Indonesian food is diverse, in part because Indonesia is composed of approximately 6,000 populated islands of the total 18,000 in the world's largest archipelago. Many regional differences exist, often based upon cultural and foreign influences.
Throughout its history, Indonesia has been involved in trade due to its location and natural resources. Additionally, its local cooking methods and ingredients were influenced by India, the Middle East, China, and finally Europe. Spanish and Portuguese traders brought New World produce even before the Dutch came to colonize most of the archipelago.
Most Indonesians eat rice as the main dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact some Indonesians feel they don't eat a meal unless it is rice. A typical Indonesian meal consists of steamed rice and one or two main dishes made of fish, meat, chicken or vegetables, sometimes including soup, all of which are served together. Indonesians like to eat hot (as in spicy) food. A common side dish is sambal, which is an integral part of many dishes. These chili-based condiments may be either freshly made or store-bought.
Food is eaten with the fingers or with a spoon and fork. When eating with the fingers, Indonesians use their right hand only. The left hand is used for less hygienic matters.
Food varies from island to island ... chicken and fish in Java; beef in Sumatra; duck and pork in Bali (where most of the Hindus live); and seafood in South Sulawesi. Pork is hardly eaten because most Indonesians are Muslims and their religion prohibits eating pork. Desserts often consist of tropical fruits and others are made from glutinous rice flour, palm sugar and coconut milk.