Balinese Food Culture

bali-dining-cuisine

Your gastronomical experience in Bali is as enchanting and full of discovery as your cultural experience. I am a total believer that a significant portion of traveling should also involve your tastebuds. Of course, if you prefer to stick with cheeseburger or a Colonel Sanders’ meal-deal, or to drink your regular Bud light in your Hard Rock Cafe, they all exist in Bali as well. But we know that’s not why you come to Bali, is it?

Let us take this culinary adventure (would you care for the java of Bali first?):

What’s in a Balinese meal?

Well, typically, a meal consists of a plate of steamed rice, and a number of main courses. Instead of eating one course at a time a la Western meals, the main courses, and sometimes including the soup, are all eaten at once. Soup is poured over the rice much like a steak sauce is poured over the steak. Desserts are mostly tropical fruits, which by themselves are enough of a feast and a reason to visit Bali!

Balinese usually eat three meals in a day, with lunch as the primary, heaviest meal. Breakfast can be as light as a cup of coffee (which is usually not light), or a plateful of “nasi goreng” or fried rice. Lunch is the heaviest meal, with a plate of steam rice (or a mound if you prefer), accompanied by a number of main courses, usually consisting of a meat or fish dish, a vegetable dish, and a soup. Dinner is a smaller version of lunch. Desserts for both lunch and dinner can vary from various kinds of fruits, depending on the season, to a specially prepared dessert like pisang goreng (fried banana fritters) or tape (fermented sticky rice).

Rice

As a Balinese grandmother used to say, you haven’t had a complete meal unless you have had rice. Rice is the basic food for most of Asians. But it is more than that for Balinese – it is the basis of life itself. One of the most respected goddesses in Bali and certainly the most popular is Dewi Sri – the goddess of rice. The rituals of rice, from planting to harvesting are an important part of a Balinese life.

Steamed rice

But we digress. How do Balinese prepare rice? First and foremost, to guarantee absolute freshness, threshing rice is done daily by the women of the family. In a clay pot, you wash the result twice, enough to clean it yet does not wash out the taste. You pour water until it is about one joint of your middle finger above the surface of the rice. Covered with a lid, the pot is put on top of a medium fire. When it boils, you slide the lid a little bit, allowing the steam to escape. When the water is gone (but the rice still looks very wet and sticky), you lower the fire and keep the pot there for a few minutes. You will get a delicious, aromatic, and moist steamed rice that even the royalties of Bali will appreciate.

Of course, if you can’t manage your daily rice threshing, or a clay pot, the modern stainless steel version would do. Or a rice cooker, if you must.

Fried rice

Besides steamed rice, Balinese also eat a lot of fried rice, usually for breakfast. The idea is that you fry rice that you have left over from the previous night. It is simple to prepare, yet it has such a glamour.

First, you heat oil in a large wok, throwing in chopped shallots to flavor and to add a nice aroma into the oil. Then you put things that you want in the fried rice. You can put shrimp or pork or vegetables. Next comes the rice. You add salt to taste and pour a good amount of soysauce until the color turns brown. You can also add chili pepper to taste. Leave it for a few minutes, and it’s done.

Now, the presentation. Balinese like to eat their fried rice with eggs, either a super thin omelette cut into thin slices and mixed with the fried rice, or a sunny-side up (we call it “mata sapi” – cow’s eyes, literally). Additionally, you slice cucumber into thin slices, and decorate the sides of the plate with them. Lastly, add a touch of fried shallots and a krupuk. With a glass of es teh manis (iced tea, sweetened), you are ready for a wonderful breakfast. This is childhood memory of Sunday morning for many Indonesians…

If you are not ready to do all the cooking above, any decent restaurants or hotels will gladly prepare it for you.

Soups

There are different kinds of soups:

Bakso: chicken or beef broth, usually accompanied by various kinds of spices. It usually has either fish balls or meat balls. Bubur ayam (Chicken porridge): thick rice porridge with chicken pieces. Usually served with cah-weh (a Chinese bread).

Main course Bebek betutu (Darkened duck):
Sate (satay)
Babi guling (Roast pork)
Babi Panggang a la Karo (Karo-style Barbeque Pork)

Desserts

The primary desserts in Bali as well as in the rest of Indonsia is fruit, which is available in more varieties than you can think of. There are literally tens or even hundreds of different kinds of bananas alone, from a small, pinky-sized, gold-colored bananas to a foot or foot-and-a-half, dark green ones.

One favorite dessert is pisang goreng or fried banana fritter. Traditionally, my mother would make pisang goreng for afternoon snack. And you can find numerous street vendors who would make these and other snacks out in the open air (with all the dusts from bemo spicing the food).

Another traditional dessert is tape (ketan or ubi) or fermented sticky rice or cassava. This dessert is made by first steaming the sticky rice or boiling the cassava, pouring ragi or yeast powder to help the process of fermentation, and storing it for several days to allow the fermentation process to take place. The result is a sweet (if you do it right), delicious, and aromatic tape ketan or tape ubi. (Incidentally, the side product of a tape making process is the wine that comes out of the rice that becomes a light alcohol beverage called brem).

Drinks

There are various kinds of beverages that are unique to Bali or to Indonesia.

Cendol:
jello-like consistency, green pieces of tapioka, mixed with water and santan or coconut milk, and sweetened by a liquified gula jawa or brown sugar.
Es campur (Mixed drink):
somewhat similar to cendol, but it contains a variety of things. In addition to different kinds of tapioka products, sometimes people different kinds of fruits like avocado, nangka or jackfruit, etc.
Air kelapa muda (Young coconut juice):
Fruit juice: you can find various kinds of fruit juice drinks, from papaya to markisah (passion fruit) to sirsak (Dutch durian).

For alcoholic beverages, there are two primary drinks:

Brem (Rice wine):
As described above, brem is a by-product of tape. The wine comes out of the rice because of fermentation. Arak:
arak is a kind of hard liquor. It is fermented from the sap of a special kind of palm tree.

Additionally, there are variants of non-alcoholic beverages above that have met Balinese creativity and outside influence, resulting in various kinds of interesting drinks. Air kelapa muda (young coconut juice) with various kinds of liquors like rum or tequila can be found in many restaurants, presented attractively in the coconut fruit itself. And what can be more interesting than a Pina-Colada like drink served inside a freshly cut out pineapple?

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