The fascinating (world) history of Indonesian spices

Indonesia is blessed with fertile soil and a temperate climate, so it’s no wonder it is the second most biodiverse country in the world. The archipelago is home to more than 20,000 plant species, and it is estimated that around 7,000 of them are herbs and spices. Herbs and spices have long been used for cooking and for medicinal purposes. They contain chemical compounds that are responsible for their unique aroma and flavour, and also possess antimicrobial properties.

Fresh food spoils easily in tropical climates, hence preservation plays a vital role in keeping food safe to consume for longer periods. Before electricity arrived in Indonesia, people relied on traditional ways to preserve food such as cooking, drying, salting, and fermentation. Herbs and spices are used in cooking not only for seasoning but also for controlling spoilage and disease-causing microorganisms. If you’ve been wondering why spicy food keeps well even at room temperature, now you know why!

Spices have played an important part in world history. Nutmeg, mace, and cloves which are endemic to the Maluku islands (also known as the Spice Islands) were traded to faraway lands as early as the 7th century. These spices symbolized social status and luxury in Europe due to their rarity and extravagant prices. They were so expensive that during the 17th century, nutmeg was worth more than its weight in gold! At the time, this valuable spice could only be found on the island of Run in Maluku, which was controlled by the English. The Dutch wanted to take possession of the island, resulting in multiple conflicts between the two parties. Ultimately, an agreement was made where the English gave up control of Run in exchange for Manhattan, an island in North America colonised by the Dutch.

The Europeans were not only instrumental in spreading Indonesian herbs and spices throughout the world, but they also introduced chili peppers (and a host of other crops) from the Americas to the archipelago around the 16th century. The fiery new spice was quickly embraced and became an integral part of Indonesian cuisine. It’s the main ingredient in our most beloved condiment, sambal, which is available in 100 varieties!

Ayam rica rica on a plate with red rice

Ayam Rica Bakar

Our love for herbs and spices runs deep and is evident in our menu. All of our Indonesian dishes contain indigenous herbs or spices, some of which are grown in our edible gardens. Our sweet breakfast porridges (Bubur Sumsum, Kacang Ijo, and Ketan Item) are flavoured with pandan leaves and served with mace-infused palm sugar syrup. If you want a light yet flavourful meal, we recommend you try our Rawon (beef cooked in keluak/Pangium edule nut broth). If you’re a fan of spicy foods, try our best-selling Ayam Rica Bakar. Don’t hesitate to ask our staff for recommendations!