Indonesian cuisine is as rich, complex and diverse as the culture and the people that live on the 6000 populated islands of the archipelago. Many of the distinctive tastes and cooking styles were influenced by the early Chinese, Indian, Arabic and Dutch traders and settlers. The foundation of an authentic Indonesian meal is rice. Sauces are created with coconut milk and the fundamental coriander, pepper and garlic; flavoursome curries rely on freshly ground spices, and common seasonings include ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and tamarind. Paste created from salted and fermented shrimp is also used to enliven and add depth to dishes; hot fresh chilli can be found in fiery accompanying sauces known as sambals, and peanuts are ground into a paste to form a sweet and spicy peanut sauce.
A good way to sample the local dishes is to try the Indonesian ‘Rijstaffel’, literally meaning ‘rice-table’ and originating from the Dutch plantation owners who liked to sample selectively from Indonesian cuisine. Steamed white or yellow rice is always the centrepiece, often presented in a cone and capped with a banana leaf. This will be accompanied by an assortment of different dishes of beef, chicken, duck, pork, seafood and vegetables, which might be presented collectively in separate, handmade, coconut pots on a banana leaf plate. These boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, wok-fried or deep-fried delicacies will be complemented by ‘krupuk’ – rice crackers, together with the pickled sour vegetables known as ‘acar’, and a collection of hot fresh chilli and onion sambals and spicy sauces.