As in most other cuisines, the names of many Indonesian dishes are simply short descriptions of what the dish is. Ayam goreng is to Indonesian what “fried chicken” is to English – literally, chicken that is fried. This straightforward method of encapsulating what a dish is extends even to fancy-sounding French dishes like crème brûlée (burnt cream) or soufflé (to bake until it puffs up).
There are other ways of naming dishes, of course — such as by its place of origin (Ayam Goreng Kalasan) or, by its taste or colour (sambal ijo, or green sambal), or by assigning an exclusive name to a specific dish (rendang). But in general, many dishes are named by merely listing the main ingredient and the cooking technique, like tumis sardines (sauteed sardines) or sop ayam (chicken soup). Knowing the names of ingredients in Indonesian, along with the names of cooking techniques, can usually give you a good idea of the dish.
If you feel like experimenting, you can refer to our list below, our recipes and then mix-and-match as you please. For example, instead of oseng-oseng tempe, you can create your own oseng-oseng tahu. This might be a fun exercise, although in Indonesia, the recipe will generally be tweaked to complement the main ingredient. Or, you can create your own Indonesian dish, such as tomat goreng pedas (spicy fried tomatoes) or pisang bumbu manis (bananas cooked in sweet spice paste).
Here’s a basic list for a start, but there are hundreds more! We’ve also included a short list of flavour profiles, as some dishes are named as such, as with ikan asin, or salted fish.
Ayam – chicken
Bebek – duck
Bihun – rice vermicelli
Buntut – tail, usually oxtail
Cumi – squid or calamari
Daging – the general term for meat, usually referring to red meat
Iga – ribs, usually beef ribs
Ikan – fish.
Kambing – lamb or mutton
Kepiting – crab
Mie – yellow noodles
Nasi – rice
Petis – seasoning paste made of fish or shrimp, processed with salt and palm sugar
Pisang – banana
Sambal – freshly made chilli paste or sauce
Santan – coconut milk
Sapi – beef
Sayur – the general term for vegetables. Specific types of vegetables include bayam (spinach), kangkung (morning glory), buncis (green beans), labu siam (chayote), and numerous others.
Tahu – tofu
Tauco – preserved fermented yellow soybean paste
Telor (or telur) – egg
Tempeh – fermented soy cake
Terasi – shrimp paste
Tomat – tomato
Udang – prawn or shrimp
Glossary of Cooking Methods
Bacem – a Javanese term, meaning to cook in a specific spice paste, and then deep-fry.
Bakar – to barbeque or grill
Bobor – a Javanese term, meaning to braise in diluted coconut milk.
Bumbu – spice paste
Goreng – to fry, usually meaning “to deep fry”
Kukus – to steam
Oseng-oseng – a Javanese term, meaning to saute.
Penyet – to smash
Tumis – to saute until fragrant.
Saus – sauce
Sop – soup, usually not of Indonesian origin
Soto – Indonesian soups containing meat and vegetables
Suwir – shredded, as in “shredded chicken”
Basic flavour profiles
Asem (also spelled Asam) – sour, but also refers to fruit of the tamarind tree
Asin – salty
Manis – sweet
Pahit – bitter
Pedas – spicy
Gurih – savoury