How to Order Food in Indonesia: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning the Language

How to Order Food in Indonesia

Share This Post

Unlocking the Culinary Treasures of Indonesia: A Beginner’s Guide to Ordering Food

Indonesia, a land of vibrant culture and diverse culinary delights, offers a gastronomic adventure. However, for many travelers, navigating the local food scene can be daunting, especially when faced with a language barrier. Fear not! In this guide, we’ll delve into how to order food in Indonesia, empowering you to indulge in the country’s rich flavors confidently.

Before embarking on your culinary journey, familiarize yourself with some essential Indonesian phrases to help you navigate menus and communicate with local vendors. While English is widely spoken in tourist areas, showing an effort to speak the local language can enhance your dining experience and foster connections with locals.

How to Order:

Navigating Indonesia’s bustling food markets and cozy eateries is a delightful adventure for the senses. Here’s a closer look at how to order food in Indonesia with confidence:

Polite Greetings:

Begin your culinary journey with a warm greeting to the server or street vendor. Use phrases like “Selamat pagi” (Good morning), “Selamat siang” (Good afternoon), or “Selamat malam” (Good evening), depending on the time of day. This polite gesture sets a friendly tone for your interaction.

Getting Attention:

In crowded eateries or bustling food stalls, it’s essential to grab the server’s attention politely. Say “Permisi” (Excuse me) with a smile to indicate you’re ready to place your order.

Expressing What You Want:

Use simple phrases to convey your food preferences. Start with “Saya mau…” (I want…) followed by the dish or beverage you desire. Here are some examples:

  • “Saya mau nasi goreng” (I want fried rice)
  • “Saya mau mie ayam” (I want chicken noodles)
  • “Saya mau jus jeruk” (I want orange juice)

Customizing Your Order:

Indonesians are known for their hospitality and willingness to accommodate dietary preferences. If you have any special requests or dietary restrictions, don’t hesitate to communicate them politely. For instance:

  • “Bisa tambah pedas?” (Can I have it spicy?)
  • “Tanpa daging, tolong” (Without meat, please)
  • “Bisa kurang gula?” (Can you reduce the sugar?)

Showing Gratitude:

After placing your order, express appreciation for the service and hospitality by saying “Terima kasih” (thank you). This simple gesture goes a long way in fostering positive interactions with local vendors and servers.

Engaging in Small Talk:

Embrace the opportunity to engage in friendly banter with the locals while waiting for your food. Use phrases like “Ada apa hari ini?” (What’s special today?) or “Cuaca bagus, ya?” (Nice weather, isn’t it?) to start conversations and learn more about Indonesian culture.

Enjoying Your Meal:

Once your order arrives, savor each bite and immerse yourself in the flavors of Indonesia. If dining with others, don’t forget to say “Selamat makan” (Enjoy your meal) to your companions before digging in.

By mastering these essential phrases and etiquette tips, you’ll easily navigate Indonesia’s vibrant culinary landscape, forging connections with locals and savoring the rich tapestry of flavors that define this enchanting archipelago. Selamat makan! (Bon appétit!)

Where to Eat:

Indonesia boasts an array of dining options, from bustling street food stalls to upscale restaurants. For an authentic experience, explore traditional warungs (eateries) serving local favorites like nasi goreng (fried rice), sate (skewered meat), and gado-gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce).

Indonesia’s culinary scene is a vibrant tapestry woven with flavors across the archipelago. Here are some top spots to indulge in authentic Indonesian cuisine:

Traditional Warungs (Eateries):

For an immersive culinary experience, head to local warungs that line the streets of cities and villages alike. These humble establishments serve up hearty meals at affordable prices, allowing you to sample Indonesian classics like nasi goreng (fried rice), sate (skewered meat), and ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken). Look for warungs with bustling crowds and steaming pots to taste genuine Indonesian hospitality.

Pasar Malam (Night Markets):

As the sun sets, Indonesia’s night markets come alive with the sizzle of street food stalls and the chatter of hungry patrons. Wander through the maze of vendors selling everything from grilled seafood to sweet treats like pisang goreng (fried bananas). Take advantage of the opportunity to try regional specialties like rendang (spicy beef stew) and martabak (stuffed pancakes) while soaking in the lively atmosphere of the pasar malam.

