Indonesian pantry & it’s essential items

Indonesian pantry requires particular ingredients and sometimes certain utensils. It was these requirements that used to make things difficult for me to cook Indonesian food here in the UK. Especially the traditional ones.

However, as time goes by, I do notice that it is now easier to get both the ingredients and utensils that are essential to Indonesian cuisine. And I also learn substitutes for many ingredients and utensils to make my cooking even more easier.

In this page, you can see those important items to make Indonesian dishes. Where applicable, I include the alternatives for either the ingredients or the equipment as well. And of course, I’ve also checked the suppliers from whom you can get those items, and you can buy them from the links below. 

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Essential utensils for Indonesian kitchen

I remember growing up I saw my mom always use these three items for her everyday cooking. But for today, these items may be a bit inconvenient. So I now use the alternative tools at times. 

Pestle and mortar

A proper stone-made pestle and mortar set was a kitchen utensil that every household used to have in Indonesia. Even until today. 

Because lots of Indonesian food – regardless of which area it is from – needs this pestle and mortar to make its flavouring spices and herbs. 

But now it can be time-consuming to use pestle and mortar, so instead, you can use a food chopper to do the job. You can make your spices mixture in just a few minutes. 

A wok or frying pan

A deep wok is probably the number one kitchen gadget that all Indonesian kitchens have. Because not only you can fry or stir-fry things with this utensil, but you can also braise, boil, or stew with a wok. So it is an all-round kitchen item.

A grater

Many traditional foods in Indonesia use coconut milk or ingredients that need to be grated. Therefore, a grater is another must-have item in Indonesian pantry. 

But to make things easier, you can always use a food processor or get the ready-made/ grated ingredients. Job’s sorted ?.

Indonesian herbs and spices

These ingredients were probably the most reason I didn’t cook Indonesian food as much when I just relocated to the UK. 

Although there are Chinese groceries in Chinatown that sell some Indonesian food items, they don’t have all the herbs and spices that Indonesian dishes require. 

Thanks to the internet, now I can buy almost everything online. So cooking Indonesian food is far easier these days. #feelinggrateful.

Below are the typical spices and herbs that Indonesian pantry need


Mostly you need freshly grated or pounded ginger. But in some dishes, you can use the dry ginger powder instead.


Galangal is Lengkuas or Laos in Indonesian. This type of root ginger was not easy to find. Especially the fresh one. But I do find a few places that sell them now.

Salam leaf

Many years ago I used to think this Salam Leaf was kind of Indonesian bay leaf. It is not. 

Salam leaf is from the polyanthum family, and it is called Syzygium polyanthum in Latin. 

Unfortunately, this Salam leaf is one of the few ingredients that I can not find in the UK just yet. So, as its substitute, you can use curry leaves instead.


Lemongrass, which is called Sereh or Serai in Indonesian, has a very unique lemony fragrance. It is used widely in Indonesian cuisine. 

Needless to say, fresh lemongrass is the best to choose and use. However, you can always opt for the ready pounded one. But please don’t get the dry powder form, it’s useless as it makes the food smell odd. For me. 


There are endless of Indonesian dishes that use turmeric. You can just use the turmeric powder. It’s all good.


You can use the block type or the paste type of Tamarind, which is called Asam Jawa in Indonesian.

White pepper

White pepper, which is called Merica in Indonesian, is the most common pepper in Indonesia. But you can substitute it with black pepper.


Cumin, or Jintan in Indonesian, is fairly easy to get now. To make things easier, you can always buy and use the ground cumin instead of the whole cumin. 


Similarly like cumin, you can get the ground coriander instead of the whole coriander. Coriander means Ketumbar in Indonesian.


Cinnamon, or Kayu Manis in Indonesian, is one of the spices that has become very popular in the west. In some dishes, you can use the cinnamon powder, but in some others, you will have to choose the whole cinnamon sticks


Cloves, which is called Cengkeh in Indonesian, is another popular spice that is easy to get.

Kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaf, or Daun Jeruk Purut in Indonesian, has a subtle yet distinctive lemony fragrance. You can find the leaf easily at Asian shops in Chinatown. Or, you can just order online.