If you have a peanut allergy then Indonesian food won't be great for you since I found nearly every dish I ate had peanuts in it. Also, if you're Muslim then Bali may not be the best place to visit since there was little separation between pork and other meats. Although Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, Bali has retained its original Hindu religious beliefs - over 90% of its population are Hindu and its national dish is the suckling pig. On buffets we found that you used the same tongs for all the meats - including pork - and it is pretty much guaranteed that all meats are cooked on the same grill in the kitchen. For the rest of us though...once you try real Indonesian food you will be hooked.
Sate on a sizzling platter at Punchuk Pass, Java (about 2 hours from Jakarta)
The most famous Asian roast duck is of course Peking Duck, in Indonesia the duck itself is similar but they don't make pancakes with it. In Jakarta we had our first taste of Indonesian bebek and it was served on a platter with 'dirty rice' which is a mixture of different types of rice with coconut, fried onions and nuts mixed in - delicious. Although the duck is dry, mixed with the moist rice it was fantastic. The following week in Ubud, Bali we again ordered duck but this time we were served a plate with a quarter duck sat on it, a mound of rice and a random piece of watermelon. Simon tore the duck apart but it was really dry and the sambal (chili) sauce provided was too hot for us to eat so dry rice and dry duck...not our best meal.
Gado gado is a salad dish made up of cold steamed vegetables (cabbage, beans and other available veg). Our first taste of this was in Jakarta where the vegetables were mixed with a spicy peanut sauce - hot but delicious. We then ordered it at our hotel in Ubud in Bali where it was served as a plate of cold steamed vegetables with peanut sauce on the side. For some reason, dipping the vegetables in the sauce just wasn't the same as the Jakarta version and the end result was very bland cold cooked vegetables. Probably healthier, but definitely not as tasty.
Nasi Goreng / Bihun Goreng
Nasi goreng is fried rice with vegetables, prawns and chicken. We ate it a couple of times as it is a core meal item and it never disappointed. An entire meal in a bowl: rice, meat and vegetables - simple and satisfying. However, once I discovered Bihun Goreng then the nasi goreng was out in the cold. Bihun is rice noodles and so bihun goreng is fried rice noodles - same as nasi goreng but noodles instead of rice. There are others as well such as Mie Goreng which is with egg noodles and I'm sure there are more that I don't know about. I'm attempting to make my own bihun goreng tonight, but doubt the presentation will be have as good as I saw in Bali!
Nasi goreng, Bebek Bengil, Ubud, Bali
Bihun goreng, Rama Beach Hotel, Kuta, Bali
Beef Rendang, Suckling Pig and More
The only time I've eaten beef rendang was when I made it once - minus the chilis the recipe called for. When I tasted it for the first time in Jakarta it nearly blew my head off! My sister loves it and it was her dish of choice in any Indonesian restaurant, so I will have to take her word for it that it's delicious - great for all of you who love spicy food.
Beef rendang at Gabah Restaurant, Kuta, Bali
I mentioned at the start of this article that suckling pig is the Balinese national dish. We were lucky enough to be able to sample one at our hotel in Ubud since it's an entire spit-roasted pig and so not something you can just order off the menu. The presentation was impressive, unless of course you're against eating animals in which case you probably wouldn't have liked the look of it and shouldn't look at the below photo! Sadly, our hotel in Ubud hadn't mastered the concept of keeping buffet food hot so the chef was carving a 'not very roasting hot' pig - I was hoping to get some meat fresh off the spit, hot with juices dripping out of it so was quite disappointed with my cold and rather fatty piece. I am sure that it is amazing when it's done properly though.
Suckling pig, Maya Ubud, Ubud, Bali
Other Indonesian dishes that we tried included mixed vegetables wrapped in a tofu omelette / pancake - at least I think it was tofu. I was served with a dish that looked like an egg omelette with vegetables inside but was assured it was not egg although the waitress couldn't tell me what it was. The pancake was a bit chewy but the vegetables were crispy and fresh. In terms of local soups, Indonesian pumpkin soup is delicious and is made with coconut milk rather than cream and cramcam ayam is a slightly spicy chicken noodle soup that is almost a meal in itself.
Vegetable pancake, Cafe Batavia, Jakarta
Although we had some disappointing meals, I think that was more the restaurant each time than Indonesian food itself. Indonesian food is reknowned as being spicy but we found that with many dishes the sambal is served in a separate dish so you can make it as spicy as you want. The only thing that was lacking for me was vegetables because they were almost always served with lots of chilis mixed in, making them inedible for my delicate tastebuds. Now that I'm writing this blog it does make me far more aware of what I'm eating, as well as encouraging me to try foods I would maybe not have tried before. For the first time after a holiday I have actually craved the food I've eaten whilst being away so that has to be a great sign.
My research has shown there are only 3 Indonesian restaurants in Dubai: 1 in the Raffles hotel (extremely expensive, the write up wasn't great and I'm sure the food will be fusion style, not the real mccoy), 1 in Bur Dubai that had a terrible review on Time Out and 1 in Karama which was apparently recommended by the chef at Rhodes' Mezzanine - Betawi Cafe...here I come.