaten in Bali and in the Chinese community.



Rice is the most important food in Indonesia, with two exceptions: the Moluccas and Irian Jaya, where sago and cassava are eaten instead of rice. The ingredients that are added to the rice are often small in quantity, with the aim of flavoring the rice. Spicy sambal gives the food character. For inexperienced Westerners, the food is often very spicy.


South East Asia

Fish also plays an important role in the Indonesian menu. The sea is often nearby and there are also various freshwater options, even if only in the rice fields. Fish is also often dried. In addition, Indonesian cuisine has many similarities with other countries in South East Asia. Like in Thailand and the Philippines, lemongrass and dried shrimp paste is used. And like many other countries in the region, coconut milk is used. In addition, the spices, which are mainly used in Indian cuisine, play an important role. Cumin, coriander and ginger and the curries also used in India.


Typical Indonesian

Despite all the outside influences, the Indonesians usually make something totally new and typically Indonesian of all these additions. A good example is the aforementioned satay. Another example is the Chinese soy sauce, with typical Indonesian additions that have been transformed into soy sauce (from which the western word ketchup is derived)