Indonesian Sate. Photo credit: Indochef.com

By Oanhie “Shinsen” Pham, Staff Writer

Located in Southeastern Asia, the Republic of Indonesia is a country south of the Philippines. Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,508 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited. Indonesia is full of cultural diversity, as there are more than 300 ethnic groups speaking 700 languages, according to the Embassy of Indonesia’s website.

As a result of the cultural diversity in the country, unique dishes are plentiful.Chinese, Portuguese and Indian influences in Indonesian cuisine began many years ago through methods such as trading. For example, stir-frying was learned from the Chinese and is the most common method of preparing food in Indonesia.

Vegetables such as cassava and sweet potatoes were brought over by the Portuguese. Spices such as curries, cardamom, coriander, fennel and cumin were introduced to the country by Indian traders and Hindu missionaries.

A misleading tidbit about Indonesian dishes is that they’re all spicy and hot. However, coriander, cumin and ginger are more widely used than chili pepper.An important staple food of the country is rice, which is used in meals of fish, fruits and vegetables. It accompanies every meal and can also be used in sweet treats and drinks. For example, nasi ketan (glutinous rice) is used to make cakes and snacks such as lemper ayam, which is chicken wrapped up in sticky rice. For families who cannot afford rice, their alternatives are yams and soybeans.

Most Indonesians enjoy eating the native fruit called durian. Durian is considered to be foul-smelling to some who try it or even get near it. In an episode of “Bizarre Foods,” chef Andrew Zimmern tried durian and could not stand its smell and taste, which he described as rotten, mushy onions.Food stalls and food carts can be found anywhere in the country, serving inexpensive Indonesian cuisine such as gado-gado (a vegetarian dish with peanut sauce) nasi goreng and satay or sate (grilled meat on bamboo skewers). Authentic Indonesian meals can be found at the food stands, but dining spots with more modern appeal prepare foods just for foreigners so it’s not comparable to authentic versions.It is not necessary to travel far to taste Indonesian dishes.

Through recipes offered by numerous cookbooks and websites, you can try to recreate dishes without having to leave home (except to purchase the ingredients and maybe using someone else’s kitchen). For recipes on how to make Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng and lemper ayam, check out www.indochef.com.

Try sampling dishes at local Indonesian restaurants, if there are any nearby.

For more information on Indonesia, go to www.indonesia.travel/en