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Eat

Beef sateWith 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of cuisines, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java. All too many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek it out. With the exception of Padang and Manado dishes, local flavors do tend to be rather more simple than those in Malaysia or Thailand though, the predominant flavorings being peanuts and chillies, and the Javanese like their food rather sweet.

The main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:

  • bubur nasi, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast
  • lontong, rice packed tightly into bamboo containers
  • nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice
  • nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, originally a festive ceremonial dish
  • nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste
  • nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf (looks pretty but doesn't add any flavor)
  • nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast

Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good second in the popularity contest. Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world's largest instant noodle manufacturer. A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp.

  • bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc)
  • kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce

Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:

  • bakso/baso ("BAH-so"), meatballs and noodles in chicken broth
  • rawon, spicy beef soup
  • sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind
  • sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish
  • soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients

Popular main dishes include:

  • ayam bakar, grilled chicken
  • cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables
  • gado-gado, boiled vegetables with peanut sauce
  • gudeg, jackfruit curry from Yogyakarta.
  • ikan bakar, grilled fish
  • karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
  • perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel)
  • sate (satay), grilled chicken and lamb

Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together. There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)!

Crackers known as kerupuk (or keropok, it's the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common is the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp.

If you are daring enough to try the spiciest and even outlandish local foods, look for Batak eateries (Lapo) and Manadonese eateries. These two ethnicities have a different way of cooking than the standard Javanese and Padang style. Very hot and spicy, with unusual ingredients like wild boar, pork cooked in blood, dog and bat meat, all of which are "haram" (not halal) for Muslims. Tamed Muslim-friendly versions are available in malls and food courts, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing.

 

 

 

 

Indonesia

IndonesiaIndonesia is the largest archipelago in the world that straddles the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While it has land borders with Malaysia to the north as well as East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east, it also neighbors Australia to the south, and Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand to the north, India to the northwest.

Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast: 18 110 islands providing 108 000 kilometres of beaches, and the distance between Aceh and Papua is more than 4 000 kilometres (2500 miles), comparable to the distance between New York and San Francisco. There are more than 400 volcanoes in Indonesia, 130 of them being considered active, and many undersea volcanoes. The island of New Guinea (on which the Indonesian province of Papua is located) is the second largest island in the world.

Cities

  • Jakarta - the perennially congested capital
  • Bandung - university town in the cooler highlands of Java
  • Banjarmasin - the largest town on Kalimantan
  • Manado - Christian town at the northeastern tip of Sulawesi, famous for diving
  • Medan - the main city of Sumatra
  • Surabaya - Indonesia's number two city
  • Ujung Pandang (Makassar) - the gateway to Sulawesi
  • Yogyakarta - Java's cultural hub and the access point to the mighty temples of Prambanan and Borobudur


Other destinations

Seminyak, BaliThe following is a limited selection of some of Indonesia's top sights.

  • Anyer - Beach on in Banten province, near Mt. Krakatau and Ujung Kulon National Park.
  • Bali - A beautiful island with great culture and art.
  • Baliem Valley - the home of the famous penis-gourded Dani warriors
  • Bintan - Resort island just south of Singapore
  • Borobudur - A huge temple dedicated to the Buddha in Central Java which is Indonesia's most visited site.
  • Bunaken - One of the best scuba diving destinations in Indonesia, if not the world.
  • Lake Toba - Beautiful lake on North Sumatra province.
  • Mount Bromo - Some of the scariest volcanic scenery on the planet.
  • Tana Toraja - Highland area of South Sulawesi famed for their extraordinary funeral rites.

Understand
Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago in the world. With well over 210 million people, Indonesia is is the fourth most populous country in the world — after China, India and the US — and by far the largest in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Indonesia markets itself as the ultimate in diversity, and the slogan is quite true, although not necessarily always in good ways. Indonesia's tropical forests are the second-largest in the world after Brazil, and are being logged and cut down at the same alarming speed. While the rich shop and party in Jakarta and Bali, after decades of economic mismanagement, the country is the only member of OPEC that has to import oil, and 53% of the population earns less than $2/day. Infrastructure in much of the country remains rudimentary, and travellers off the beaten track (pretty much anywhere outside Bali) will need some patience and flexibility.

The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly or rude to foreigners. Most of the time, though, they are incredibly friendly to foreigners who make it off the beaten track.

Buy

Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis and has slowly drifted downward ever since, and as of March 2008 you need more than Rp 9,000 to buy one US dollar. The trailing three zeros are often abbreviated with rb (ribu, thousand) or even dropped completely, and for more expensive items you will often even see jt (juta, million).

