I visited Bali in March of this year and was super excited to taste the authentic Balinese cuisine. Being a food blogger, I tend to weigh in the dishes in a lot of ways and found that the local food had a lot to offer. Apart from Mei Goreng (Fried noodles) and Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) there is more to Balinese cuisine and I am happy to share a few dishes which I tried and loved. The aromas of various spices and the heat of the chilies still lingers on in my memory. So here is the list:
1. Black Rice Pudding
Being a Bengali and having a sweet tooth always makes me look out for the sweets at a new place. Black Rice Pudding is one of those sweets which is cooked and eaten at major festivals in Bali. Be it birth or death, this is one of the most essential dishes in the Balinese cuisine. The sticky black rice is cooked in jaggery and is served with yellow banana slices and coconut milk. Simple and sweet. The earthy flavours of the black rice and jaggery make it stand out from the other sweets. In fact, I also tried a banana and rice sweet dumpling which was steamed in a banana leaf. Though, I may not go for it again.
2. Pumpkin Soup
Hearty and healthy pumpkin soup is another major staple in the Balinese cooking. A hint of lemongrass with the sweetness of the pumpkins makes it a very flavourful soup. Ideal for the cold mountains of Kintamani where rainfall keeps the temperatures low; the pumpkin soup with the fiery red chili in soy sauce was a saviour.
3. Soto Ayam – clear chicken noodle soup
Ok, this is something which I would love to recreate at home. I just fell in love with the simple flavours of Soto Ayam which had vegetables, protein in the form of chicken and boiled halved eggs and lots of clear soup (chicken broth) flavoured with red chili and lemongrass. It felt like a complete meal. Very nurturing and easy on the palate.
4. Babi Guling – Suckling pork roast
This is the speciality of this island. Normally cooked only on festival days, this dish is now prepared by many warungs (roadside hotels/stalls) to serve the tourists. The dish is a mix of steamed coconut rice, spicy local vegetables (Lawar), with crispy thick skin (caramelized crackling), tender meat, crispy fried intestines and a piece of spicy blood sausage. You can taste the authentic Balinese spices like coriander seeds, lemongrass, Asian lime leaves and Salam leaves, chillies, black pepper, garlic, red shallots, ginger and Kencur (lesser galangal) in this dish. The pig is stuffed with the spices and then roasted over spit fire made from coconut husk or wood.
5. Lawar – mixed vegetable and meat
Lawar is a crunchy mix of vegetables, grated coconut, minced meat or dry shrimps, with various herbs and spices. The locals mix fresh blood sometimes so ask beforehand if it doesn’t appeal to you. It is usually served as an accompaniment to Babi Guling but you can eat it as a standalone dish or with steamed rice. It is served at many warungs as snacks. Yes, Bali people snack on rice and lawar. They do not grow wheat. Whatever form of bread you will see there is imported from other islands. If you want to try some sweet savoury lawar then go for young jackfruit lawar.
6. Satay – Chicken/Fish/Pork
Another popular snack in Bali is various forms of Satay. Meat is pounded with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, tamarind or cumin seeds and pastes of condiments in a mortar and pestle. You will find the flavours of peanut, coconut and lemongrass in almost everything. Readymade satay paste is also available in supermarkets which is known as Satte Bumbu. The seasoned meat is shaped around thick skewers and barbequed before being served with the sambal sauce. The Barbeques are small tin instrument which have hot coals at the bottom and a hand fan to release the heat. Sambal Matah (raw) sauce is a tangy and spicy sauce which also has shrimp paste. Sambal Sauce has few variants, most popular being the raw Sambal. Satays are popular streetfood in Bali and you can find many street stalls selling them. Even high-end restaurants serve it as accompaniments to the main dish.
7. Bebek Betutu – slow cooked duck
Bebek Betutu is a ceremonial dish in Bali. Bali culture revers pigs, ducks and monkeys. So whenever there is any major festival, pigs and ducks are cooked as an offering to the gods. Don’t know about the monkey yet. And from the ancient times, Bebek Betutu has been served as one of the most revered dishes in the Balinese culture. The duck is marinated with spices and cooked for an entire day on slow heat which releases its juices and makes the meat tender. It is stuffed with eggs, cassava leaves and bumbu rajeng, a spice mix specifically created for this dish. The marinated duck is wrapped in betel husk and slow cooked till the meat falls of the bone.
8. Padang – the Sumatra thali
If you want to taste various local dishes from Sumatra and Bali at one place then head for a restaurant which serves Nasi Padang. It is more like a tasting event. Once you check in and are seated at the table, you don’t have to order for a particular food as the waiter will get everything on offer that day in small dishes. The table will be quickly be set with dozens of small dishes filled with highly flavoured foods such as beef rendang, curried fish, stewed greens, chili eggplant, curried beef liver, tripe, intestines, or foot tendons, fried beef lung, fried chicken, and of course, sambal. As Sumatra Island is majorly a Muslim region so the meat used is halal in these dishes.
9. Be-pasih Goa Lawah – steamed fish
This local delicacy is easy on the stomach but no way is it low in flavours. Local fish like Jacket fish or flying fish is marinated in turmeric, lemon grass and ginger then steamed in a banana leaf. The meat is tender and the dish is full of local flavours. Café Lotus is a good option if you want to try this local steamed fish.
10. Tempeh Goreng- bean curd fried with a sweet sambal sauce
Tempeh Goreng or the bean curd is made into tofu like cubes and then fried. It is served with steamed rice made in coconut milk and sambal. Most warungs offering nasi campur (rice with mixed dishes) will have it among their dishes of the day. Balinese nasi campur is a favourite with locals, who typically have it for breakfast or brunch. Even food carts on a motorized bike sell this to the locals. If you are not too concerned with upsetting your stomach, give it a try the local way.
11. Iga Babi Panggang – glazed pork ribs
Pork is one of the staples in Bali cuisine. And glazed pork ribs are brilliant in every way. Though it isn’t a Bali special as barbequed pork ribs are served all over the world. But the spices used in this pork barbeque ribs like lemongrass, cumin powder and cinnamon make it a sweet and succulent dish with a hint of local spices. Enjoyed it completely.
12. Local fruits
I have tasted few of the juiciest and strangest fruits on this island. The colours, the textures, the taste, everything is vivid and nice. These tropical fruits are available in other places as well like Singapore, Bangkok, etc. But if you are keen to taste them here then just go for it. The Dragon Fruit has purple, seeded pulp which is mildly sweet. Rambutan is the hairy lychee fruit which has a soft white juicy flesh and so does the Mangosteen. I fell in love with this tangy sweet juicy fruit. Then there is Salak which has a skin like snake skin. It was a Durian Season so tried that as well. In our guide’s own language, “It tastes like heaven but smells like hell.” If you are ok eating jackfruit then eating Durian should not be a task.
What do you think about these dishes? Did I miss out on any speciality? Do leave a comment below.