Garuda Indonesian Restaurant
18 St Helens Road, Swansea SA1 4AP, Wales
Tel: 01792 653388
Indonesian food


How Indonesians eat

Regional food

Where to eat

Spices, sauces & flavourings

A recipe for beef randang






Geographic and cultural diversity, together with a long history of visiting foreign merchants and colonists, have produced Indonesia's unique cuisine, which is still largely unknown to the outside world with the possible exception of the Netherlands.

The Chinese introduced nasi goreng (fried rice with vegetables), mie (noodles) stir-frying and the wajang (wok), the Indians their curries and spices (notably cardamom, coriander, cumin, ginger, onions and garlic), the Spanish chilli, peanuts and tomatoes while the Dutch have left their mark with sweets and cakes, and of course rijstaffel ( a selection of up to 40 dishes of meat, vegetables and rice served in individual bowls).

Indonesian cuisine continues to adopt ingredients and technologies – thanks to the Indonesian people's open-mindedness towards the new and their ability to give the new dishes a 'local twist'. For example, at a McDonalds in Indonesia, a Big Mac comes with chilli and you can even order McSatay!

How Indonesians eat

Indonesians eat relatively simple but delicious meals. Indonesian food is essentially 'peasant' cuisine – fresh, simple ingredients, combined with a subtle blend of spices, resulting in a delicious, inexpensive meal. Eating only becomes a grand affair in Indonesia when communal feats are held to celebrate family occasions, such as weddings, funerals and circumcisions, or harvest and religious feasts, such as the end of Ramadan.

An Indonesian meal usually consists of a main rice (nasi) dish with a combination of meat, fish, chicken, vegetable and egg side dishes. The range of flavourings used in Indonesian cooking is vast. Aromatic coriander and cumin, together with chillies, lemon grass, coconut, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and palm sugar are all important flavourings while sambal – a hot chilli sauce – is served just about everywhere, in case the food isn't spicy enough!

Vegetables are well catered for and Indonesian cooking uses tahu (tofu, soybean cake) and tempe (fermented soybeans), which are both good sources of protein.

Traditionally, food is eaten using the fingers of the right hand (the left is considered unclean), hence the soft stickiness of their rice. However, in areas familiar with Westerners, cutlery will be provided – usually a spoon and a fork – but otherwise you'll just have to 'do as the natives do'.

Sate, nasi goreng and gado gado (vegetables with spicy peanut sauce) are some of Indonesia's most famous dishes.

Regional Food

Many dishes served in restaurants come from Java and Sumatra. The coastal areas traditionally use a wider range of spices and flavourings. Sumatran cooking blends fresh and dry spices to produce hot and spicy dishes served with plenty of rice to tone down the spices. Rendang (meat simmered in spices and coconut milk) is a traditional West Sumatran dish. The Javanese use a more subtle blend of fresh spices, together with chilli mellowed by the addition of sugar. The Sundanese people of West Java make a beautiful crisp aromatic salad (karedok).

The third region usually visited by tourists is Bali and Lombock, where you'll find delicious sate (small pieces of meat roasted on a skewer) and poultry dishes. Babi guling (roasted suckling pig) is a traditional Balinese dish.

Where to eat

Indonesians eat best at home. So an invitation to eat with any friends you make in Indonesia should not be missed! Outside the home there are a range of eating places open all day.

Snacks – soup, sate (satay), noodles, etc. – can be obtained from a kaki lima (food cart). The smaller ones are mobile and the larger ones have tables and benches nearby.

Warungs (street stalls) are simple, open-air eating-places providing a small range of dishes based on rice and one meat or vegetable. A good place for warungs is at the pasar malam (night market). It's unlikely you'll find a menu in them – either ask for what you want or have a look and see what others are eating.

Rumah makan (eating house) refers to anything one step above a warung, although some owners prefer to use the more western-sounding restoran. Offerings may be as simple as a warung's, but usually include more choices of meat and vegetable dishes, and spicy accompaniments.

Simple Padang restaurants are common everywhere, although they are most authentic around Padang, the West Sumatran capital from which the cuisine originates. You don't order, but are presented with plain rice and a large selection of hot and spicy meat, fish and vegetable dishes. You pay for what you eat. But beware – a lot of padang food is extremely hot!

Large hotels in places such as Jakarta and Bali often have extensive buffets, incorporating richly spiced and sauced dishes. This is a modern version of Dutch rijstaffel, which once fed planters and businessmen.

Spices, sauces and flavourings

Asam (Tamarind)

In Indonesian, asam is the name given to tamarind as well as the taste: sour. This is the pulp surrounding the pod found on the tamarind tree. It is usually sold in dried form and is mixed with water when used in curries and fish dishes.

Cengkeh (Cloves)

These are the buds of the clove tree. Once only grown in the Maluku islands, cloves were the catalyst for an intense trade war between the Dutch, English and Portuguese. You won't taste cloves much in Indonesian cooking but you will smell them burning everywhere as they're the prime ingredient in kretek (clove cigarettes).

