For about three hundred years, Indonesia was under Dutch rule. Dutch presence in Indonesia began in 1596, when the first Dutch expedition to the region brought back to the Netherlands valuable spices. This spice trade proved extremely profitable; by 1603, the Dutch had established a trading post in Indonesia, in Banten in Northwest Java. Shortly after, they established Batavia, which today is known as Jakarta — Indonesia’s capital city.
Colonisation of Indonesia began via the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), which took over much of the territory that today forms Indonesia.
In the year 1800, the VOC’s territories were handed over to the Dutch Republic, and Indonesia officially became a Dutch colony known as the Netherlands East Indies. Until Indonesia gained independence in 1945, the Netherlands East Indies was to remain the colonial power’s most prized possession.
With three centuries of interaction, cultural exchanges were inevitable. As the Dutch obsessed over Indonesian dishes, they came up with the idea of the rijsttafel (rice table). This is a huge spread of Indonesian dishes across a long dining table, which allowed them to sample many dishes in a single meal. On the other hand, via the Dutch, European dishes were also introduced into Indonesia, and were adapted to suit local ingredients and palate.
Growing up, my family often cooked such dishes, and these are still some of my favourite foods today. Here are five of them.
Perkedel (Dutch: Frikadeller)
Perkedel, or bagedil as it’s known in Malaysia and Singapore, is probably the most common Dutch-influenced dish in the region. Whereas the Dutch version, known as frikadeller, is a meatball, the Indonesian version is a fried potato patty that’s often served as a side dish. Sometimes it’s just potatoes, as in our perkedel recipe, but my family always adds minced lamb to it.
Semur (Dutch: Smoor)
Semur is a popular stew in Java. The main ingredient can be chicken, beef, tofu or tempeh, which is braised in kicap manis (sweet soy sauce) and spices. The name comes from the Dutch word smoor, “to braise”, and other former Dutch colonies such as South Africa also have their versions of smoor. Here’s our recipe for semur tahu telor, or braised tofu and eggs.
Macaroni Schotel (Dutch: Schotel)
Schotel means “dish” in Dutch, and Indonesian schotel is basically a baked casserole dish. This was something entirely unknown to Indonesia until the Dutch arrived. Usually, a schotel is made of baked macaroni, hence the name macaroni schotel. There are many ways to make a macaroni schotel, but the most basic is similar to a mac-and-cheese. In my family, macaroni schotel is baked without cheese, but with lamb, tomatoes and vegetables. We often serve it at large gatherings and festivities.
Indonesian risoles refer to a deep-fried roll consisting of a crispy outer layer, followed by very soft layers of flour, and a filling in the middle. Usually, the filling is made of small pieces of chicken, but can be substituted with anything you desire. My family makes it with minced lamb, potatoes, chilies and onions. Growing up, I often had it during Ramadan as a way to break the fast.
Kastengel (Dutch: Kaasstengels)
Indonesian kastengels are a type of cheese cookie eaten as a snack, often during Hari Raya (Eid). At home, we call them “cheese sticks” – the literal translation of the Dutch word kaasstengel. It’s made with flour, butter, and cheese (Edam cheese if possible), with a bit of corn flour to make it slightly crispy.