Food in Indonesia
With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of regional cuisines found throughout the country. However, when the term is used without further qualification, it usually means the food that originated in the central and eastern parts of the main island of Java. Javanese cuisine, which is now common throughout the archipelago, consists of a range of simply spiced dishes. The predominant flavours favoured by Javanese are peanuts, chillies, sugar (especially Javanese coconut sugar) and certain spices.
Many backpackers often seem to fall into the rut of eating only nasi goreng (fried rice) and the usual Javanese dishes, but if you’re adventurous enough, you’ll find there many more interesting options. In West Java, Sundanese dishes, which consist of many fresh vegetables and herbs, are mostly eaten raw. Padang is famous for the spicy and richly seasoned Minangkabau cuisine, which has some similarities to the cuisine in neighbouring Malaysia. Both the Christian Batak people and the Hindu Balinese are big fans of pork, while the Minahasa of North Sulawesi are known to eat almost anything, including dog and flying fox, and have a very liberal use of fiery chillies, even by Indonesian standards. Tamed, Muslim-friendly versions of all three can be found in the shopping malls and food courts of many Indonesian cities, but it’s worth seeking out the real thing, especially if you’re travelling in these regions. And if you come to Papua in the far east of the country, you can expect a Melanesian diet of wild boar, taro and sago.
There are some other foods you should know about for their strong taste, such as terasi (tuh-RAH-see), which is a dried shrimp paste and has a strong fishy taste, and pete (peh-TAY), a tree-like legume that has a strong taste that lasts a long time and affects the smell of urine, faeces and flatulence. Terasi in particular is a common ingredient in many dishes, including petis, chilli pepper sauce and a range of dishes and sauces, and pete is sometimes added to chilli pepper sauce and certain dishes, although it is only available seasonally. Added to this is a variety of dried, salted, fishy seafood, including seaweed. The chilli pepper, rawit, has a very strong flavour, similar to Tabasco sauce, is strongly spiced and is often used in many dishes. A Sundanese favourite is oncom (ohn-chohm) and consists of peanuts that have been fermented in a block until they are colourfully coated with certain types of mushrooms; this dish not only looks mouldy but also tastes mouldy and is an acquired taste.
In Jakarta and Bali, as well as in some other major cities, franchise restaurants from Asia, Europe, West and East America are common, with Kentucky Fried Chicken leading the way, followed by McDonald’s. You can also find modest to expensive restaurants with specialities from Thailand, Korea, the Middle East, Africa, Spain, Russian food and so on.
Rice in Indonesia
In much of the archipelago, nasi putih (white rice) is the staple food, while ketan (glutinous rice) is often used for certain dishes and many snacks. Red rice is available, though rare. Rice is so important that it has several different names depending on what stage of the cultivation/consumption process it is at, from ‘padi’ on the ground, ‘beras’ after harvest to ‘nasi’ when steamed on the plate. Rice is served in many forms, including:
- Bubur, rice porridge with toppings and chicken broth, popular for breakfast, usually salty
- lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so that it is compressed into a cake
- Nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it specially to get an egg on top, eaten at any time, even for breakfast
- nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, the festive, ceremonial food version is formed into a pointed cone called tumpeng
- nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with many variations and adaptations to taste.
- Nasi Timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common side dish for Sundanese food
- Nasi Uduk, light sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular for breakfast
- nasi liwet, white rice served with coarsely minced chicken, opor (coconut milk soup), eggs and other garnishes, including internal organs and quail eggs, traditionally served late at night
Noodles in Indonesia
Noodles (mi or mie) are close behind in the popularity scale. A special mention goes to Indomie, no less than the largest instant noodle producer in the world. A pack in the supermarket costs over Rp 1,500. Some stalls will boil or fry them for you for as little as Rp 3,000.
- bakmi, thin egg noodles, usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushrooms, etc.)
- kuetiaw/kwetiau/kway-tiau, flat rice noodles, usually fried with soy sauce, but can also be served in broth-based soups (less common).
- soun, long, thin, mostly transparent (best quality), round vermicelli (“glass” or “bean thread” noodles) made from starch from beans, cassava and other sources are mostly used in soups
- bihun, long, thin, white (poorer quality is blue), round rice flour noodles are usually fried or added to certain dishes
- Pangsit, similar to ravioli, these noodles originating from China are filled with some meat and are very soft, usually served fried in or with soup, or served “wet” in broth.
Soups in Indonesia
Soups (soto with turmeric and sop) and watery curries are also common. Contrary to Western etiquette, soup can also serve as a main course:
- bakso/baso (“BAH-so”), meatballs made of beef, chicken or fish and noodles in broth
- rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality from East Java, known for its blackish colour due to the use of keluak (Pangium edule).
- sayur asam a Sundanese vegetable soup made sour with asem jawa (tamarind) and belimbing sayur (cucumber tree fruit)
- sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish
- soto ayam, Indonesian-style chicken soup with chicken cutlets, vermicelli and chicken broth and various local ingredients
- opor, chicken, sometimes with certain vegetables like chayote, cooked in coconut milk soup, often served on holidays, or the liquid is added to the dish jogjakartan, gudeg
- sayur bening, bayam (Indonesian spinach) and diced labu siam (chayote) in a clear, sweet broth
Main dishes in Indonesia
Popular main dishes are:
- ayam bakar, grilled chicken
- ayam goreng, deep fried chicken
- cap cay, Chinese-style fried vegetables, usually with chicken, beef or seafood
- Gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce
- gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta.
- ikan bakar, grilled fish
- karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
- Perkedel, deep-fried meatballs made from potatoes and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel).
- Rendang, a spicy padang favourite: beef cooked in a curry of santan (coconut milk) and spices until tender
- sate (satay), grilled chicken, beef, goat or, rarely, lamb, horse or rabbit on a skewer
- sapo, Chinese-style clay pot stew, usually with tofu, vegetables and meat or seafood.
- pempek or empek-empek comes from Palembang, Sumatra, and is made from ikan tenggiri (mackerel) and tapioca, with various shapes (lenjer, keriting), some of which may include an egg (kapal selam), some form of onion (adaan) or papaya (pistel), steamed and then deep-fried and served with chopped cucumber in a sweet and spicy vinegar and sugar-based sauce. Some recipes taste fishy, while others are fresh. Be careful of the very inexpensive pempek – it will likely contain a disproportionate amount of tapioca and will feel rubbery.Good pempek should be slightly crispy on the outside and soft (but very slightly rubbery) on the inside, and the flavour of the sauce should be allowed to soak into the pempek after a while.
Warning. It is best to avoid raw dishes such as karedok, raw vegetable salads (such as cucumbers in cream sauce) and salads unless you can prove that the vegetables were prepared hygienically with boiled, filtered or bottled water, otherwise you may suffer diarrhoea or food poisoning. Eat dishes with santan (coconut milk) with caution as it can strain your cholesterol or cause diarrhoea.
Spices in Indonesia
Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a wide variety of sauces and dips known as sambaland saus sambal. The easiest and probably one of the most common is sambal ulek, a mixture of cayenne pepper and salt, with a little lime perhaps, which is then ground up in a mortar and pestle.There are many other types of sambal such as sambal pekel (with ground peanuts), sambal terasi (with dried shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, sambal mangga (with mango strips), sambal hijau (with green chilli), sambal bajak (fried, usually with tomatoes), etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful when asked if you want your dish pedas (spicy). Also, sometimes sambal may not be fresh and can cause diarrhoea, so check the freshness before putting it in.
