Tastes Of Bali: Traditional Balinese Dishes

Tastes Of Bali: Traditional Balinese Dishes



Food is the smelting furnace that melts out hunger, anxiety, unhappiness and despair. It is one of those inevitable commonalities that unite the entire human race, and yet in its commonness, food is incredibly diverse among people of different cultures, religions, societies and regions. This is why I enjoy exploring every country I visit through its gastronomic offerings.

Bali, as I have already pointed out in my previous post, is said to be one of the most interesting South East locations for travellers on the food trail. You will find hundreds of restaurants speckled across the small island offering a variety of international cuisines in almost every price range. Some of the cuisines are from nations whose names you would have barely heard of. But where global food makes things interesting, local food is the secret sauce that you should definitely try when visiting Bali.

I share the most affable relationship with Balinese food; my palate {and my stomach} revels in the tastes and flavours of the dishes.

Balinese cuisine is influenced by Indonesian food. In fact the geographical similarities in South East Asia make many dishes common among cuisines through the region which include culinary inspirations from China and India. Bali’s eclectic cuisine is also a product of the cultural differences between the island and the rest of the archipelago. While Bali’s population is mainly Hindu, the rest of the archipelago is predominantly Muslim. This often sees the replacement of beef with pork for obvious religious reasons and some other twists which come from the Hindu way of cooking.

Before I start reminiscing the typical Balinese dishes {or Indonesian foods, which are popularly found on the island}, I am going to quickly familiarize you with the fundamental ingredients which are a part of the cuisine.

Rice is all-pervading. It accompanies almost every dish and is one of the most exported products {Bali’s beautiful rice paddies are a UNESCO World Heritage site}. Spices are the soul of Balinese cuisine. Black and white pepper is generously used by the locals, and not very far behind is the use of coriander, cumin, nutmeg, sesame seeds and candlenut. These seeds are crushed and mixed together in a fish paste which forms a sauce called Basa Gede or Bumbu Bali which in turn is the foundation ingredient in many local dishes.

Fragrant roots like shallot, garlic, galangal, turmeric and ginger are also significantly used in the cuisine. And then there is the endless love of chillies in Balinese dishes. Chilli also happens to be the base ingredient in one of the most popularly used sauces called Sambal. Palm sugar is widely used for sweetening desserts – I must tell you that the Balinese have a very sweet tooth. And the final ingredient that I have added to my list of fundamental ingredients is fish paste which is common in many South East Asian cuisines. This paste is prepared with fermented fish which gives a delectable aroma to many Balinese dishes.

Without ruminating further on the ingredients, let me present to you, my lovely readers, Bali’s most traditional and most popular dishes:

  1. Nasi Goreng, Mie gorengNasi Campur orNasi Bali

These dishes are found throughout South East Asia under different names, and are very popular among tourists visiting the island. I am not surprised that their popularity and ubiquity doesn’t end in the island.

Nasi Goreng, translated to “fried rice”, uses garlic, tamarind, shallots, kecap manis {sweet soy sauce}, fish sauce {usually shrimp sauce}, and chilli. It is served with fried egg, or chicken or shrimps or vegetables or even dried salted fish. This is a simple dish and yet the flavours and deliciousness of the food makes it a favourite among locals and tourists.

Mie Goreng, meaning “fried noodles”, is the noodle version of the above dish. The rice is replaced by the noodles and everything else remains as is including the flavoursome taste of the dish.

Nasi Campur or Nasi Bali is another Indonesian dish which has garnered a lot of popularity among tourists. In its beautiful simplicity, this dish is a portion of rice served with various side dishes which consist of meat, vegetables, fish, tempeh and other Balinese dishes. Most restaurants will let you choose a side dish of your choice from the ones that are ready and displayed on the counters.

270c Nasi Goreng

270d Mie Goreng


  1. Lawar

This typical Balinese dish is usually served as an accompaniment for the famous Babi Guling. It is prepared from a mix of vegetables, grated coconut, minced meat, and an assortment of herbs and spices. Every village on the island has perfected its own recipe for the dish and so have the restaurants or warung where you can enjoy this dish.

