Real Balinese food is not readily available to tourists unless a Balinese family invites the tourist to a meal or he goes to a temple. Restaurants catering for tourists do not serve authentic Balinese dishes, nor do hotels. The reason is that there is too much preparation, large quantities have to be prepared and it has to be eaten when it is fresh. It is often spicy and very tasty. The Balinese traditionally used banana leaves as plates.

Balinese chickens are much healthier and have the taste of real chicken, but can be tougher than Western battery-fed chickens. Battery-fed chickens only live for 41 days, specially and artificially bred to produce large chunks of breast and short legs. The rush is now on to reduce the period of 41 days.

There are a number of rules concerning food, drink and behavior. Cake is always served with coffee or tea, nuts and krupuk with rice wine, and tea, water or tuak with the meal. The host does not usually eat with guests

The Balinese eat with their right hand, as the left is impure, a common belief throughout Indonesia. The Balinese do not hand or receive things with their left hand and would not waive at anyone with their left hand.

Famous Balinese dishes
Famous Balinese dishes are:

traditionally cooked by men, who chop up strips of turtle or mango or coconut, add various spices and mix it with uncooked blood, so that it is red.

Babi Guling
roast suckling pig is a great favourite amongst the Balinese, although the pigs are usually too old to be suckling – from three to six months old, they are stuffed with spices, impaled on a wooden pole and turned over a fire of coconut husks and wood for one or two hours.

Bebek Betutu
duck stuffed with spices and vegetables, wrapped in a banana leaf, and cooked for three or four hours, this dish is eaten on special occasions.

a refreshing sweet and sour salad containing unripe fruit such as mango or papaya, mixed with sugar, chill and salt.

There are some common sauces:

Sambal very spicy chili seasoning.

Kecap asin sour soy sauce.

Kecap manis sweet soy sauce.

There are a number of desserts:

Black rice pudding also known as tofu: soy bean curd.

Jaja crunchy shelled soy beans that have been mixed with a special strain of yeast to form a small flat cake, which are then friend – it tastes a bit nutty.

Very tasty, but not spicy, dishes or snacks are:

Tahu or beancurd
also known as tofu: soy bean curd.

Krupuk prawn crackers.

Tempe crunchy shelled soy beans that have been mixed with a special strain of yeast to form a small flat cake, which are then friend – it tastes a bit nutty.

Balinese Drinks
Tuak, arak and brem are the main Balinese home brews:

Tuak is made by cutting the undeveloped flower of either the coconut or the sugar palm tree. You then collect the sugary liquid that exudes into a bamboo container and ferment it. Fermented palm tree juice is drunk all over tropical Asia, Africa and America. It is the “toddy” of English colonialists and is drunk in the innumerable small warungs all over the island. It has about the same alcoholic content as beer.

Brem, pronounced “brum”, is rice wine. It can be bought commercially, but ours is home made. Like arak, it is used in almost all ceremonies. It is a pleasant drink and can be drunk neat, over ice or mixed with arak. It is sweet and is made from glutinous rice or sticky rice (as it is also called). The rice is cooked for hours. Yeast is added. It is then allowed to ferment for three days, whereupon the brem drains into a pan. There are commercial factories, but the taste is not so good. It is not exported.

Arak is distilled tuak. It has a much higher alcoholic content and is colourless. It has a very sharp, biting taste. Since there is no fermentation, it can be bottled and sold. As the taste is unpleasant, the Balinese mix it with spices. It can also be added to coffee or mixed with brem. Arak is used as an offering in religious ceremonies. Having no sugar content, arak will keep indefinitely, unlike tuak. It cannot be a coincidence that the Mongols made distilled liquor called airak.

Balinese Wine
In the last few years, local wines have been produced, using Australian grapes. There is red, white and rosé, grown and bottled by two companies, Hatten and Wine of the Gods.

The Balinese use a wide range of ingredients. Instructions on how to prepare them are contained in the article entitled Balinese Recipes.

Fragrant seeds and nuts: Base Wangen

Candlenut: Kemiri
The candlenut is oily and similar to the macadamia. It is obtained from the candlenut tree. It is used for thickening sauces. It is worked into a paste. It tastes nutty and cannot be eaten raw. Substitutes would be cashews, macadamias, almonds, and brazil nuts.

Coriander seeds: Ketumbar
Coriander seeds are used in curries. Freshly ground coriander seeds cool the body and settle the stomach. They can be used as a substitute for pepper.

Long Pepper: Tabiabun
This is a hotter and sweeter type of pepper. It has a similar shape to a chilli pepper.

Cloves: Cengkeh
They grow in the Moluccas in East Indonesia. They have a distinct camphor-like smell. They are used to make the distinct kretek cigarettes in Indonesia.

Nutmeg: Pala
Cloves launched the European spice race. It is sweet, cools the mouth and helps digestion.

Pepper: Merica
Pepper stimulates the appetite. Black pepper is more aromatic than white pepper, but white pepper is hotter.

Sesame Seeds: Lenge
They are ground and used as a thickener. They are from India and are one of the oldest seeds in the world.

The rhizomes and roots: Base Bebungkilan

Galangal: Isen/Lengkuas/Laos
Galangal is a member of the ginger family. It is similar but larger in appearance. It has a sweet, woody smell.