Crackers, known as kerupuk (krupuk or keropok, it’s the same word spelt differently), accompany almost every meal and are also a traditional snack, and can loosely be called puffed [ingredient] crackers, and are often large round or square affairs. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many you’d never see outside Indonesia. However, the best known are the thin, pale pink, rectangular kerupuk udang, made from dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter, small and thin, pale yellow emping, made from the nuts of the melinjo fruit (Gnetum gnemon), as well as those made from cassava or fish, both of which are usually large, round or square and white or orange, although there are also smaller varieties with vivid colours such as pink. Most kerupuk are deep-fried in oil, but a machine has been developed that can cook a chip instantly at high heat. In a pinch, kerupuk made by pouring the dough in a curly pattern can be soaked in broth to do double duty as noodles – a good way to use soggy kerupuk.
What North Americans call chips and other crisps (not to be confused with kentang goreng or fries), Indonesians call keripik. Crisps are also available, but they play second fiddle to cassava chips, and you will also find chips made from other fruits and tubers, such as sweet potatoes and bananas. Keripik is not consumed so frequently as Kerupuk, and both of these varieties are best eaten immediately or kept in an airtight container, as they tend to absorb moisture from the air and become mushy.
Pickled vegetables (using vinegar and sugar), is often served with certain dishes, especially noodles and soups, and is called acar. It almost always contains chopped cucumbers, but may also contain chillies, chopped carrots and shallots. It should not be confused with pickles, which are only available in certain supermarkets and are expensive.
It is not common to be offered salt and pepper, but things like sweet (kecap manis) or salty soy sauce (kecap asin), cuka (vinegar) and, less commonly, saus tomat (tomato sauce). You might find saus inggris (Worcestershire sauce) in steakhouses, but you’ll have a hard time finding mustard anywhere but major supermarkets, and you might as well forget about relish unless you’re in one of the major cities.
Desserts in Indonesia
While desserts are not common in Indonesia in the Western sense, there are many snacks that can tickle your sweet tooth.Kue includes a wide range of cakes and certain pastries, all colourful, sweet and usually a little bland and rather dry, with coconut, rice or wheat flour and sugar as the main ingredients in many. Kue kering usually refers to biscuits and they come in a wide variety. Western-style roti (bread) and cakes have only recently become popular, especially in the big cities, but traditional and Dutch breads and pastries are available in many bakeries and supermarkets.
Some popular traditional desserts are: martabak manis aka kue Bandung or terang bulan (like a giant yeast pancake made fresh and available with various toppings on butter or margarine and condensed milk), lapis legit (an egg-based cake with many thin layers, often flavoured with certain spices), bika Ambon (a somewhat pleasantly rubbery yeast cake from Ambon, which has a pleasant aromatic flavour), pukis (like a half pancake with various toppings), pisang molen (the banana version of pigs in a blanket), pisang goreng (bananas deep-fried in batter) and klepon (a Javanese favourite – rice flour balls filled with liquid Javanese sugar and coated in shredded coconut). Also common are naga sari (literally: the essence of the dragon – banana in solid rice flour pudding steamed in banana leaves), puding (solid pudding with agar agar doused with vla, a sauce), centik manis (sweetened solid rice flour pudding with colourful tapioca balls) and some people like to eat Javanese (block) sugar on its own – its texture and taste make it enjoyable for many.
Some cakes and pastries here are served with sweetened meat sausage (abon) or a generous portion of grated cheese. A favourite during Ramadan are the Dutch “kaastengels”, a rectangular cheese-flavoured biscuit that is only slightly sweet.
Es buah, crushed ice mixed with fruit and sometimes sweet potato or nuts and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in endless varieties (“teler”, “campur”, etc.) and is a popular choice on a hot day. Ice cream made with either milk or coconut milk is very common. Indonesia’s traditional version of ice cream is made with coconut milk and is called “es puter” and is available in a variety of local flavours, such as chocolate, coconut, durian, blewah (a pumpkin), sweetened kidney bean, sweetened mung bean, etc. Although it is puter generally safe to consume, the iced fruit drinks may contain ice made from untreated water or dirty blocks of ice transported by becak, leading to frequent visits to the toilet!
However, perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option is to buy fresh, unprepared fruit, which is available year-round, although individual fruits are seasonal. Some of the most popular choices include mango (mango), papaya (papaya), banana (banana), apple (apple), kiwi (kiwi), star fruit (star fruit), watermelon (watermelon), melon (honeydew) and guava. Among the more exotic options you are unlikely to see outside Indonesia, include the scaly, crunchy salak (snake fruit), jambu air (rose apple), rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum fruit that looks like a small ball with lots of tiny tentacles) and the spherical markisa (passion fruit) and manggis (mangosteen). A note: Avoid fruits that have already been peeled and sliced for you by a street vendor, unless you like to have diarrhoea.
Probably the most notorious Indonesian fruit, however, is the durian. Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armoured coconut the size of a human head and has a strong smell that is often compared to rotting rubbish or the smell of natural gas. Inside is yellow, creamy flesh that has a unique sweet, custardy, avocado-like taste and texture. It is banned in most hotels and taxis, but its strong smell can be found in traditional markets, supermarkets and restaurants. Don’t panic – it’s just a fruit, even though it looks like a head-sized spiky bomb. The durian has three cousins – nangka (jackfruit), sukun (breadfruit) and cempedak (Artocarpus integer fruit). The former has a sweet, candy-like taste and no offensive smell, and the unripe fruit is used in the famous Jogjakartan pressure cooking, “gudeg”, and can be as big as a small child, sukun is rounder and less scaly, usually sliced and fried to be eaten as a snack, and the latter tastes like jackfruit but smells faintly like durian, is oblong and cone-shaped and usually no longer than 30 cm. All three are available seasonally.
Dietary restrictions in Indonesia
The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants only serve halal food (equivalent to Muslim restrictions). Among other things, this means no pig, rat, toad or bats. This includes Western fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, Burger King, Wendy’s and others. The main exception is ethnic restaurants catering to Indonesia’s non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese and Chinese cuisine, so if in doubt, ask. Note that while Indonesia is a majority Muslim country, this does not mean that Muslims are the majority everywhere. This means that if you are in areas populated mainly by other religious groups such as Christians or Hindus, most local restaurants and stalls will not be halal and you will have to make some effort to find a halal place.
Strict vegetarians and vegans will have a hard time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and the absence of fish- and shrimp-based spices is challenging. Tahu (tofu aka soybean curd) and its chunkier, local cousin tempe (soybean cake) are an essential part of the diet, but they are often served with non-vegetarian condiments. For example, the ubiquitous sambal chilli pastes very often contain shrimp, and spongy kerupuk crackers, including those always served with nasi goreng, almost always contain shrimp or fish. (Those that resemble crisps, on the other hand, are usually fine). However, you can ask for something without meat, which can be indicated by asking for “vegetarian” or “tanpa daging dan/atau hasil laut (seafood)”. Restaurants are usually willing to take special orders.
Eating etiquettes in Indonesia
Eating with the hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common. The basic idea is to use four fingers to put together a small ball of rice and other things, which can then be dipped in sauces before being put in the mouth by pressing it with the thumb. There is a basic rule of etiquette to follow: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is considered rude (see respect). Do not put both hands into communal serving bowls, but help yourself to utensils with your left hand and then reach for them.
However, eating by hand is frowned upon in “classier” establishments. If you are provided with cutlery and no one else around you seems to be doing it, take the hint.
Chopsticks, forks, spoons and knives are also common, although knives are rare except in high-end restaurants.
It is considered polite and a sign of enjoyment to eat quickly, and some people consider burping a compliment.
