Indonesian Food – North Sulawesi

We haven’t updated the blog for a while as we’ve (finally!!!) had some vacations! Time to relax, read, and obviously eat! Where were we? In Indonesia. North Sulawesi to be more accurate, which is the northern tip of a huge island between Borneo, Philippines, and West Papua.

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Because Indonesia is such a massive country spread over a few thousand islands, the food is certainly varied. Add to that centuries of colonialism and you’ll get an exciting cocktail of tropical foods that are nothing like stuff you’ve had before.

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Although 87% of Indonesians are muslim, Sulawesi has a large Christian population, therefore food you find there isn’t always halal. This means, you’ll find everything you can think of such as pork, chicken, or fish, but also many more funky beasts, ranging from snakes, to bats, rats, or dogs. Before you ask, we didn’t have the chance to try any of the exotic fare and stuck with the “classics”. If you’d like to know more about the strange foods there, have a look at this adventurous article about the food market in Tomohon (be warned, it’s *very* graphic!!!)

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Overall, Minahasan food is an interesting mix between usual asian flavours (lemongrass, coconut milk, curries, kaffir lime) but with extra chilli and oil. Although excellent and exciting, it’s not always as refined and subtle as Vietnamese or Thai food, and much more on “in your face” bold & strong flavours. Noodles and rice will be nearby at pretty much any meal to accompany lots of fried ingredients such as whole chicken (ayam goreng), tempeh (a sort of crunchy tofu made with fermented soy beans, see this fabulous recipe with it), and all sorts of meat/fish/vegi balls. Other times, noodles or rice can become the central element of a meal, such as in Mi Goreng, Nasi Campur, Nasi Lemak, or Nasi Kuning.

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Lots of curries, lots of stews (gulai hijau ayam, beef rendang, and many more). We had a ton of fish – fried, steam, or grilled – which we cannot tire of. An exciting discovery was that many dishes contained fresh tomatoes which added excellent acidity to sauces, so effectively a sweet and sour, but very different from Chinese sweet & sour dishes. Our favourite, however, was very likely Perkedel Jagung, a fabulous soft and crunchy corn fritter.

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Exotic fruits are obviously always available, mainly mango, papaya, pineapple, coconuts, and candle banana (pisang lilin). Minahasans love their sweets, and you’ll find quite a few bakeries in Manado, serving quite European goods, such as klappertaart (a delicious and filling custard with coconut), obviously a Dutch legacy. Fried banana (pisang goreng). More often, you’ll find lots of more local deserts, with peanuts, sticky rice, sweet pastes, and coconut.

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Another specialty from Manado is tinutuan (also called bubur manado), which is a savoury rice porridge made with sweet potatoes, pumpkin, noodles, and other vegetables such as kang kung (water spinach). It has the advantage of not being spicy, although it is best with tons of chilli and vinegar. You should definitely try it, and the best place get it is Wakeke street in downtown Manado.

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Finally, chilli is a must in pretty much every dish. So, everything with “rica-rica” in its name means an extra hot dish with layers of chilli and onion. And if that weren’t enough, you can always empty the nearest pot of freshly made sambal oelek to finish you off.

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In the end, we absolutely loved North Sulawesi! The people were incredibly friendly and smiling everywhere, and I wished we had spent more time eating our way there, especially the variety of street food on display. But we’ll leave this for our next trip there.

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To learn more about the local food there, look here:

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