270e Lawar


  1. Babi Guling

This dish is characteristic of Bali’s culinary techniques. The famous roasted suckling pig uses a piglet {which ideally shouldn’t be weaned, although it usually is} which is generously covered in turmeric and stuffed with basa gede and a variety of spices. The dish gets its delectable flavour when the piglet is slowly roasted on a spit to tender perfection. Warung Ibu Oka in Ubud is one of the most famous places for this dish. The piglet is served sliced and comes with some crispy skin, sate and intestines served alongside the dish. The Babi Guling is served in the traditional way and is a strict no-no for the squeamish and faint hearted.

270f Babi Guling


  1. Bebek Betutu

As I look deeper into the gastronomic offerings of Bali, I find another dish which should be on your list of must-trys when visiting the island. Bebek Betutu is traditionally served in many Hindu ceremonies. The duck {or chicken – Ayam Betutu}, is cooked very slowly to extract the fragrance of the marinade and ensure perfect tenderness of the meat. It has to be ordered a day in advance to allow the dish to be cooked perfectly. The marinade consists of tamarind paste and salt which render softness to the meat and extracts the typical wild smell from it. The bird is then cleaned and stuffed with eggs, cassava leaves and a wonderful selection of spices. The slow cooking results in a remarkable taste and flavour of spices infused with the meat.

270g Bebek Betutu


  1. Sate Lilit

The meat and fish skewers served in many of the Balinese restaurants are inspired from the famous Satay which is popular throughout South East Asia. But there is one small change which brings a vast difference in tastes – the skewers. While most of Southeast Asia uses metal skewers, the Balinese have very creatively put bamboo cane, sugarcanes and even lemongrass sticks to use by turning them into skewers. The sate is made of minced meat {pork or fish, and rarely beef or chicken} combined with grated coconut, coconut milk, lemon juice, shallots and pepper to give the meat flavour and taste which makes it delightful every time you take a bite.

270h Sate Lilit


  1. Soto Babi

Soto is usually named as Indonesia’s national food. This soup is popular throughout the archipelago with variations occurring in the use of meat. Bali’s inclination towards pork makes the Soto Babi a soup that uses pork for the meat and stock.

270i Soto Babi


  1. Gado Gado

Indonesians love their vegetables as much as they love rice and meat. Gado Gado is a vegetable salad made of steamed vegetables, boiled eggs, tempeh {fermented and boiled soy beans} and fried tofu, served with a peanut sauce topping. This healthy salad is delicious too but you may just want to keep your camera away because good looks are not its forte.

270j Gado Gado


  1. Bakso

The Balinese love their Bakso {so what if it did not originate in Bali?} and evidently this broth with meatballs is also one of the favourite street foods of the island. Pre-cooked meatballs or fish balls are kept ready so that they can quickly be boiled and served in meat broth {mainly pork in Bali}. The dish is usually served with yellow noodles, sautéed vegetables, tofu, boiled eggs and other ingredients. Variations are common throughout Bali.

270n Bakso


  1. Bubur Injin

Wondering how the desserts in Bali look? Bubur Injin, or black rice pudding, is a traditional Balinese dessert which is made from a mix of black and white glutinous rice. Sweetened with palm sugar and flavoured with coconut milk and pandan leaves, this pudding has a heavenly taste. The Balinese prefer Bubur Injin to be served hot with coconut cream and banana slices to enhance its taste.

270k Bubur Injin


  1. Martabak

The Balinese love their desserts but did I tell you that they love it so much that they even came up with a savoury version of it? The martabak manis is a thick pancake which is usually stuffed with chocolate or bananas and is then fried in butter. The savoury martabak telur is a snack derived from this dish. It is a crepe filled with eggs, onions, meat, herbs and spices. You will come across both variants at the food stalls on many streets.

270l Martabak


  1. Kopi Luwak

My mention of the popular foods of Bali is incomplete without the famous Kopi {coffee} Luwak. The popularity of this coffee is accredited to two factors. The first being its price which puts it at the top of the list of the most expensive coffees in the world {up to 1000 dollars per kilo}, and second, the fact that the beans are first ingested, partly digested and then defecated by the palm civet. The process of digestion neutralizes the coffee acids giving it a distinctively bitter taste making it a coffee lover’s dream cuppa.

270m Kopi Luwak


End note: Looking at Bali through the eyes of a food enthusiast gave me the chance to savour some of the most delicious foods of the island. On the food trail, I also discovered cooking techniques unique to the island like the skewers used in Sate Lilit – a miniscule change – which brings a remarkable difference in tastes. From authentic Balinese food to international cuisines, I loved the food in Bali and I look forward to more trips that help me explore the local flavours.

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *


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