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Different Ingredients in Southeast Asian Cuisine

Updated on December 9, 2011
Starfruit and blossoms growing in a tree.
Starfruit and blossoms growing in a tree.

Indonesian egg and tofu omelette


Tofu, or Tahu in Indonesian is a bean curd, that is a soybean product, or made from soy milk. While its nutritious, it can be bland on its own, but very delicious when combined with other flavors that absord into it. There are a few different styles of Tofu, and are sold in small blocks that are immersed in water. They will last refrigerated for about three days or so, if you change out the water each day.

You can get "long life" tofu in many markets and there is both the firm and silken varieties. The firm tofu is a great alternative to fresh tofu. Some fry up pieces of tofu and end up in mixtures that include vegetables and sometimes shrimp, which gives the blandness of tofu a much more exciting taste.

This Indonesian sweet cake looks amazing

Asam Gelugur

Asam Gelugur or Garcina atroviridis is a fruit you will see used in Southeastern Asian Cuisine. It can be used as a "souring agent".  They slice the asam gelugur into thin slices, and then dry it in the sun.  They use it as a souring agent, and sometimes it is marketed as "tamarind slices".  Its odd as it is a completely different plant from tamarind. 

If you add this to sauces while cooking, asum gelugur gives the dish a delicate tamarind like sourness.  You will want to make sure it is removed before cooking.



There are red and white varieties of Turmeric, and the rhizome that turmeric comes from has long been popular in Southeast Asia. Turmeric needs to be peeled just like ginger does, and then chopped and and added to other ingredients to make a paste. You can substitute ground turmeric for fresh, and use about one half to one teaspoon for say a curry paste that you want to be part of a meal for 4 people.


The same word that is used for beans, is often used for nuts, kacang. You will find bean sprouts like Mung Bean used, and is also called tauge. Of course soybeans are used, but also the yard-long bean, or kacang panjang.

The pods of the yard long bean can grow to be about 3 feet long, so you can see where it got its name. However, if you want to eat these as vegetables, the beans inside won't fully ripen. Some eat it raw. The leaves, if they are young, can also be eaten either lightly boiled or steamed then mixed in with other vegetables.

Bean Sprouts, or tauge, are used as well. If there is no specification, then it is assumed that mung beansprouts are intended. There are also soybean sprouts that are used, and those are shorter.

The tree that starfruit grows on in Indonesia.
The tree that starfruit grows on in Indonesia.


Strarfruit, or carambola, belimbing manis, is used in this regions cooking as well. It is usually sold fresh, and is that fruit that has 5 sharply angled ridges. When sliced, it looks like a star with five points.  I think is one of natures most interesting shaped fruits. 


You will find cassava flour sold in many Asian food shops if not most.  It is also called ubi kayu, in Java.     Casava is widely grown throughout Indonesia for its starchy roots. 


Fiddlehead, also known as paku or pakis are edible ferns that are very young.  There aren't many substitutes for this ingredient, except that sometimes you can use a North American version that that are sold in glass jars.  


Bumbu is really a mixture of spices along with other aromatic ingredients.  The ingredients used are ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle.  Some opt to use a blender or food processor especially if  making larger quantities.  Sometimes it is used as the cooking medium itself, and then it becomes a sauce. 

Candlenuts free of their shell
Candlenuts free of their shell


In Indonesian, candlenuts are called kemiri, but in Malaysian it is called buah keras.  The closest thing to compare candlenuts too, are macadamia nuts, though they are clearly not the same. 

You will find them used in many Malaysian and Indonesian recipes in a paste form.  They are crushed or ground up before being mixed with some other ingredients, which is then made into a paste. 

For a substitute however, it is fine to use raw macadamia nuts.  Some also use almonds, whether blanched or ground, as a substitute at times.


Eggplant, terung or terong,  is grown all over Southeast Asia.  You will find eggplant there in many shapes, sizes and colors including baby purple eggplant.  You will find apple eggplants sold in many Indian and Thai shops.  You may be surprised to hear they will come in more colors, like bright yellow, white and many shades of green.  Some are only slightly bigger than a golfball. There is also a bitter pea eggplant called terung gelatik which is green, hard and bitter.

Have you ever had Indonesian Food?

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you, Happypuppy for your visit and comment. I have never tried starfruit dried, but I ought to. Glad you stopped by and left a comment. :)

    • happypuppy profile image

      happypuppy 6 years ago

      Starfruits are truly amazing! They are pretty to look at and taste great as fresh fruit or dried.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Eric, thanks for stopping by and your comment!

    • profile image

      Eric Pinola 7 years ago

      Bumboo? I had never heard of that........I cannot wait to goto central market or whole food sand try to find it. Thank you for the wonderful tips and sharing the amazing pictures.

      Great article 5*****

      congrats on the win!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Money Glitch, thank you very much

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Purple Perl, thank you! Its the coolest fruit, isn't it? Oh my, prepared that way sounds very good! Thank you for the comment.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      congrats on your win. :)

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Congrats! I love starfruit as well.Slightly ripe fruit cut and smeared with a little salt and chilli powder tastes great.My mouth is watering already but I did not know it can be cooked as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Excellent hub! I had the pleasure of living in S. Korea and traveling to Malaysia and Singapore and Thailand and enjoying much of this excellent food. It is as good as the photos you included.

      Thanks so much for such a good food hub. Rated up, for sure!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Loren's Gem, thank you very much! Glad you stopped by

    • Loren's Gem profile image

      Loren's Gem 7 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Bumboo... that looks interesting to me. Nice hub, thanks for sharing and congrts on the win! :-)

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hey Phoenix, thank you very much. :)

    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 7 years ago from USA