It’s a surprise to me that Indonesian cuisine is not more popular, especially in Europe’s cosmopolitan cities. It has so much to recommend it. The spices are familiar and there is nothing shocking or intimidating. If you love Thai food you will enjoy Indonesian food. If Indian dishes are what you crave then Indonesian curries could be your new comfort dishes.
To say that Indonesian food is a cross between this and that would undervalue the sophistication and unique complexity of its culinary traditions. We use those examples of Thai and Indian only to indicate a spice palate but Indonesian food is its own entity with remarkable dishes offering specific flavour characteristics.
Indonesia is on the ancient spice route, and has therefore had culinary influences from not only India and Thailand but also the Middle East and China. The Spanish and Portuguese traders added New World foods and the Dutch colonisers threw in a few ideas.
Yes, sure, OK, but can I get the ingredients if I live in a field in middle England? The spices are those with which you are already familiar. There might be just a few for which you might need the services of a specialist Asian store, but the internet will also provide all your Indonesian needs.
There are a couple of dishes that you will likely have already come across: Nasi Lemak – traditional coconut rice platter, Nasi Goreng – classic fried rice. This is real accessible family cooking that is aromatic rather than overly spicy. A flavourful meal that even the kids will enjoy.
Babi Manis – caramelized pork – is a recipe with few ingredients and it’s a simple process to produce a rich and glossy dish with a hint of spice, which can be adjusted to your taste. 600g of pork loin will be enough to feed 4 people, along with some steamed rice.
My pick-of-the-book is the recipe for Sambal Cumi – Spicy Sautéed Calamari. This is a tangy preparation using tamarind as a sharp flavouring and sambal oelek for heating spice. It’s a simple recipe but the results are sophisticated enough for a dinner party.
Indonesian Cooking – Satays, Sambals and more is a colourful introduction to an overlooked cuisine. These dishes are simple to make, and they are delicious and different.
Indonesian Cooking – Satays, Sambals and more
Author: Dina Yuen
Published by: Tuttle Publishing
Asian cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018