Local Home Restaurants (Rumah Makan):

For a taste of home-cooked Indonesian fare, seek out rumah makan or local home restaurants, where families open their doors to diners craving authentic flavors. These cozy establishments offer a glimpse into Indonesian family life while serving dishes made with love and passed-down recipes. From savory Soto (soup) to fragrant rendang, dining at a rumah makan feels like being welcomed into a friend’s kitchen.

Street Food Hotspots:

Embrace the spirit of adventure and embark on a street food safari through Indonesia’s bustling cities. From Jakarta’s legendary food carts to Bali’s beachside vendors, street food offers a sensory feast for the adventurous palate. Follow your nose to stalls selling bakso (meatball soup), mie ayam (chicken noodles), and nasi padang (Padang-style rice dishes), and join locals in indulging in these beloved culinary delights.

Traditional Markets (Pasar Tradisional):

Explore the heart of Indonesian cuisine at traditional markets, where vendors hawk fresh produce, spices, and prepared foods. Wander through the colorful stalls of pasar tradisional and sample regional specialties like ikan bakar (grilled fish), tempeh goreng (fried fermented soybean cake), and bubur ayam (chicken congee). Engage with vendors, sample their wares, and immerse yourself in the sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells that define Indonesian market culture.

If you’re feeling adventurous, dive into the vibrant chaos of pasar malam (night markets), where you can sample a variety of Indonesian delicacies amidst the lively atmosphere.

Benefits of Learning the Language:

  1. Enhanced Cultural Understanding: Language is the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of a culture. By learning Bahasa Indonesia, you gain insight into the nuances of Indonesian society, including customs, traditions, and social etiquette. Conversing with locals in their native tongue allows you to appreciate the subtleties of their communication style and fosters empathy and mutual respect.
  2. Improved Travel Experience: While English is widely spoken in tourist areas, venturing off the beaten path often requires proficiency in the local language. You’ll feel more confident navigating unfamiliar surroundings, seeking directions, and interacting with locals by mastering basic Indonesian phrases. This linguistic competence enhances your travel experience, enabling you to engage with communities authentically and discover hidden gems beyond guidebook recommendations.
  3. Culinary Exploration: Indonesia’s culinary landscape is as diverse as its archipelago, with each region boasting unique flavors and specialties. Language proficiency opens doors to culinary adventures, allowing you to communicate dietary preferences, seek recommendations from local vendors, and delve into the stories behind beloved dishes. Whether sampling street food in Jakarta or savoring seafood delicacies in Bali, speaking Bahasa Indonesia enriches your gastronomic journey and fosters connections with food artisans and fellow diners.
  4. Personal Growth: Learning a new language is a journey of self-discovery that fosters personal growth and resilience. Overcoming linguistic challenges, such as pronunciation and grammar, builds confidence and adaptability, nurturing a growth mindset that extends beyond language learning. As you navigate the complexities of Bahasa Indonesia, you’ll develop problem-solving skills, cultural competence, and a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of the global community.
  5. Professional Opportunities: In an increasingly interconnected world, multilingualism is a valuable asset in both personal and professional spheres. Proficiency in Bahasa Indonesia opens doors to career opportunities in various industries, including tourism, hospitality, international business, and diplomacy. Whether seeking employment abroad or collaborating with Indonesian partners, language skills enhance your marketability and facilitate cross-cultural communication, paving the way for professional success and global citizenship.


Embarking on a culinary exploration of Indonesia is not just about savoring delicious dishes; it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the country’s rich tapestry of culture and traditions. By learning how to order food in Indonesia and embracing the local language, you’ll unlock a world of culinary treasures and forge connections that transcend borders. So, grab your phrasebook, venture beyond your comfort zone, and let your taste buds guide you on an unforgettable journey through the flavors of Indonesia! Selamat makan! (Enjoy your meal!)

Whether you’re a novice traveler or a seasoned explorer, mastering the art of ordering food in Indonesia is a valuable skill that enriches your cultural experiences and fosters connections with locals. Start your language-learning journey today and embark on a culinary adventure!

Sign up for our Newsletter

Join our newsletter and get resources, curated content, and design inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

More To Explore