If you are wondering what Indo Dutch Food is, you are not alone. Internationally, little is known about this exotic cuisine. Many people still refer to it as Indonesian food. Not entirely wrong when you consider it originated in the same geographical area, known as Indonesia. But in my opinion it’s a bit oversimplified. There are actually differences between Indonesian and Indo Dutch cuisine, even though they are intertwined on many levels. As some would say about this relationship: ‘it’s complicated!’
In the Dutch language different terms are used to refer to the same cuisine, or one term is used for both cuisines. In my opinion this stems from lack of historical awareness, which also leads to confusion and lengthy debates. How did this cuisine evolve? Can we talk about the subject of colonialism without raising too many eyebrows? I think we can when we put the emphasis on food.
My website is about the Indo Dutch Food culture. It’s one of the initiatives to support my mission, which is to get the Indo Dutch Cuisine the accolades it so richly deserves. In order for it to be recognized and acknowledged, the terms used should be understood universally. ‘What is in a name?’ does actually matter!
Here are the most important terms I prefer to use in the English language:
Dutch Indonesian Heritage Cuisine:
This is the tagline of my website, which is dedicated to the shared culinary heritage of both countries; the Netherlands and Indonesia. This includes; Indo Dutch food and other traditional foods from Indonesia and the Netherlands. The food I was raised on.
- A Dutch citizen of mixed Indo-European descent – a.k.a. Indo.
for example: “second-generation Indo Dutch people” (can also be applied to first, third and fourth etc.)
- relating to or denoting Indo-Dutch people.
for example: “Indo Dutch cuisine” or “Indo Dutch culture”
Other popular terms used interchangeably to denote the same: are Dutch Indonesian, and Dutch Indies, or in Dutch ‘Nederlands Indisch’.
Indo Dutch People:
Other terms used are ‘Indo European(s)’* or Indo(s)’**. People of mixed ancestry, with roots in the former Dutch East Indies and Europe. The Indo Dutch people (most with Dutch citizenship) who were born in the former Dutch East Indies, lived there, associated themselves with, and experienced the colonial culture of the former Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony in Southeast Asia before Indonesian independence after Word War II. It also includes the descendants of these people, the Indo Dutch diaspora (who live outside of Indonesia), often raised with the cultural traditions belonging to this community. In the Dutch language the words ‘Indische Nederlander(s)’ is used. In the Indonesian language ‘Indo Belanda’. Another term in Indonesian language used is ‘Peranakan Indonesia Belanda’ (descendant of Indonesia Netherlands). Another word used mainly in Dutch referring to people is ‘Indisch(e)***’ or ‘Indischman’, which refers to someone coming from the Dutch East Indies, regardless of bloodline. This includes all the people who associatie themselves with this mixed subculture. For instance, when you see ‘Indische Rijsttafel’ it refers to a food custom that evolved during that time period and within that culture.
* an older name for Indo people, mixed race people of Indonesian and European descent. **nowadays the term Indo is also used to refer to Indonesian.
(The most common term used in English is ‘Dutch Indonesian.’ I would rather not use that because the assumption is often made that the community we refer to are Indonesians. Just like for example Italian-American or Irish American. The first part denotes ethnicity and the second part nationality. Therefore Indo Dutch: Indo-European ethnicity and Dutch nationality, which was the case in the period of the Dutch East Indies and later the Netherlands, where most of the community migrated to.)
***Indisch(e)—is a Dutch adjective, pertaining to the colonial mixed culture of the former Dutch East Indies. The Dutch colony in Southeast Asia became Indonesia after World War II.
Indo Dutch Cuisine:
Considered one of the oldest fusion cuisines ‘avant la lettre.’ Indigenous and Dutch ingredients and cooking techniques blended together, influencing each other which resulted in new dishes and food traditions. It developed over a period of more than 350 years, in the Dutch-held colonies, the area known as the Dutch East Indies before Indonesian independence after World War II. The Indo Dutch Cuisine is the distinct cuisine of the Indo Dutch community, an ethnic cuisine (one of the 300+ ethnic groups in and from Indonesia). This cooking style embraces the best ingredients and cooking techniques of both worlds (Dutch, Indonesian, Chinese-Indonesian) and is used by Indos in Indonesia and in diaspora, cooked in the countries where most of the Dutch Indo people migrated to, i.e.: the Netherlands, USA, Canada, and Australia. A smaller number stayed behind in Indonesia. Many of these dishes and food customs can be found in both countries Indonesia and the Netherlands and also in North America and Australia, mostly within family circles, traditional recipes passed down for generations. The Indo Dutch cuisine further evolved in the respective countries, with local ingredients and cooking styles, while staying true to authentic tastes. For example: ‘rijsttafel’ (‘rice table’; a Dutch invention, an elaborate meal of Indonesian and Indo Dutch dishes with rice, developed during the Dutch colonial era), Indische macaroni schotel (baked mac ‘n cheese Indo style), Indische huzarensalade (Russian salad with an Indo twist), spekkoek (spice layer cake), klappertaart (coconut tarte), ajam smoor(braised chicken with spices), Indische pastei tutup (shepherds pie), ajam kodok (stuffed chicken), split pea soup with rice, perkedel (meat balls or meatloaf Indo style), just to name a few. Samples of similar fusion cuisines that originated in South Asia are; Peranakan or Nyonya, Cristang and Eurasian in Malaysia and Singapore and the Anglo-Indian cuisine in the UK and India.
