Day 12: The Spice Islands

Numerous historic travelers explored Indonesia, including the intrepid Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and Magellan.  They wrote tales of the diverse bounty of the the world's largest archipelago, with 17,508 Islands.  Only about 6,000 of the islands are inhabited today.  Still, Indonesia remains a land filled with intrigue and diversity.  Although it is the fourth largest country by population, information about the peoples and cultures of Indonesia is far from popular knowledge.  For instance, most people are surprised to know that that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world or that it is home to the largest concentration of volcanoes on the planet or that more than 700 languages are spoken in the country.  

The food, like the country, is equally interesting and diverse.  Indonesian food can be broken into fifteen regions, the most notable being Jakarta, Java, Sumatra, and Bali.  There are three ingredients which make Indonesian food unique, sambal, coconut milk, and peanut sauce.  Due to its geographic proximity to trade routes and several colonization attempts, the local culture and food is inflected with many flavors and spices from the outside.  Sambal, is a prime example of this.  As a result of trade between Spaniards and the Dutch East India Company, chili peppers were introduced to the "Spice Islands."  With their love of spicy food, Indonesians were quick to adopt the spice and adapt it to their own cooking.  They created sambal, which is now used like a spicy condiment with many variants throughout the country.

Rendang: what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavor.  Also voted the worlds best food.

Rendang is one of the national staples and was recently voted the worlds most tasty food in a CNN internet survey by 35,000 voters.  Though not much to look at, Rendang is melt in your mouth tender and has a sweet and savory flavor due to the coconut milk base and a long cooking time. (5+ hours). 

Soto Ayam, one of the national dishes of Indonesia 

the biggest island in the world,…a very rich island, producing pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs and cloves and all the precious spices…. It is visited by great numbers of ships and merchants who buy a great range of merchandise, reaping handsome profits and rich returns….
— Marco Polo

Soto Ayam is a staple meat soup.  It is served with a coconut milk infused into the broth.  With its sweet flavor, it taste like a non-seafood version of Honduran Sopa de Caracol

Satay.  Grilled chicken, lamb, or beef drizzled in peanut sauce.

There is something about a whole fish that brings out the inner child

I would say that "no fish were harmed in the making of this picture" but he is clearly a tortured soul.

If our story doesn't whet your appetite enough, you can click here and find out the top 40 of Indonesian food.