Cultural History of Indonesian Dishes


Indonesia’s food is incredibly unique when compared to other countries of the world. This is due to the amount of influences that have impacted the cuisine, resulting in an extremely diverse palate of dishes. Indonesia itself is made up of about 6,000 islands which have had a variety of visitors and occupants throughout the years. There are plenty of common flavors throughout the dishes, but even those do not all come from the same place. Really, like the United States, there is not a singular definition for what the cuisine of Indonesia means since there are so many different influences on it, creating its own amalgamated food.


One of the major influences to the cuisine is the indigenous culture that has been there for millennia. You will see that the food in Java stays true to the traditions of cuisine that have been in place for a long time. Java does also have some influences from the Chinese, but mostly the food is indigenous.

Given that there have been fossils and tools found in Java from Homo erectus, you know that there have been people on Java for a very long time.

Middle East and India

In Sumatra, you will find that the cuisine has a lot of influences from the Middle East and India. This includes curried meats, as well as the vegetables gulai and kari. Part of this influence has to do with the fact that Muslim traders from the Middle East have been in contact with Sumatra since at least the 13th century. With this open trade routes, people are bound to share their food, as well as their religion, resulting in introducing new ways of cooking to the Indonesians that have remained with them ever since.


The Chinese influence plays a big role in a lot of Indonesian cuisine. From the bakmi noodles to the bakso fish balls, a lot of Chinese staples have been assimilated into Indonesian cuisine. Indonesia’s geographic location has resulted in the influence from China. The two countries have been trading for thousands of years, which also means sharing food.

Polynesia and Melanesia

While Indonesia has not had the same history with Polynesia as it has with other neighbors, you will see the cuisine influences from Polynesia in Eastern Indonesian cuisine. Given the trade routes that travel through the Pacific Ocean, it is no wonder that there has been some resulting cultural influence.



The Dutch made frequent visits to Indonesia in the 17th century after the Dutch created the Dutch East India Company and established the Dutch East Indies as a colony. Even though the colony was dissolved and the Dutch control was let go, some foods, including their pastries, stayed with the Indonesians as part of their culture. The Dutch even tried to reclaim their stake in Indonesia after World War II, but after Japan surrendered, Indonesia established their own government pretty quickly and the Dutch had a lot of international pressure to just leave them alone. So the Dutch moved out, but their food remained.

While Indonesia has had a lot of influences throughout the many centuries that it has been around, it was a tough country to occupy. Instead of being made up of a piece of land, Indonesia’s 6,000 islands make it hard to contain. You may be able to capture the main islands and cities, but controlling each individual island sounds like madness. But the influences that have come along in Indonesia have resulted in not just an original type of cuisine, but a cuisine that can serve a variety of palates and make each dish completely unique and delicious.

I would like to think of myself as a bit of a foodie. I enjoy food. I don’t shy away from trying new things and spreading my wings. I am not going to stop myself from eating something amazing because it may be high in sodium or calories. Like all good things in life, you need to pace yourself and eat everything in moderation.

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