Rijsttafel is a Dutch word and means 'rice table'. It was invented by the Dutch colonial plantation owners, who loved to sample different Indonesian dishes with small portions at a time. Local dishes from the whole archipelago was selected and served on a long table. One Rijsttafel could contain around 40 Indonesian dishes at once.
As you can imagine, it became an instant hit and tradition in the Dutch East Indies and the concept 'Rijsttafel' is still known and prepared in The Netherlands today.
However the number of dishes have been down-sized and it is mainly served in Chinese-Indonesian restaurants. Unfortunately it tastes a world apart from the dishes you can find in Bali or the rest of Indonesia where emphasis is placed on lots of spices and herbs.
If you travel in Indonesia, or just Bali you will soon realize that the country has a lively food culture and that their daily life often evolves around cooking and eating. However the Rijsttafel isn't present anymore among the locals and therefore not served in regular Indonesian restaurants. It is mainly found on menu's of restaurants focused on tourists.
That said the Balinese are still known for preparing a dozen or so dishes for special occasions, but generally the concept Rijsttafel can be compared with Nasi Campur. This means 'mixed rice' referring to rice served with a mix of various dishes on one plate.
Other restaurants that serve something similar to the Rijsttafel is the 'Nasi Padang'. Padang is a region in Sumatra which is known for its restaurants displaying a couple of dozen of dishes. Since the dishes are cooked for a very long time, the quality of the food and its tastes remain just as good despite being out on the counter all day. If you are in a real Padang restaurant, all dishes will be placed on little plates and served in one go. Your whole table will be covered with all kind of dishes of all kinds of flavors. You only pay for the food you touched and eaten.
In Bali you have the same concept in Warungs such as Ocha, Warung Murah, Warung Indonesia or Warung Lada. But instead of having all the dishes served at your table, you go to the counter to choose what you want. This again is called Nasi Campur.
However there are still a lot of restaurants in Bali that have re-introduced the concept of Rijsttafel. Restaurants such as Ketupat and Poppies in Kuta have it on the menu.
It is the ideal menu to choose for those who enjoy sampling delightful local flavors and want to try more then just the famous Nasi Goreng. You are able to try dishes you otherwise wouldn't know and perhaps you will discover new favorites.
Order it and before you know it your table will be covered with tasty dishes. The golden rule here is to take a little by little so you can go for a second serving after tasting them all.
Examples of dishes included in a Rijsttafel are:
Satay Ayam -- bbq chicken skewers with peanut sauce or sweet soy sauce
Pisang goreng -- fried banana
Serundeng -- peanuts with coconut especially tasty with yellow rice
Daging smoor -- Beef cooked in spices and sauces
Perkedel -- meat and potato cakes especially taste with white rice
Ikan Pepes -- grilled fish with spices wrapped in banana leaves
Krupuk –- shrimp crackers
Atjar –- sweet and sour vegetable salad
Urab –- Grated coconut with steamed vegetables
Tahu –- fried bean curd
Tempe Goreng –- fried bean curd beans
Telor Sambal Belado –- boiled egg stir-fried in sambal (chilli) sauce
Ayam Kerrie –- chicken in the Indonesian type of curry
And many more…