Just like the country itself, Indonesian cuisine is an amalgam of cultural influences over thousands of years. In a country that boasts the fourth largest population in the world, spread out over 6,000 islands, the range of dishes is incalculable. There are, however, a few Indonesian staples that hold them all together.
There are no shortage of rice fields in Indonesia. Because the country is one of the world's largest producers, it's no surprise that rice is a main component of many Indonesian dishes. Some of the most common variations are the vermicelli rice noodle and the fried rice known as "nasi goreng."
As a hub for spices, Indonesia was in the eye of the storm during many a fierce battle between European empires. Naturally, these spices add key flavors to the country's cuisine. Spices like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon are all native to Indonesia and their sweet presence is felt in many dishes. Indonesia was also influenced by its European occupiers. For instance, the spicy chili pepper, introduced by Spain, is now wildly popular among local cooks.
Some other interesting flavors that one might encounter on a trip to Indonesia include peanut and coconut. Similar to the chili pepper, peanuts were introduced by the Portuguese centuries ago and now can be found in some of Indonesia's signature dishes. For example, satay, girlled meat served on skewers, is marinated in a peanut sauce.
Coconut flavoring is no surprise, considering the country's tropical climate. This white treat has found its way into both desserts and entrees. It also happens to be the perfect complement to most rice dishes.
Indonesian cuisine has the richness and complexities of flavors that can only be acheived through the marinating of hundreds of cultures over thousands of years. To experience an Indonesian dish is to taste history.