Indonesia is the largest archipelago and the fourth most populous country in the world. Consisting of five main islands (Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua) with 33 provinces, 39 smaller archipelagos, it has a total of 17, 508 islands of which about 6,000 are inhabited. It stretches 5,150 km between the Australian and Asian continentals and divides the Pacific and Indian Oceans at the Equator. The name Indonesia is composed of two Greek words: “Indos” which means Indian and “nesos” meaning islands. The capital city of Indonesia is Jakarta. (indonesia-ottawa.org)
Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is surrounded by tropical oceans and spans the equator. Often known as the Spice Islands, it has been a major source of many spices traded around the globe since ancient times. Ginger, black and white Peppercorns, cubeb pepper, long pepper, and Galangal were exported to medieval Europe, while others such as nutmeg and cloves grew nowhere else in the world. The diversity of its cultures is reflected in the range of localized cuisines and traditional eating habits. The many different cultural regions each have their own individual and unique culinary traditions. Additionally, many Indonesian dishes show influence from contact with Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, and Dutch cuisines.
Like people in most Asian countries, Indonesians eat three meals a day, with rice as the staple food except in Maluku, parts of Nusa Tenggara, and Irian Jaya, where sago palm flour, cassava, and sweet potatoes are the staple food. An Indonesian meal most commonly consists of soup, steamed rice, several main dishes (based on red meat, chicken, fish and crustaceans, and vegetables), with tropical fruits for dessert. These are often served and eaten at once, which can be an entirely new experience to Westerners who are used to eating meals served as one course after another. A typical Indonesian breakfast consists of coffee and nasi goreng, fried rice made with rice left over from the previous night's dinner. Lunch is steamed rice, a meat or fish dish, vegetables and soup. Indonesian suppers are light and consist of dishes similar to those eaten at lunch. Leftover dishes are generally served at the following meal, so there is little waste. Desserts of seasonal fruits complete a typical Indonesian lunch and supper. Snacks are popular, too, commonly eaten in mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and before bedtime, often purchased from wandering street vendors. These can include savory dishes like saté (skewered grilled meat with various sauces), sweets such as pisang goreng (banana fritters) and tapé (fermented sticky rice or cassava), and sweet-and-savory dishes like rujak, made of sliced and chopped fruits and vegetables with a sauce of ground peanuts, sugar (brown, red, or palm), and hot chiles.
Curries (spicy sauces diluted with coconut milk) and the addition of cumin, coriander, and caraway in many Indonesian dishes may have been influenced by contact with India. A variety of soybean products, such as tahu (tofu), taogé (soy bean sprouts), and ketjap (soy sauce); different kinds of noodles; and the popular bakso (fish dumplings in soup) are legacies of early and continuing contact with Chinese merchants who traveled to Indonesia. The Dutch brought vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and string beans, adding them to the wide number of vegetables already available in Indonesia. The Arabs brought kebabs (skewered meat cubes), martabak, and dill and fennel seeds were added to Indonesia’s already vast array of spices.
The so-called rice table (rijstafel), an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch in colonial times from the typical Indonesian feast, is perhaps an aspect of Indonesian cuisine most familar abroad. Since becoming independent from the Netherlands in 1948, Indonesia has turned itself from a rice importing nation to a rice exporter, and has established itself as the fifth largest producer in OPEC.