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Balinese Cuisine

September 8, 2018 Dining No Comments Email Email

Regarded as one of the most vibrant, colourful and complex cuisines in the world, authentic Balinese food is steeped in the divine rituals of the devout Balinese-Hindu belief. While different areas of the island have different specialties, the common factor is an elaborate blend of fresh ingredients, intricate flavours and aromatic spices accomplished with an extraordinary dedication to preparation and cookery. Everyday Balinese fare is comprised of rice, vegetables, egg and maybe a little meat or fish; this is known as ‘Nasi Campur’, and is usually cooked in the early morning, and consumed whenever the need arises. In contrast, ceremonial food is prepared in an elaborate and decorative manner, and is eaten communally. Women prepare the daily meal, but only men may prepare the festival dishes, with the creation of a ritual feast being a full day’s work. Some of the traditional dishes are as old as the culture itself, yet there is no written history of Balinese food. None of the ancient recipes for daily food or for extraordinary festival cuisine were recorded in cookery books or mentioned in the sacred lontar palm-leaf manuscripts.

The foundation of an authentic Balinese meal is rice. Sauces are created with coconut milk and the fundamental coriander, pepper and garlic. Flavoursome curries rely on freshly ground spices; common seasonings include ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and tamarind. Balinese ‘Bumbu’ is a basic spice paste that varies from village to village. Created from shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, pepper, coriander, candlenuts, chillies and lemongrass, together with salted and fermented shrimp, it is used to enliven and add depth to dishes. Hot fresh chilli can be found in fiery accompanying sauces known as sambals, and peanuts are typically present as a garnish, or ground into a paste to form a sweet and spicy peanut sauce.

Bali’s most famous delicacy is ‘Babi Guling’ – a festive dish comprising slow-cooked spit roasted pig stuffed with aromatic leaves, onion, garlic and peppercorns, brushed with crushed turmeric. The pig can only be roasted as a whole because it will be rolled (guling) over the fire, so it was originally a communal dish. Nowadays, however, it can now be found at specialist babi guling ‘warungs’ (eateries) and in restaurants.

‘Lawar’ is a spicy raw meat mash. Usually served with babi guling and steamed rice, this mix of vegetables, coconut and minced meat is packed with rich herbs and spices, including shrimp paste, ground pepper and green beans. Red lawar contains blood to intensify the taste, while white lawar doesn’t contain blood and often substitutes meat with jackfruit.

‘Betutu’ is a whole duck (bebek betutu) or chicken (ayam betutu) stuffed with an intricate mixture of spices including garlic, ginger and chilli, as well as shallots, peanuts and more, before being wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a coconut-husk-fuelled earth-oven. This specialty takes at least eight hours to prepare. It is usually served with a tangy lemon sauce, together with traditional accompaniments, and is renowned for yielding a rich flavour in every bite. Fit for a king, legend has it that betutu was once the favourite meal of Balinese royalty.

‘Sate Lilit’ is a serving of small kebabs of spiced, minced meat or seafood with an infusion of coconut, pressed onto a lemongrass skewer, barbequed in the traditional style on hot coals, and served with peanut sauce. ‘Pepes Ikan’ is a dish of fragrant, spiced local fish, traditionally wrapped, steamed and baked in banana leaf packages; the juices are contained inside the parcel and the experience is an explosion of moist smoky flavour. ‘Gado-gado’ is a warm, fresh salad consisting of blanched, mixed vegetables, boiled potato, tofu, tempe, and hard-boiled egg served with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. ‘Ayam Plecing’ is shredded chicken with snake beans, onion sambal and red shallots, while spicy salads include ‘Urab’ – a finely chopped medley of raw beans and chillies mixed with shrimp paste, shallots and grated coconut.

Balinese desserts include ‘Kue Dadar’, which are little crepe parcels filled with palm sugar, vanilla and grated coconut. ‘Bubuh Injin’ is a sweet and sticky black rice pudding, named after the colour of the rice husk and served with coconut milk sauce. ‘Pisang Goreng’ is banana fried in batter and served with syrup, and ‘Es Campur’ is fruit salad with shredded ice. Finally, ‘Jajan Pasar’ is the name given to classic market-style cakes.

If you would like to try some traditional Balinese cuisine, InterContinental Bali Resort offers its visitors and guests the opportunity to enjoy a sumptuous Balinese feast every Saturday evening at ‘Magic of Bali’ cultural dinner, accompanied by ‘Barong’, ‘Sekar Jepun’, ‘Cendrawasih’ and ‘Margapati’ dance performances.

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