Healthy Food of Asia Part 1: Indonesian Cuisine

January 2016 - Now that the holiday season is well and truly behind us, we at the Asia Society Korea Center thought what better way to begin the New Year than by launching our new “Healthy Eating” food series! Each month we will preview food from around the world, discovering the history and culture behind the more unique dishes that different countries have to offer. We kick off our series by exploring Indonesian cuisine in January and each month a new region will be on the menu.

When people around the world think of Indonesian food, Nasi Goreng immediately springs to mind. The Asia Society Korea Center was invited to the Indonesian Ambassador Residence in Seoul by Madame Alexandra Prasetio to show that the country’s cuisine goes far beyond this well-known dish. The ambassadorial dining room provided the perfect backdrop for the food tasting afternoon, with Indonesian artist Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo’s elegant three-panel “Volcanic Ash” overlooking the dinner table and many other Indonesian art works on display. Madam Prasetio served up 3 different kinds of cuisine to enjoy while giving a fascinating insight into healthy cooking and dining.

Ice lemon tea, the traditional welcoming beverage served in restaurants and homes in Indonesia, was the first delight that was offered, made even more refreshing by the home grown mint leaves that were added to the drink. Madam Prasetio summed up Indonesian cuisine as varied and diverse, with spices, coconut milk and sweet black sauce all featuring prominently. The thick, sweet, rich, syrupy Indonesian sweet black sauce in particular was highlighted as being the key to Indonesian food, serving as a condiment or main ingredient in cooking. Although a lot of Indonesian food is fried, the country does have dishes that are great for those on a diet or for people who are under the weather with various soups playing a leading role. Madam Prasetio especially recommended Sayur Asam, a vegetable sour soup and oxtail soup as being excellent foods carrying great health benefits. It was another of these soups, Soto Ayam, that provided the appetizer to our meal and it certainly did not disappoint.

Soto Ayam, more commonly known as chicken soup, is one of the most popular versions of soto (soup) commonly found in Indonesian cuisine. The fantastic kitchen at the residence used free range chicken, vermicelli noodles, hardboiled eggs and various herbs in providing what was a light yet hearty herbal broth. What was striking about the soup was the different flavors that came out with each spoonful while at the same time giving that healthy, fragrant taste. This appetizer led us nicely into the main dish; chicken satay in a sweet soy sauce with shallots served with steamed vegetables in a peanut dressing. Although chicken satay is more commonly accompanied by a peanut dressing, we were treated to satay with a twist with the dressing being a mix of soy and sweet black sauce that had a hint of spice. We were not to miss out of the peanut dressing however, with the steamed vegetables coated with a fresh tasting paste. 

Throughout the meal, presentation and elegance added to the fantastic experience of trying these healthy, traditional Indonesian foods. Madam Prasetio is passionate about her country’s cuisine and she has every right to be, one day hoping that restaurants will spring up all over Seoul, giving Koreans a traditional taste of Indonesia. Indonesia of course produces some of the world’s best coffee and we were given a cup to close out our meal, putting on the finishing touches to what was a wonderful afternoon. The Indonesian Ambassador Residence was the perfect host and the Asia Society looks forward to returning to experience other foods and drinks in the future.