Unique Indonesian eating habits that may surprise you
Eating habits in Indonesia vary depending on which area of Indonesia you are from. But in general the following eating habits are really deep-rooted for many of us:
1. If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten at all
Indonesia was third out of top 5 rice producing countries in the world in 2012, with 69 million metric tons. The number one producer is China, followed by India. Rice is our staple food, and it’s usually eaten with various side dishes. Although we also produce and eat potatoes, wheat, cassava, and corn as our main carbohydrates, many people feel they haven’t eaten at all if they haven’t eaten rice. If my mum asks me if I have eaten and I answer that I have eaten sandwich or hamburger, she usually throws a follow-up questions such “then let’s eat” (which means eating rice with side dish that she has prepared – although I have eaten big hamburger and full already). When I travel abroad with my friends to countries where rice is uncommon, some of them may even bring rice and search in advance for Indonesian, Indian, or Chinese restaurants nearby our accommodation. We DO love rice very much!
2. Eating noodles with rice
Yes, we do it sometimes. Here in Indonesia we have Indomie, the popular instant noodles. And because of our fondness for rice, oftentimes we eat noodles (be it Indomie or other kinds of noodle) with rice. It is considered uncommon, since both rice and noodle (usually is made from wheat) are carbohydrates. But of course, one may have one or two side dishes such fried egg or crackers to go with it.
3. It has to be with Chili (Sambal) and Crackers (kerupuk)
The second thing close to our heart is chili, and third place is crackers. With different areas and islands, there are so many unique traditional chili recipes. We can just eat the green small green chili (Cayenne pepper), or pestled red chili mixed with onion and other spices. And what’s the chili for if there’s no crackers you can dip the chili onto? Crackers can be made from tapioca starch with fish, shrimp, onion, and other flavors.
4. Eating with hand
We also enjoy eating with our right hands. But it depends on what kind of food we eat and where we eat. On formal occasions and in restaurants, we eat with spoons and forks with all the table manners. But in a more traditional restaurant, at home, or on more relaxed occasions, we sometime eat with our hands. In Padang restaurants, they even provide a bowl of water in the table to wash/rinse your hand before eating. The food seems to be more delicious when we eat with our hands.
5. Save the best for last
I’m not quite sure this is unique to Indonesia, but with various side dishes to eat with rice, we also like to save our favorite dishes for last (and hope we are not too full to finish the best dish)!
6. Eating Together
Here in Indonesia especially in Java, we have a famous saying – “mangan ora mangan sing penting kumpul” – which means that whether you can eat or not, it is imperative to stay together with friends or families. Despite the saying, when we eat we choose to eat together with family and friends and share our happiness (or sadness) with our loved ones.