Turmeric: Kunyit
Turmeric grows in the ground and is about one meter high. It has many fingers and is a member of the lily family. The skin of the fingers is brown and the bright orange-yellow colour of the spice is underneath. It is used to give colour to curries. It is also used in herbal medicine for skin problems and cosmetics.

Kunyit is a sacred dye because of its colour. The Balinese grow red, black and white rice in the rice fields. To make yellow rice they colour white rice with kunyit. It is required for certain offerings. Buy small amounts only. For the story of the origin of kunyit, see the article entitled Balinese Rice.

Resurrection Lily: Kencur
Smaller than galangal, it is very fragrant and has a distinct taste that is typical of Balinese food. It is mixed with candlenut, turmeric and garlic to make suna cekoh, which is a delicious seasoning. It is used in herbal remedies. The Thais call it pro hom.

Ginger: Jae
Ginger grows in Bali, but it probably comes from China. Fresh ginger is much better than dried ginger. It helps digestion, stomach aches and sore throats. Store it in a cool place. Break or cut off a piece, then peel before slicing, chopping or crushing.

The Shoots

Torch Ginger: Bongkot
This is a tall, wild ginger. The flowers are pink. The young shoot and bud are known as kecicang and are used for cooking. In some sambals the bud is eaten raw. It can be added to soups or curries as an aromatic. The young shoot can be ground into a paste or bruised and put in whole like lemongrass. It is used with seafood.

Lemon Grass: Sereh
It is a short, thin grass with a distinct lemon flavour. It is related to citronella and has a bulbous root. It is the bulbous root that is used but it is not used much in Balinese cooking, but is used a lot in Thai cuisine. It has vitamins A and D.

The Sour Flavours

Tamarind: Lunak/Asam
Tamarind is a common spice used to give a sour taste. Tamarind trees favour dry areas and are common in Bali. There are many in Singaraja, north Bali. They are very tall, spreading trees with a peculiar, lobed, tan fruit. The tamarind seed is in the fruit. Soak the seed in water and use the solution to give the sour taste to dishes.

See the article entitled Balinese Recipes on how to make tamarind water. The dark red pulp is sold in blocks and can be soaked in water, then strained and the juice used. Rhubarb or lemon juice could be used as substitutes.

Kaffir Lime: Jeruk Purut/Lemu
The leaves and the fruit are both used. The fruit is small and has a strong lime flavour. The leaves, known as daun jeruk purut or daun lemu, are dark green and smooth. The Balinese also use a type of lime called calamondin or kalamansi, as it is called in the Philippines. It is smaller than the Thai type.

Sweet and Salty Flavours

Sea Salt: Garam
Sea salt is the only salt used in Balinese cooking. It is produced in the coastal regions, such as Goa Gawah in east Bali. It is added to coconut milk.

Soy Sauce: Kecap Asin/Kecap Manis
The Chinese introduced this to Indonesia. Kecap manis is sweet and is used in marinades, stir-fried vegetables and sambals.

Shrimp paste: Terasi/Belacan
This smelly seasoning is made from fermented crustaceans. In Bali it is fried or roasted. It is stored wrapped in foil in a glass jar and kept in the fridge. It is high in protein.

Palm Sugar: Gula Merah or Gula Bali
This caramelised sugar from the areca palm’s flower bud is widely used. It has iron, vitamin B and is lower in calories than white sugar. Substitutes would be golden syrup or maple syrup.

Chilli: Cabe/Lombok/Tabia Krinyi

Christopher Colombus discovered the chilli in America. He thought it was pepper. The Portuguese brought it to India about 1560. Chilli is an appetite stimulant. The red chillis are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A. The red and green peppers are also rich in vitamin C.

This is the small, hot variety.

This is the larger, milder version.

Tabia Krinying
This is the smallest and hottest and the most popular in Bali. They do not need to be seeded. The red ones are usually the hottest and sweetest.

Garlic and Onions

Red Shallot: Bawang Merah
The Balinese use a lot of onions. The Balinese onion is similar to a shallot but stronger and smaller. They are peeled and finely sliced or pounded with other ingredients. The Balinese believe that onions protect children from black magic. They are used in traditional medicines. They cool the body and help skin problems and infections.

Garlic: Bawang Putih
Balinese garlic is sweeter and smaller than in the west. They are usually smashed and chopped up with a cleaver or ground into a paste with other spices. It is sometimes deep fried and added with deep-fried coconut for extra flavour.

Fried onions: Bawang Goreng
Small golden pieces of onion are frequently added to dishes, including rice.

Herbs and Leaves
Bay leaf

The leaves are pointed at both ends. The leaf is medium green on top, lighter on the underside, with veins on the bottom.

Pandan Leaf: Daun Pandan Harum
The Pandan leaf is used primarily for desserts, like black rice pudding. The leaves are long and spear-shaped. Rice can be steamed with pandan leaves. Water boiled with pandan leaves is very refreshing. Pandan is a cooling ingredient in traditional medicines. It helps with bleeding gums and skin disease.

Hoary Basil: Kemangi
This is added to yellow rice for special occasions, such as the day after Saraswati Day.

Salm Lead: Daun Salam
This leaf has a distinctive flavour and is usually used dried. It has a subtle flavour