Indonesian food is one of the most vibrant and colourful cuisines in the world, full of intense flavour and varied textures. With 6,000 islands, there is a huge range of regional specialties, but wherever you are in Indonesia, most meals, including breakfast, are based around rice.
There is also an abundant use of sambals, an accompaniment based on chilli and garlic which can be raw or cooked. It's said that because of the hot and humid climate chilli and sambal help maintain your appetite. Indonesians need a 'kick start'; to their palate from chilli and from pickles, a burst of sour crunch. So each meal is generally rice, sambal, pickles with small amounts of meats, seafood or vegetables, often in curry form. People eat either with their right hand or with a spoon and fork.
Some of the intense flavour in Indonesian food comes from very sweet and sour ingredients - like the thick sweet soy sauce called kecap manis which is used in countless dishes. The sour note in the cuisine comes from tamarind and lime and the aromatic elements from eschallots, ginger, galangal, pandan, turmeric, lemongrass and lime leaves.
Two foods adored by Indonesians are tempeh - fermented soybeans usually found in block form which are high in protein and fibre - and krupuk or deep fried crackers made from prawn, seafood or vegetables and eaten at the start of a meal.
Because the climate is humid and the soil volcanic, tropical fruits, vegetables and spices are found in abundance. Indonesia was known as the Spice Islands when nutmeg and mace, pepper and cloves were grown and traded. Dried spices such as coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon quills, cumin seeds, cloves and nutmeg are still used every day in many dishes and each curry has a number of dried spices as well as fresh herbs.
Over the centuries many different races have visited and left their stamp on the cuisine - Indian, Chinese, Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch. As many Indonesians are Muslim, the Islamic code of generosity to the guest means newcomers are welcomed and a banquet prepared.
Desserts are some of the most exuberant in South East Asia, especially the favourite 'eis cendo'l, made with pandan-flavoured mung bean flour 'worms';, sweet potato and taro, beans or tropical fruit, palm sugar syrup and coconut milk, served with a small mountain of shaved ice.