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What Is Rijsttafel?


Question: What Is Rijsttafel?

Rijsttafel (translation: "rice table"), pronounced RICE-taffle, is a medley of dishes from all over the Indonesian islands, and a perfect introduction to "indisch" (colonial Indonesian, pronounced "IN-dees") cuisine. But make no mistake: rijsttafel, despite its Indonesian roots, is not authentically Indonesian (indonesisch in Dutch). Instead, it is a relic from the period of Dutch colonization over what is now Indonesia (1602-1942), when the Dutch East India Company traded in the natural resources of the so-called Spice Islands. There the rijsttafel was invented, based on the model of the Indonesian feast nasi padang, in order to allow Dutch colonials to sample dishes from Java, Bali, Sumatra and countless other islands; the number of dishes could run to upwards of a hundred at these lavish banquets. Colonials and Indonesian expatriates then introduced the rijsttafel to the Netherlands, where it's been a popular fixture in Indonesian restaurants ever since.

What dishes appear on a rijsttafel?

Each rijsttafel is different, as the selection of dishes is up to the chef's discretion. Most rijsttafels have between 12 and 25 dishes and come with white or fried rice (nasi putih or goreng), noodles (bami goreng), or a combination of these. Some favorite rijsttafel dishes are:

  • Gado gado - cooked vegetable salad slathered with a rich peanut sauce
  • Pisang goreng - tasty banana fritters
  • Sambal goreng tempeh - fried tempeh, or fermented soybean cake, in a dark, savory sauce
  • Sambal telur - hard-boiled eggs marinated in a peppery sauce
  • Sayur lodeh - mixed vegetables in a spicy coconut-milk sauce

In addition, there are often sides of atjar tjampoer (Indonesian mixed pickles to cool the palate), serundeng (grated coconut spiked with roasted peanuts), and other sauces and condiments to overwhelm the senses. And don't miss spekkoek, the classic Indonesian spice cake, for dessert!

Where can I order rijsttafel?

Rijsttafel is available at virtually any Indonesian or "Indies" restaurant in Amsterdam, but naturally the quality varies. See our round-up of the best Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam for our top picks.

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