Places to eat in Indonesia
Eating cheap in Indonesia is indeed cheap, and a full roadside meal can be had for over Rp 5,000. However, the level of hygiene is not necessarily up to Western standards, so it is better to keep a low profile for the first few days and only go to visibly popular places, but even this is no guarantee of cleanliness, as cheap can be synonymous with popular. If the food is served buffet style with no heat or is sitting around in bowls or pans, it is best to ask how long it has been since the food was prepared or simply avoid it altogether or you may get diarrhoea or even food poisoning. Especially in village households, it is not impossible for a food to have been left for more than a day and rarely heated to the point of cooking. It is usually up to you to get the attention of the staff if you want to order something, need something or want the bill – even in some expensive restaurants.
There are travelling vendors carrying a basket of prepared food (usually women), or carrying two small wooden cabinets on a bamboo stick (usually men), serving light snacks or even simple meals, some of which are very cheap and pleasant, but the hygiene is questionable.
The quickest way to grab a bite to eat is to visit a Kaki Lima, literally “five feet”. Depending on who you ask, they are either named after the three wheels of the mobile stalls and the two feet of the owner, or the “five-foot walk” on the pavement. They are located on the side of the road in every Indonesian town or village and usually offer simple dishes such as fried rice, noodles, meatball soup, siomay (dimsum) and porridge. In the evening, by providing a few bamboo mats for customers to sit and chat on, Kachilima can be transformed into a Leshan snack bar.
One step up from the kaki lima is the warung (or the old spelling waroeng), a slightly less mobile stall offering almost the same food, but maybe a few plastic stools and a tarp for shelter. Some warung are permanent structures.
One of the big issues for the above three options is hygiene: where do they get clean water to wash dishes, where do they go to use a toilet (a nearby river or ditch), where do they wash their hands and how clean are they. Typhoid is a common problem for eaters here, as is hepatitis and food poisoning. Indonesians are exposed to poorly prepared/dirty food most of their lives, so diarrhoea and food poisoning rarely affect them.
A slightly more comfortable option is rumah makan (literally: eating house), a simple restaurant that tends to specialise in a particular cuisine. Padang restaurants, easily recognised by their towering Minangkabau roofs, offer rice and a range of curries and dishes to go with it. Ordering is particularly easy: just sit down and your table promptly fills up with countless small plates of dishes.
Buffets (prasmanan or buffet) and steamship restaurants are self-service options, but the former should be taken with a grain of salt (see above).
Another easy middle-class option in larger cities is to look for food courts and Indonesian restaurants in shopping malls that combine air-conditioning with hygiene, albeit rather predictable/boring food.
A restoran is more of a western dining experience, with air-conditioning, tablecloths, table service and prices to match. Especially in Jakarta and Bali, you can find very good restaurants offering authentic dishes from all over the world, but you’ll be lucky to get away for less than Rp 100,000 per person.
Menus in more expensive restaurants may be structured according to starters, main courses, desserts and drinks, but in simpler establishments the structure is often according to the main ingredient.
Makanan Pembuka (appetisers). These are usually not separated and primarily contain finger foods such as chips and other fried foods, as well as things like internal organs and eggs grilled on skewers, krupuk and trifles.
Makanan Utama (main course). Typically you will see: nasi (rice), lauk pauk (side dishes, usually containing a carbohydrate source), mie (noodles), sapi (beef), ayam (chicken), kambing (goat), ikan (fish) or hasil laut (seafood), sometimes a separate section is dedicated to certain fish, such as.e.g. gurameh (giant gourami), cumi-cumi (squid), kepiting (crab), kerang (shellfish such as mussels), udang (prawn) and sayuran or sayur mayur (vegetables). Sometimes kambing is mistranslated as sheep (domba), so watch out for that. Less commonly, you will see domba, gurita (squid), swike (frog legs – only in certain restaurants as it is haram), vegetarian, srimping (scallops), tiram (oysters) and babi (pig – only in certain restaurants as it is haram, or forbidden for Muslims). Sop/soto/bakso (soups) and selada (tossed and vegetable salads, but it also means lettuce) are usually listed here as well.
Other commonly used words usually refer to the type of cooking: bakar (grilled), panggang (baked), (the first two are sometimes used interchangeably) goreng (fried or deep-fried), rebus (boiled), kukus or tim (steamed), tumis (sautéed), presto (pressure-cooked), kendi (clay pot), cah (stir-fry) and hotplate.
Or something about the recipe: kuah (with broth), tepung (fried in batter) and kering (dry).
Or about taste: polos or hambar (plain/spicy), asam (sour), manis (sweet), pedas (spicy), asin (salty), pahit (bitter) and gurih (salty and a bit sweet, like MSG, or salty and oily).
Makanan penutup (desserts): Not every place will have them, but ab rumah makan and above most will have something. It may just be some traditional desserts, but you will probably see something familiar like it krim (ice cream) and buah-buahan (fruit) or selada buah (fruit salad).
Minuman (drinks). The bare minimum is air (water, which can be bottled or just boiled and can be hot, warm, lukewarm or cold), air mineral/botol (mineral water/bottled water), teh (tea), minuman berkarbonasi (soda or carbonated drinks) and kopi (coffee). Better places have buah, jus (juice), and various local drinks.
Common words you will see for drinks are: tawar (plain/without sugar or other additives), manis (sweet), panas (hot) and dingin (cold).
Chain outlets in Indonesia
Most chain restaurants in Indonesia have a large seating area. Most offer set meals, so it’s one of the cheapest (and usually the cleanest) options. Famous chains to look out for:
- Hoka Hoka Bento (also known as Hokben) serves Japanese fast food. (And no, there is no Hoka Hoka Bento in Japan!). You can get rice with teriyaki and fried chicken, egg roll or prawns for about Rp 50,000 or less, plus a drink, salad and miso soup. Delivery call (only to major cities in Java and Bali) 500 505
- Bakmi GM is famous for its ubiquitous noodle dishes (including its very special version of noodle dishes) and its fried wontons (pangsit goreng), although it also offers rice dishes. A good meal usually costs Rp 50,000 or less. Delivery call (Greater Jakarta area only) +62 21 565 5007
- Es Teler 77 is more like fine dining to be. Offers Indonesian dishes and is, as the name suggests, Es Teler. The dishes cost around Rp 50,000. Delivery call 14027
- The Indonesian Pizza Hut restaurants look more like a fine dining option than a fast food franchise like the original location in the United States. The pizzas have more generous types of toppings and crust, and also more options for sides & pasta. It is also famous for its waitresses or waiters who would make miniatures out of balloons for children. Apart from this, there is also a separate business unit called PHD with its own menu that is exclusively delivered in select cities. Delivery call 500 008 (Pizza Hut) 500 600 (PHD)
- Kebab Turki Baba Rafi is the largest kebab restaurant chain in the world. Hot kebabs, shawarma, hot dogs and fries at very affordable rates suitable for a quick meal.They are mostly found as food court stalls.
- Most imported mini-marts such as FamilyMart, Circle K, Lawson and 7-Eleven offer prepared meals that the staff can heat up for you, in addition to the usual food you would normally find, for less than Rp 30,000. 7-Eleven even offers a separate seating area if you want to enjoy your meal right away. Local chains like Indomaret and Alfamart have many more outlets, but are more like a typical mini-market. At best, it offers bread or salad as a ready-made meal.
- Carrefour supermarkets have an area for products such as bakery and snacks, but most people will do a take-away rather than a dine-in, although some seating is available.
The American fast food franchises McDonalds, KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King or A&W are also present in almost every mall in Indonesia. Other chains from around the world, such as the world-famous Yoshinoya, can be found in more upscale malls.
Food Caution In Indonesia
Apart from the above warnings, there are cases where food and beverages and other items (e.g. baby products and massage oils) violate the relevant laws. These violations include the use of banned chemicals, such as formaldehyde or borax as preservatives, textile dyes to improve colour, plastic bags in hot oil to make fried foods crispier; the use of expired or even spoiled food (such as vegetables or milk) that has been “rehabilitated” by reheating and possibly applying chemicals, or as a filler to improve weight/volume; filtering used cooking oil and then using banned chemicals to make it look clean; contaminating food that is not halal meat (which is against Muslim food regulations); injecting water (sometimes with formaldehyde) into meat to make it heavier; harvesting water vegetables from heavily polluted watercourses; and selling animals without slaughtering them (which is illegal). Typically, such food and drink is sold by hawkers, itinerant vendors and lower-class restaurants, although there have been isolated cases in better establishments and even in shops and supermarkets.
Always wash raw produce before you eat or cook it. It is also better to buy them from well-known and clean supermarket chains.
Drinks In Indonesia
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Indonesia. Water or ice served to you in restaurants may have been purified and/or boiled (air minum or air putih), but ask. Air Mineral (bottled water), most commonly referred to as Aqua based on the most popular brand, can be bought cheaply and everywhere, but make sure to check if the seals are intact. Also be careful when buying from roving vendors near public transport, as there are occasional reports of people being drugged and robbed with a bottle into which a drug has been injected.
Most hotels provide free drinking water (usually 2 small bottles or a kettle) as tap water is rarely potable. Beware of ice cream that may not have been prepared with drinking water or transported and stored under hygienic conditions.
Quite a few Indonesians believe that cold drinks are unhealthy. Therefore, specify “dingin” when ordering if you prefer to drink your water, bottled tea or beer cold rather than at room temperature.
Juices in Indonesia
Fruit juices – with the prefix jus for pure juice, panas for heated (usually only citrus drinks) or es when served with ice (not to be confused with the dessert es buah); are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike. Just about any Indonesian tropical fruit can be made into juice. Jus alpukat, which is only available in Indonesia, is a tasty drink made from avocados, usually with a little condensed chocolate milk or, in more expensive venues, chocolate syrup poured inside before filling the glass. For total refreshment, you can try “air kelapa” (coconut water), which can be found on practically every beach in the country. A curiosity is “cappuccino juice”, which can be delicious or forgettable, depending on where you buy it. Sometimes there are a variety of colourfully (and confusingly) named mixed juices.
Coffee and tea in Indonesia
Indonesians drink both kopi (coffee) and teh (tea), at least as long as they have oodles of added sugar. An authentic cup of coffee, known as kopi tubruk, is strong and sweet, but let the coffee grounds settle to the bottom of the cup before drinking it. Some coffees are named after regions, such as kopi Aceh and Lampung. No guidebook would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, a coffee made from coffee fruit that has been eaten, the beans partially digested and then excreted by the luwak (palm civet), but even in Indonesia this is an exotic delicacy that costs more than Rp 200,000 for a small pot of brew. Conservationists, however, discourage this drink because of the cruel conditions in which many of the civets are kept. But now many stalls in shopping malls serve up to 20 combinations of coffee beans and products with grinders and coffee makers for less than Rp20,000, but be prepared to stand if you drink it.
Tea (teh) is also quite popular. Sosro brand cola-like glass bottles of sweet bottled tea and cartons and bottles of fruit tea are ubiquitous, as is tebs, a carbonated tea. Inside the shopping districts there are often vendors selling freshly poured large cups of tea, in many cases jasmine, such as 2Tang or the stronger Tong Tji jasmine, fruit and lemon tea for only Rp 2,000.
Jamu drinks in Indonesia
The term jamu covers a wide range of local medicinal drinks for various diseases. Jamu comes in ready-to-drink form, in powder sachets or capsules, or they are sold by women walking around with a basket full of bottles, which they wrap with a colourful piece of batik kain (cloth). Most are bitter or sour and are drunk for the supposed effect, not the taste. Famous brands of jamu include Iboe, Sido Muncul, Jago and Meneer; however, avoid purchasing jamu of the streets since water quality is questionable. Among some well-known jamu are:
- galian singset – weight reduction
- beras kencur (made from rice, sand ginger and brown sugar) – cough, tiredness
- Temulawak (from turmeric) – for liver diseases
- Gula Asem (made from tamarind and brown sugar) – rich in vitamin C
- kunyit asam (from tamarind, turmeric) – for skin care, canker sores
Chase away a sour or bitter jamu with beras kencur, whose flavour is slightly reminiscent of aniseed. If you want a semeriwing (cooling) effect, ask for kapu laga (cardamom) or add ginger for heating.
Traditional drinks in Indonesia
- Wedang Serbat – made from star anise, cardamom, tamarind, ginger and sugar. Wedang means “hot water”.
- Ronde – made from ginger, powdered glutinous rice, peanut, salt, sugar, food colouring additives.
- Wedang Sekoteng – prepared from ginger, green pea, peanut, pomegranate, milk, sugar, salt and mixed with ronde .
- Bajigur – prepared from coffee, salt, brown sugar, coconut milk, sugar palm fruit, vanillin.
- Bandrek – prepared from brown sugar, ginger, pandanus (also known as screw pine) leaf, coconut meat, clove bud, salt, cinnamon, coffee.
- Cinna-Ale – made from cinnamon, ginger, tamarind, sand ginger and 13 other spices.
- Cendol/Dawet – made from rice flour, sago palm flour, pandanus leaf, salt, food colouring in a liquid of coconut milk and Javanese sugar.
- Talua tea – prepared from powdered tea, raw egg, sugar and limau nipis.
- Lidah Buaya Ice (West Kalimantan) – made with aloe vera, French basil, Javanese black jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf, sugar.
Alcohol in Indonesia
Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians, but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars. Public displays of drunkenness are strongly frowned upon and in the larger cities can lead to you becoming a victim of crime or being arrested by the police. Do not drive if you are drunk. The legal drinking age is 21.
In strictly Islamic areas like Aceh, alcohol is forbidden and anyone caught with alcohol can be punished with the cane.
The most popular drink in Indonesia is Bintang bir (beer), which is a standard lager and is available pretty much everywhere, though the locals prefer their beer lukewarm. Other popular types of beer are Bali Hai and Anker. Since mid-April 2015, supermarkets and mini-markets throughout Indonesia have been “clean”, meaning they no longer sell alcoholic beverages. However, cafés, bars and restaurants with appropriate licences can continue to sell alcoholic beverages, including hard liquor. The technical guidelines place tourist areas at the discretion of the respective regents and mayors, who can decide in which areas with small traders or “warung” 1-5% alcoholic drinks can be served/sold. These can cost up to Rp 50,000 in a fancy bar, but a common bar/restaurant price for bintang is Rp 25,000-35,000 for a large 0.65-litre bottle.
Wine is expensive and only available in expensive restaurants and bars in big hotels. Almost all of it is imported, but there are a few local winemakers of varying quality in Bali whose wine is cheaper. 30 per cent of alcoholic beverages are imported and the new tax regime for imported alcoholic beverages is 150 per cent of the base price and 90 per cent of the base price for imported beers.
Various traditional alcoholic drinks are also available:
- Tuak – Sugar palm wine (15% alcohol)
- Arak – the distilled version of Tuak, up to 40%.
- Brem Sweet sticky rice wine Balinese style
Be careful when choosing what and where you buy – homemade liquor can contain all kinds of nasty contaminants. In May 2009, 23 people, including four tourists, were killed by adulterated or possibly accidentally contaminated, illegally supplied arak distributed in Java, Bali and Lombok. In many other cases, tourists were blinded or killed by methanol in drinks. If you want to save money in Indonesia, don’t do it by buying the cheapest alcohol you can find.