Indonesian cuisine was influenced by traders from India, the Middle East, China, and, later, Spain and Portugal. The Dutch, who colonized many of the 6,000 islands that make up Indonesia, adapted the buffet eating style of the native peoples, into the famous rijstaffel (or rice table). Sambals and tempeh, an adaptation of tofu, also originated in Indonesia.
The basic diet on most of the islands is rice (nasi), lots of it, supplemented with vegetables, a bit of fish, and, once in a while, savory meat and eggs. Anything with the word nasi in front of it means it's prepared or served with rice. All traditional Indonesian food is designed to complement or be complemented by rice. For Indonesians, the whiter the rice, and the more it's been hulled and slipped, the tastier it is. White rice serves as a sharp counterpoint to the spiciness and heat of Indonesian food.
Beef products are consumed mostly by urbanites. Rural consumption of beef is kept in check by the need to maintain buffalo as draught animals and cows as milk producers. Chicken tends to be scrawny and tough in Indonesia, but at least it has flavor. Pork is produced and consumed by the Hindu Balinese, the urban Chinese, and the Torajans. In Islamic Indonesia, pork must be served—if served at all—on a separate table, and never on the same plate with other foods. Goats, bred all over Indonesia, are the Muslim staff of life.
Indonesia offers a staggering amount of fresh seafood: tuna, shrimp, lobster, crab, anchovies, carp, prawns, and sea slugs. Try the succulent baked fish (ikan bakar), or a huge plate of perfectly prepared prawns in butter and garlic sauce. Some freshwater fish such as the buttery belanak (gray mullet) are bred in compounds; take the bones out, mix with coconut milk and spices, then wrap back in its skin and bake.
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This page modified January 2007
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