Daun Jeruk Perut (Kaffir Lime Leaves)

These aromatic, tart-tasting leaves are used much the same way as bay leaves are – namely, added into a stock or curry then taken out before serving.

Duan Salam (Salam Leaves)

These leaves are also called 'Indonesian laurel leaves' or 'Indonesian bay leaves'. But neither name does the leaf justice. It is an aromatic ingredient added to savoury dishes.

Gula (Sugar)

The main sweetener in Indonesian cooking is gula merah (palm sugar), which is made by extracting and boiling sap from the jaka (palm tree). Unlike granulated cane sugar, palm sugar is sold as a solid block. When it comes to using the sugar, it is chipped off or even grated into the mix. (It is also what makes teh manis (sweet tea) so sweet.)

Kemiri (Candlenut)

The fleshy interior of these nuts is used to add a nutty flavour and creamy texture to dishes.

Laos & Kencur (Galangal)

Laos has the same shape and function as ginger, but is bright orange and has a more bitter taste. Also popular is kencur which has more of a kick than laos.

Minyak (Oil)

The most widely used oil is minyak kelapa (cocounut oil) as it burns at a high temperature, making it perfect for deep frying. Other types of oil include minyak kacang (peanut oil) and minyak jagung (corn oil). But coconut oil, also called minyak sawit, is the number one oil used for all types of cooking.

Pala (Nutmeg)

It's ironic that the ingredient all of Europe scrambled for in the 16th-17th centuries isn’t used very extensively in the Indonesian kitchen. The fruit of the nutmeg is made into a preserve called manisan pala and both the seed and the nutmeg's shell are dried and sold whole or as powder.

Duan Pendan (Screwpine)

This plant, named for its twisted stems, is used in traditional cooking from India to Australia. Screwpine is used in sweet dishes for its delicate fragrance and green colouring.

Terasi, Belacan (Shrimp Paste)

You'll know when you come across shrimp paste because it has a very fishy, pungent aroma. This paste is made from small shrimp that are rinsed in sea water, dried, salted, dried again then pummelled to a paste. It is left to dry for about two weeks before being shaped into blocks. As you would expect, the paste adds a fishy, salty flavour to dishes.


Known as cabe when fresh off the bush and sambal when mashed into a paste, chillies are what make Indonesians tick and they'll add them to almost anything. If you ever fall victim to a deceptively hot chilli, don't try to extinguish the fire with water as it will only make it worse. Instead, eat some plain rice.

Sambal (Chilli sauce)

The Mexicans have salsa, the Indians chutney, but in Indonesia, the essential condiment is sambal (chilli sauce). A table set without sambal isn't set properly. Sambals come in many varieties but the base for any sambal will be chillies, garlic, shallots and salt. Here are some of the most popular varieties:

Sambal Badjak: Chilli sauce made with shallots, sugar, tamarind, galangal and shrimp paste. Fried to a caramel consistency. (Mild by Indonesian standards.)

Sambal Jeruk: Chilli sauce made with lime juice, lime peel, salt and vinegar.

Sambal Terasi: Chilli sauce made with lime and roasted shrimp paste.

Ulek: Chilli sauce made with vinegar and lots of chillies. Very spicy!

Pecel: This sauce is similar to sambal but the spice is lessened with the addition of peanuts and tomato.

Saus Kacang (Peanut Sauce)

This is one of Indonesia's most famous culinary exports, the reason being that peanut sauce is so versatile. It can be used as a condiment, as a dip or as the flavour for a main meal. It is most famous for its appearance in gado gado.

Kecap (Soy Sauce)

Every restaurant in the country provides their diners with a bottle of soy sauce (made from soybeans fermented in brine). Most provide two – kecap asin (salty soy sauce), which is the same as soy sauce found throughout the world, and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) which is thicker and sweeter.

A Recipe: Beef Rendang (This is NOT Ani's recipe!)


500 gr. Rump steak.
2 Onions.
4 Garlic cloves.
3 Fresh red chillies.
2½ cm Ginger root.
1 teaspoon Turmeric.
1 tablespoon Paprika.
1 stalk Lemon grass.
3 Lime leaves.
600 ml Coconut milk.
75 ml water.



Put the Onions, Garlic, Chillies, Ginger, Paprika, Turmeric and Water in a food processor and make into a smooth paste.
Dice the meat and mix with half the paste. Set aside.
Put the other half of the paste into a heavy sauce pan and add the coconut milk, chopped lemon grass and lime leaves. Boil without the lid for about 30 min. until mixture is reduced to half. Add the meat mixture and return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring regulary, for a further hour till the steak is tender. Serve with boiled rice.


Millie the dog
Millie the dog prefers Indonesian food to normal dog food!

Recommended book:
World Food Indonesia, by Patrick Witton, Lonely Planet Publications.