Indonesian Kitchen Essential

Indonesian food got many influences from other countries. Located between 2 big continents (Asia and Australia) and 2 oceans (Pacific and Hindia) made Indonesia in the strategic country in sea trade lane.

People around the world traded and transitted in Indonesia. These traders brought their food to us. We got influenced like chilli from Spain, Curry from India, Rijstaffel from Dutch and the biggest influence are from Chinese like noodle and soy sauce.

Indonesian food is often recognized as Vietnam or Thai dishes. Actually, it is different. If you taste and know what’s in it, you can tell the difference. If you want to build Indonesian kitchen, here’s the pick from basic:


Indonesian called it Kemiri. The good ones is yellow-ish white-colored and hard. If you crush it, you can smell nutty aroma. It will add a creamy flavour to your cooking. These nuts must be cooked (grilled or roasted over the pan) to remove the toxins. They have much oil and it easily rancid if you don’t treat it right.

The best way to store it is roasted till golden brown and easy to crush. Let them cool and put it in a dry, clean and tight container. You can save it for a year. and It contains lot of oils (we use it for healthy hair treatment )


Ginger is well-known in Indonesian food for with hot kicks/warmth affects. In our market, you can find 3 types of ginger: Gajah ginger (big, watery, and less warmth), emprit ginger (smaller than Gajah ginger but hotter), and Red ginger (red color, taste bit bitter and more common for traditional Jamu, not cooks).

Mostly we bruise fresh ginger before to add our cooks. For dried ginger is common to use in wedangan drinks. You can store it in dark, cool dry places like galangal.


Galangal aka laos or lengkuas. It still family of turmeric and ginger but the skin is bit shiny. It has distinctive fragrance and flavour. It taste slightly sweet, hot and spicy if you bite it. The younger is bit pinkish.

We usually use it for serundeng, ayam goreng or Rendang. To use it, you only need to peel it off and bruise/grater them before to put on your cooking. You can store it in open, dry and dark places in room temperature.

Fried Shallot

Crispy fried Shallots is one of important condiment in Indonesian food. It sprinkled over the soup, rice, noodles and most of dishes. It will add extraordinary aroma on your dishes.

You can make on your own or you can just buy it from supermarket. Bonus point if you make your own fried shallots, the oil that you used had fragrance from Shallots and you can use it for other recipe 🙂


Turmeric is common to use in Sumateran food. This brown with bright orange flesh is still family of ginger. It taste slightly bitter but when you use it in right amount, it can bring up your food in next level.

As javanese, I use it as dye for my food like Sayur Kuning Tahu or Ayam goreng Kuning. We have the infamous yellow tofu from Kediri (Java).

Tamarind (Asam Jawa)

In Indonesian, Asam means sour. We got the sour taste from tamarind. It comes in ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ version. The wet ones are mostly seedless, black coffee-colored block.

The other hand, the dried one obviously drier with a brighter color. I prefer the wet ones since it is more flavourful. We can use it directly to our food or take some of tamarind, add hot water, stir a bit, and strain it. Voila, you have sour water for cooking Sayur Asem


It comes in a black-browny color block. It is fermented shrimp. It is famous for making sambal terasi. You can fry or grill it for a moment before you grind with onion, garlic, chilis, and salt. To keep it, you can use airtight box and put it on the fridge.

Kecap Manis

Kecap manis aka sweet soy sauce. These ingredients are black, thick as syrup consistency and have the sweetness from palm sugar ingredients on it. Beside to enhance the flavor of the dishes, it will make the food color more attractive.

Coconut sugar

It made from coconut sap and they cooked it to evaporate the water until they get thick and put it on the mold until hardened. You will find in tube size or half ball-shaped.

The good Coconut sugar is browned colored with bit sparkled from their natural sugar. You can keep it in airtight box with room temperature. It can be last for 2 years as long as the smells is not changed.


This citrus is very common to use in Indonesian cooking from marinated, soup, sambal, and even drink. Besides to add acidity in our food, it also gives special aroma. You need to be careful about the seeds since it tastes bitter. I usually use a strainer to prevent the seeds going to my food


It usually comes to our sweets and drinks. It will give a special aroma. We usually use it by tie knot and cook together with the sweets/drink and remove it before served. Pandan aroma is very common in pairing with coconut. This duo are perfect. Sometimes I add pandan leaves in my rice too, make it more special and appealing.


Some people called it bay leaf in English but it is not. It is almost same but the aroma clearly different. This leaves will give more specific aroma when you started to saute in oil. The dried ones have stronger aroma than fresh ones. It also common to use Salam leaves for cooking the rice.


kluwak is one of the most important ingredients to cooking Rawon (black beef soup). It is small, brown, and hard shell seeds. To choose the right kluwak you need to shake the shell.

The good ones is bit heavy and when you open, it have black and soft ‘flesh’. If you taste it bitter, don’t use it. But when it still in shell, you can keep it up to 3 months in a room temperature airtight box.

If France has its haute cuisine which more focus on the ingredients taste and freshness, Indonesian food use spices to make food more delicious.