The largest banknote is Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000, Rp 20,000, Rp 10,000, Rp 5,000 and finally Rp 1,000. Bill size is the easiest way to distinguish them, as the designs — all pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown — are confusingly similar and the smaller bills in particular are often filthy and mangled. (The new 2004-2005 series of notes has, however, corrected this to some extent.) A chronic shortage of small change — it's not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of plasticky aluminum coins, available in denominations of Rp 500, Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around, and you may occasionally even run into a sub-1000 banknote. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks.

US dollars are the second currency of Indonesia and will be accepted by anyone in a pinch, but are typically used as an investment and for larger purchases, not buying a bowl of noodles on the street. Many hotels quote rates in dollars, but all accept payment in rupiah. Singapore dollars are also widely accepted, especially in more touristy areas.

Culture

There is no one unified Indonesian culture as such, but the Hindu culture of the former Majapahit empire does provide a framework for the cultural traditions of the central islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. Perhaps the most distinctively "Indonesian" arts are wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other popular folk stories, and its accompaniment the gamelan orchestra, whose incredibly complex metallic rhythms are the obligatory backdrop to both religious ceremonies and traditional entertainment. Indonesia is culturally intertwined with the Malay, with notable items such as batik cloth and kris daggers, and Arabic culture has also been adopted to some degree thanks to Islam.

Modern-day Indonesian popular culture is largely dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Javanese. Suharto's ban on Western imports like rock'n'roll, while long since repealed, led to the development of indigenous forms of music like dangdut, a sultry form of pop developed in the 1970s, and the televised pelvic thrusts of starlet Inul Daratista in 2003 were nearly as controversial as Elvis once was. Anggun Cipta Sasmi is a talented Indonesian singer who became a famous singer in France. Her single "La neige au sahara" became a top hit on the European charts in the summer of 1997.

Most Indonesian films are low budget B movies. "Daun di Atas Bantal" (1998) is an exception; it won the "best movie" award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan (1998).

Indonesian literature has yet to make much headway on the world stage, with torch-bearer Pramoedya Ananta Toer's works long banned in his own homeland, but the post-Suharto era has seen a small boom with Ayu Utami's Saman breaking both taboos and sales records.

People

Despite 50 years of promoting Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ("Unity in Diversity") as the official state motto, the concept of an "Indonesian" remains artificial and the country's citizens divide themselves along a vast slew of ethnicities, clans, tribes and even castes. If this wasn't enough, religious differences add a volatile ingredient to the mix and the vast gaps in wealth create a class society as well. On a purely numerical scale, the largest ethnic groups are the Javanese (45%) of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese (14%) from western Java, the Madurese (7.5%) from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays (7.5%), mostly from Sumatra. This leaves 26% for the Acehnese and Minangkabau of Sumatra, the Balinese, the Iban and Dayaks of Kalimantan, and a bewildering patchwork of groups in Nusa Tenggara and Papua — the official total is no less than 3000!

For most part, Indonesia's many peoples coexist happily, but ethnic conflicts do continue to fester in some remote areas of the country. The policy of transmigration (transmigrasi), initiated by the Dutch but continued by Suharto, resettled Javanese, Balinese and Madurese migrants to less crowded parts of the archipelago. The new settlers, viewed as privileged and insensitive, were often resented by the indigenous populace and, particularly on Kalimantan and Papua, led to sometimes violent conflict.

One particularly notable ethnic group found throughout the country are the Indonesian Chinese, known as Tionghoa or the somewhat derogatory Cina. At an estimated 6-7 million they make up just 3% of the population but continue to wield a disproportionate influence in the economy, with one famous — if largely discredited — study of companies on the Jakarta Stock Exchange concluding that as many as 70% of its companies (and, by extension, the country) were controlled by ethnic Chinese. They have thus been subject to persecution, with Chinese forcibly relocated into urban areas in the 1960s, forced to adopt Indonesian names and bans imposed on teaching Chinese and displaying Chinese characters. Anti-Chinese pogroms have also take place, notably in the 1965-66 anti-Communist purges after Suharto's coup and again in 1998 after his downfall, when over 1100 people were killed in riots in Jakarta and other major cities. However, the post-Reformasi governments have overturned most of the discriminatory legislation, and Chinese writing and Chinese festivals have made a tentative reappearance.

Talk
The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesian adopted a number of languages from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier's The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than 3 dollars.

The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smoothe over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for j, j for y, or oe for u.

Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English. While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track you may have to learn them as well.

Most educated seniors (65 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch.

Educated Indonesians who graduated from Islamic Religious Institutes/Islamic Universities understand and are able to speak Arabic.

English language TV channels are available on most hotels. MetroTV (local TV channel) broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 07.00 AM. MetroTV also broacasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 07.30 AM. TVRI (state owned TV station) broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 04.30 PM in the afternoon. All schedules are in Waktu Indonesia Barat (WIB).

 

 
             
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