Chinese culinary culture is particularly evident in Indonesian cuisine through the Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese loanwords used for various dishes. Words beginning with bak (肉) signify the presence of meat, e.g. bakpau ("meat bun"); words ending with cai (菜) signify vegetables, e.g. pecai ("Chinese white cabbage") and cap cai ("mixed vegetables"). Also mi or mie (麵) signify noodle as in mi goreng ("fried noodle").
Most of these loanwords for food dishes and their ingredients are Hokkien in origin and are used throughout the Indonesian language and vernacular speech of large cities. Because they have become an integral part of the local language, many Indonesians and ethnic Chinese do not recognize their Hokkien origins. Some of popular Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng, mi goreng, bihun, kwetiau, lumpia and bakpia can trace their origin to Chinese influence. Some food and ingredients are part of the daily diet of both the indigenous and ethnic Chinese populations as side dishes to accompany rice, the staple food of most of the country.
Chinese influence is so evident in cities with large Chinese settlements since colonial era, especially in Jakarta, Cirebon, Semarang, Surabaya, Medan, Batam, Bangka, Palembang, Singkawang and Pontianak. As the result numbers of mi (noodle) and tahu (tofu) recipes were developed in these cities. Chinese influence is so evident in Betawi people (native Jakartans) cuisines that basically was formed as peranakan culture, as the result Betawi people held Chinese Indonesians dishes such as asinan and rujak juhi as theirs. To a certain extent, Javanese in Semarang, Solo, and Surabaya also willingly absorbs Chinese culinary influences, as the result they also considered Chinese-influenced dishes such as mi goreng, lumpia, bakso, and tahu gunting as theirs.
Siomay bicycle street hawker in Glodok area, Jakarta's Chinatown.
Because food is so prevalent in Chinese culture as Chinese families often allocate their quality time to go eating out—just like banquet customs commonly found in Chinese communities worldwide—many Pecinan (Chinatowns) in Indonesian cities are well known as the culinary hot spots of the city, with rows of shops and restaurants. As Chinese and also native Indonesians establishing their food business, many eating establishments sprung up, from humble street side cart hawker to fancy restaurants offering their specialty. Areas such as Glodok, Pecenongan, and Kelapa Gading in Jakarta, Kesawan, Pusat Pasar, Jalan Semarang, Asia Mega Mas, Cemara Asri and Sunggal in Medan, Gardu Jati in Bandung, Kya-kya Kembang Jepun in Surabaya, and Pecinans in Cirebon, Semarang and Solo are teeming with lots of warungs, shops and restaurants, not only offering Chinese Indonesians' dishes, but also local and international cuisines.
Adaptation to local cuisine
The Indonesian Chinese cuisine also vary with locations. For example, in different parts of Java the dishes are adapted to local culture and taste, in return Chinese Indonesians residing in this region also had developed a taste for local cuisine. In central Java, the food tends to be much sweeter, while in West Java it is saltier. In East Java, Chinese food there is more salty and savory with a preference of petis shrimp paste. In Medan, North Sumatra and also in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, a more traditional Chinese style can be found. Chinese cuisine in Indonesia also have absorbed local preference of spicy food and local ingredients. For example, it is common to have sambal chili sauce, acar pickles and sprinkle of bawang goreng crispy fried shallot as condiment.
Because Indonesia is Muslim majority country, some of ingredients were replaced to create a halal Chinese food; by replacing pork with chicken or beef, and replacing lard with palm oil or chicken fat. Most of Chinese eating establishments with significant Muslim native Indonesian clientele would do so. However, in Chinatowns in major Indonesian cities where there is significant Chinese and non-Muslim population, Chinese restaurants that serve pork dishes such as babi kecap (pork belly in soy sauce), char siew, crispy roast pork, sweet pork sausage and sate babi (pork satay) are available.
There are different styles of Chinese food in Indonesia:
Most of the times, the name of Chinese Indonesian foods are preserved from its original Chinese Hokkien name (e.g. bakmi, bakpau, locupan, lumpia, swikee). However, sometimes the name are derived from the translation of its meanings, ingredients or process in Indonesian (e.g. babi kecap, kakap asam manis, kembang tahu, nasi tim).
Bakchang or bacang, glutinous rice stuffed with meat (usually pork) and wrapped in bamboo leaf in triangular (more precisely, tetrahedral) form.
Bakmi, noodles which are adapted to different styles and regions. Each city has its own recipe for noodles or mie, e.g. Bakmi Jawa, Bakmi Siantar, Bakmi Medan, Bakmi Makassar, Bakmi Bangka, etc. 'Bak-Mi' comes from the Hokkien pronunciation for 'Meat-Noodle'.
Kekian, minced prawn roll (sometimes replaced with fish or chicken), mixed with tapioca, egg, garlic, salt and pepper. Similar with ngo hiong, but with simpler seasoning without five-spice powder. Could be steamed or fried and eaten by itself, or sliced and stir fried mixed in other dishes such as cap cai.
Mie ayam, chicken noodle, yellow wheat noodle topped with diced chicken meat, seasoned with soy sauce, and usually served with a chicken broth soup.
Mie campur or bakmi campur, assorted meat noodle; yellow wheat noodle topped with an assortment of Chinese barbecue, such as Char Siew, crispy roast pork and sweet pork sausage. Noodle counterpart of Chinese Indonesian nasi campur.
Pau, which is the Chinese word for 'bun'; sometimes written as Bak-Pau, literally meaning 'Meat-Bun', which is a bun with meat fillings. (Bak is the Hokkien pronunciation for 'meat'.)
Pempek, a savoury fishcake made of softly ground wahoo fish and tapioca served with spicy vinegar and palm sugar sauce. Specialty of Palembang city. According to the local legend, the name derived from Ah pek to call the elderly Chinese man that invented and sold the dish.
Rujak juhi or mie juhi, similar with asinan, cured brined preserved vegetables in thin peanut sauce with krupuk mie, but with addition of yellow noodle and juhi (salted cuttlefish).
Rujak shanghai, preserved seafood and jellyfish with vegetables and sweet and sour sauce.
Sate babi, pork satay can be found in Chinatowns in Indonesian cities, especially around Glodok, Pecenongan, and Senen in the Jakarta area. It is also popular in Bali which the majority are Hindus, and also popular in The Netherlands.
Sapo tahu tofu in claypot, Sa-Po which is the Chinese word for 'clay pot', the most popular variant is sapo tahu; silken egg tofu with vegetables, chicken or seafood, cooked in clay pot to keep it warm.
Sekba, a traditional Chinese soup mainly consists of pork offals (intestine, tripe, lung, liver, heart, tongue, ear and nose), with egg, tofu and salted vegetables, served in spiced broth.
Soto, is a traditional soup mainly composed of broth, meat and vegetables.