What is Sembako? Simple Explanation about 9 Important Essentials

Have you ever heard about Sembako? It’s something that came as an understanding for everyone in Indonesia after 1998. It is also known as “Sembilan bahan pokok”. In English this translates to the “Nine Essentials”.

This term has been around for a while, but nowadays with a pandemic it’s often mentioned again. I wanted to explain this term as I am from Indonesia and wanted to say something about it.

The Nine Essentials

The Nine Essentials were determined by communities that are actually needed. Especially during the month of fasting known as the Ramadan, these are must-have Sembako at home. Not only during the Ramadan but now also during the pandemic, it is important to have essentials at home.

For those in Bali, if you can’t feed yourself I have found 3 charities giving free food or even deliver. If you know somebody please let them know that there is help.

Let’s go over the list of Sembako:


Rice is sembako 1

Like any Asian country, rice is very important. It’s a source food that gives carbs (and 10% protein). Almost all dishes in Indonesia include rice. It’s a way of life for centuries and of course, this is making it one of the nine essentials. Uncooked rice we call “beras”, Cooked rice we call Nasi, and a rice paddy is called “Sawah”.

“Tidak ada nasi, tidak ada makan”.

This is a saying which translates to “If there is no rice, there is no food”. It emphasizes how important rice is for Indonesians.

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil to fry empanada
Cooking Oil

Making tasty dishes involves cooking oil. It is required to (deep/stir) fry almost anything you can think of. Meat, vegetables, eggs. Even Nasi Goreng, fried rice will require some oil. So this too shall be mentioned on the list.

Vegetables and fruits

Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables

Vegetables and fruits are rich in minerals, vitamins that our body needs to grow strong and healthy. These grow freely in nature and also on farms. Vegetables are essential next to rice to have a balanced meal.


Sugar, sembako

Having energy is important to have strength. Sugar is often added to many dishes (especially food from Yogyakarta is sweetened with sugar). I want to say that too much sugar can lead to becoming a diabetic. So take care when it comes to this essential.

Beef/Chicken Meat

chicken and beef meat
chicken and beef meat

Meat, another often must-haves (for non-vegetarians) to have next to their rice. It can be poultry or beef. Both are important in a balanced meal. Meat is good for bringing variety in a dish and packs a lot of protein.


Eggs also Telur in Bahasa

Chicken eggs are easily farmed. Eggs can be used as a versatile way of food. Boiled, fried, salted, sauteed. There are many benefits an egg has, but overall it is rich in protein and very cheap.


Glass of Milk is sembako

Calcium, vitamins, and other minerals. Milk is considered essential as well. Since it is widely available in different ways which also makes it good for cooking, I mean coconut milk.

Kerosine now cooking Gas

Cooking Gas with kettle

A certain time ago, but not too long, Kerosine was used to cook. They used modified jet-fuel with a wick to make cooking possible. Now you can buy ELPIJI (LPG) gas for cooking. Kerosine used to be on the list and is not anymore. But Cooking Gas is still very important as not everyone can cook on firewood.

Iodized Salt

Salt sembako

Getting taste in a dish is easiest done with salt. Don’t add too much though as blood pressure is affected in dishes with a lot of salt. But having salt in the kitchen is a must. I think this goes for everywhere in the world.

These are considered the nine essentials. Some are a bit broad and can be split into more. Since drinking water is not mentioned on the list, I would like to point out that this too is a very important essential. Do drink about ~2 liters of water per day as for an adult.

Some other things might be considered essential that is not in this list. What would you want to add?

Sembako as a term nowadays

During an economic crisis or any natural disaster, Sembako is a means of non-financial social assistance to people and communities. Because now during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sembako can actually be anything, from instant noodles to a bottle of water. Even cigarettes can be counted as Sembako. Indonesia has around 60 Million smokers, around 1/3 of its Population (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_in_Indonesia)

Kerosine and Salt have been removed from the list as of 2017 I was hearing. But I can’t find a source about it as a reference. But Sembilan, meaning the number Nine, means 9 items on the list so I kept that instead of 7.

There we have it, now you know what we are talking about when we mention Sembako. Sembilan Bahan Pokok, the Nine Essentials. Did you learn something new with this post?

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