A diverse cuisine, because Indonesia is composed of approximately 6000 populated islands of the total 18,000 in the world’s largest archipelago, with more than 300 ethnic groups calling Indonesia their home. Many regional cuisines exist (i.e. Bali food, Java food, Sumatra food etc.), often based upon indigenous culture, religion and foreign influences, like Chinese, Indian, Arab and European-Dutch. The presence of the Dutch led to adoption and fusion of European cuisine into Indonesian cuisine. Some dishes created during the colonial era were influenced by Dutch cuisine, including roti bakar (grilled bread), roti guava, selat solo (solo salad), bestik jawa (Javanese beef steak), semur (from Dutch smoor), sayur kacang mera (also called ‘brenebon’ – brown beans) and sup or sop buntut. Many pastries, cakes and cookies such as kue bolu (tart), lapis legit (spekkoek), spike (lapis Surabaya) and Kastengel (from Dutch kaasstengel/cheese cookies), pandan (chiffon) cake and klappertaart (coconut tart), cue cubit (derived from poffertjes/dollar pancakes) are typical fusion pastries. Outside of Indonesia, the most ‘authentic’ Indonesian restaurants can be found in the Netherlands. This of course due to the historical ties. The rijsttafel has become part of the Dutch food traditions and is also expected to be on the menu of the many Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.
A cuisine made up of cooking traditions and practices from the Netherlands. Shaped by the practice of farming, fishing and the history of the Netherlands. Dutch cuisine is simple and straightforward. The menu was designed to keep body and mind healthy. The Dutch diet was relatively high in carbohydrates and fat, reflecting the dietary need of the laborers whose culture molded the country, and contains many dairy products. The fat and carbs would help keep mind and body in balans, especially during the cold winters. A menu without many refinements, it is best described as rustic, though many holidays are still celebrated with special foods. In the course of the twentieth century this diet changed and became much more cosmopolitan with most international cuisines being represented in the major cities. The Indo Dutch community who migrated from Indonesia to the Netherlands after WWII, influenced the Dutch pallet even more by bringing their food traditions and added spices. The presence of the Indo Dutch people in the Netherlands led to adoption of Indonesian and Indo Dutch dishes in the Netherlands. In turn the Indo Dutch cuisine further evolved, influenced by local ingredients and cooking styles.
The Indo Dutch cuisine belongs to the ethnic Indo Dutch community. The country where it all started may no longer exist, but the cooking style is very much alive. When we talk about the Indo Dutch Food Culture, we talk about the food and customs most Indo people were raised with and still celebrate. This includes adopted food, recipes based on authentic regional cooking from the different islands and ethnic groups in Indonesia and the Netherlands as well as the Indo Dutch fusion dishes. In turn, the Indo Dutch Cuisine is very much part of the shared culinary heritage of both Indonesia and the Netherlands.
The Moesson magazine recently posted on their Facebook page:
We don’t just like to eat. We like to talk about it too. But what about Indo Dutch cuisine? Shouldn’t we actually call it Indonesian? Isn’t it about time we change that? We will write about it in the new November issue.
Of course, Indo Dutch is and will remain different! It refers to the unique culinary traditions of the ethnic Indo-European mixed culture. (often with both Dutch and native Indonesian influences). It emphasizes the diaspora identity and our heritage (the heritage of this community).
Indo Dutch cuisine (Indisch or Dutch Indies), refers to a time period up until the independence of Indonesia after WWII. The cuisine has remained in a time capsule of that era and was brought to other continents by the Indo Dutch diaspora. This classic cooking style reflects the recipes from the colonial era in the Dutch East Indies. It acts as a time stamp, capturing the essence of that historical period and continuing to be passed down through generations within the Dutch-Indonesian diaspora community.
The cuisine reflects a unique blend of flavors and dishes that come from this unique cultural fusion.
The Dutch term Indisch (Indies in English) generally refers to matters related to the former Dutch East Indies, while “Indonesian” is related to the modern Republic of Indonesia. “Indisch” often has historical connotations, while “Indonesian” relates to the contemporary country and its culture.
The use of the term “Indonesian cuisine” instead of “Indo Dutch cuisine” reflects a shift in terminology that is more in line with contemporary geopolitical realities. After Indonesia gained independence, the country’s name was changed from Dutch East Indies to Indonesia. Therefore, the cuisine is now often referred to as “Indonesian” to emphasize its modern national identity and cultural heritage.
But does ‘Indonesian cuisine’ exist? Some argue that it is more of an umbrella term that refers to a range of regional and ethnic cuisines, such as Balinese, Sumatran, Javanese, etc.. Just as the term European cuisine represents different national cuisines, such as Spanish, French, Belgian, English, etc.
The term “culinary time-stamp” is a metaphorical way of describing a culinary tradition or practice that reflects a specific time period or historical context. A culinary heritage that acts as a marker, capturing and preserving the recipes and cooking styles from a particular era, such as colonial times in the Dutch East Indies. It’s a way of acknowledging that the culinary practices serve as a representation or stamp of a specific period in history.
©2014 Jeff Keasberry. Updated 30 December 2020. Updated 29 November 2023.
This is just an introduction. I did extensive research on the historical development of the Indo Dutch cuisine and food customs, which I included in my two cookbooks, published in the Netherlands and the first English Indo Dutch Heritage cookbook, published in the USA, order: Indo Dutch Kitchen Secrets.
There is more information available online, for example: