Sambal, martabak, rendang: If you can read this list without drooling you're doing better than us
After CNNGo readers voted rendang the most delicious food in the world, we thought it was time to give Indonesia's culinary credentials some time in the limelight.
Here we run through a mouth-watering array of broth-soaked noodles, fiery curries, banana-wrapped fish and vegetable salads with sweet peanut dressing. Most of the recommended restaurants are in Jakarta, a magnet for Indonesians from all over the archipelago, who naturally brought their cuisine with them.
While technically more of a condiment, the chili-based sauce known as sambal is a staple at all Indonesian tables.
Dishes are not complete unless they have a hearty dollop of the stuff, a combination of chilies, sharp fermented shrimp paste, tangy lime juice, sugar and salt all pounded up with mortar and pestle.
So beloved is sambal, some restaurants have made it their main attraction, with options that include young mango, mushroom and durian.
Most underrated part of great satay? The stick.2. Satay
These tasty meat skewers cook up over coals so hot they need fans to waft the smoke away.
Whether it’s chicken, goat, mutton or rabbit, the scrappy morsels get marinated in turmeric, barbecued and then bathed in a hearty dose of peanut sauce.
Other nations now lay claim to sate, but Indonesians consider it a national dish conceived by street vendors and popularized by Arab traders.
Each vendor seeks distinction, but "sate madura" –- served with rice cakes (ketupat) and diced cucumber and onion -– is distinguished by its boat-shaped street carts.
We're not always sure what's in it, but we're always sure we'll want more.3. Bakso
A favorite among students, this savory meatball noodle soup gained international fame when U.S. President Barack Obama remembered it as one of his favorites during a visit to Jakarta last November.
It takes on many forms; meatballs –- springy or rubbery, the size of golf balls or bigger -– are made from chicken, beef, pork or some amorphous combination of them all. Sold mostly from pushcarts called kaki lima, bakso comes garnished with fried shallots, boiled egg and wontons.
Street comfort food.4. Soto
This traditional meat soup comprises a broth and ingredients that vary across the archipelago.
Common street versions are made of a simple, clear soup flavored with chicken, goat or beef. In Jakarta, home of the indigenous Betawi, soto Betawi garners fame with its sweet, creamy, coconut-milk base.
Top it with crispy shallots and fried garlic, and as much or little sambal as your taste buds can take.
If you think this one should be the top pick, you're not alone.5. Nasi goreng
Considered Indonesia’s national dish, this take on Asian fried rice is often made with sweet, thick soy sauce called kecap (pronounced ketchup) and garnished with acar, pickled cucumber and carrots.
To add an element of fun to your dining experience, try nasi gila (literally :crazy rice") and see how many different kinds of meat you can find buried among the grains –- yes, those are hot dog slices.
A favorite mix of taste and healthy ingredients.6. Gado-gado
Literally “mix-mix,” the term gado-gado is often used to describe situations that are all mixed up -– Jakarta, for instance, is a gado-gado city.
As a food, however, it is one of Indonesia’s best-known dishes, essentially a vegetable salad bathed in the country’s classic peanut sauce.
At its base are boiled long beans, spinach, potato, corn, egg and bean sprouts coupled with cucumber, tofu and tempe.
Because who doesn't love rice topped with melinjo nut crackers?7. Nasi uduk
A perennial favorite among native Betawi, the meal revolves around rice cooked in coconut milk and includes a pinwheel of various meat and vegetable accoutrements.
It almost always includes fried chicken, boiled eggs and tempe (soybean cake) with anchovies and is topped with emping (melinjo nut crackers).
It’s cheap, fast and popular among lunchtime crowds.
Back off. This one is ours.8. Nasi padang
Singaporeans may say they can’t live without it, but nasi padang, named after its birth city in Sumatra, is 100 percent Indonesian.
Chose from among more than a dozen dishes -- goopy curries with floating fish heads or rubbery cow’s feet -- stacked up on your table. “It always looks so dead,” a friend once said.
Indeed, otak (brain) leaves little to the imagination. Chuck away the cutlery and dig in with your hands then wash the spice away with a sweet iced tea.
IFC could be a worthy rival for KFC.9. Ayam goreng
The key to Indonesian fried chicken is the use of small village birds, whose freedom to run around the yard makes them tastier than the big chunks of meat at KFC.
Variations on that chain have cropped up across the country -- rumor has it that Wong Solo was founded by a polygamist, so franchisees must have multiple wives.
10. Bakmie goreng
Noodles compete with rice for carbohydrate of choice in Indonesia, ranging from broad and flat (kwetiau) to scrawny vermicelli (bihun).
The best are bakmie -- pencil-thin and, in this case, fried with egg, meat and vegetables. Vendors add their own special spices for distinction, but the iconic Bakmie Gajah Mada garners a cult following.
More modern outlets now make noodles from spinach and beets.