Rice or ‘nasi’ is the staple – it constitutes up to 90% of each meal – and is usually served first, followed by small portions of the other dishes called ‘lauk’, which are placed in the middle of the table for everyone to share. The tropical vegetables, fish and meat (almost always chicken) are strongly flavoured and regarded as a garnish to the rice rather than the core of the meal.
Fresh tofu and tempeh (made from the soy bean) were invented in Indonesia and are also eaten daily. Particularly popular dishes are ‘babi guling’ (suckling pig), smoked duck, gado-gado (a salad of boiled vegetables with peanut sauce), bubur (rice porridge, common for breakfast) and nasi goreng (fried rice).
The most popular spices are chili, turmeric, onion, garlic, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, torch ginger and kaffir lime – they’re purchased fresh daily from the market and are made into pastes to flavour the different dishes. Coconut is also a hugely common and versatile ingredient; the flesh is grated, the oil used for frying, and the milk is used as a rich enhancement to a sauce.
There are many different recipes for sambal, a chili paste that’s an accompaniment to any meal. It’s said that many Indonesians are so addicted to sambal that they’ll take a jar of it with them whenever they go travelling overseas!
Cooking at Home
Normally cooking happens only once a day in Bali, in the early morning, and it isn’t unusual to smell fish sauce and fried garlic before you’ve smelled your coffee!
The Balinese women are in charge of cooking for the household. They rise at around 5am in order to boil rice; they then go to the market for fish, vegetables and spices, and have food ready for the family by 7am. They prepare several dishes at once, to be consumed along with grated coconut, peanuts, and spicy sambal three times during the day – that is, for breakfast, at around 11am and again when the sun goes down.
What to Eat While You’re Here
If you find yourself in a local eatery and feel unsure what to order, ‘nasi campur’ is usually a good bet – it’s a plate of rice served with small helpings of three or four different dishes, and the variety is usually delicious (‘enak’).
It’s the native spices, fragrant roots and leaves that make Balinese cuisine unique. These can be overpowering at first, but it doesn’t take long to acquire the taste. Once that happens, look out, you’re hooked!