Indonesia is often referred to as the world’s largest archipelago, the name aptly represents its 17,000 islands which span more than 5,000 kilometers eastward from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke in Irian Jaya.
As the most popular destination in Indonesia, Bali has long been recognized for its cultural and spiritual elements, but recently culinary travelers have added it to their list as the traditional flavors work in harmony to reflect the diversity of the island. While Southeast Asian cuisines may offer a similar selection of dishes, Balinese varieties have unique twists of tantalizing flavors, and each dish has a different meaning, often used for ceremonies.
Bali represents the culture and island’s flavor mix that has been brought by trans-migrants through centuries, from across Indonesia and beyond. It is clearly visible when walking down to the streets, the food-seeker can find Nasi goreng, Beef Rendang, Sate and Babi Guling – some of the more famous Indonesian street food stalls.
Some areas of Bali that are famous for its distinctive cuisine are Jimbaran, Kuta, Singaraja, Karangasem and Ubud. Jimbaran offers the freshest seafood dishes, focusing only on locally sourced produce, whilst Ubud is home to the some of the most authentic suckling pig (Babi Guling) – it is also a remarkable village where one can witness the beauty of locals in harmony with the renowned tranquil atmosphere.
Here is a look into some of the famous and exotic dishes that you must try at least once while in Bali. Selamat makan!
Babi Guling or suckling pig, is one of Bali’s most famed dishes. The pig is stuffed and infused with a concoction of various herbs and spices like galangal, turmeric, coriander seed, lemongrass, shallot, garlic–and traditionally spit-roasted. Diners tend to love the pieces of beautifully crisp pork skin that absorbs the spice during the cooking process.
Served with a bowl of white steamed rice, urap/lawar (called Urab in Java, Balinese called lawar), steamed vegetables mixed with Balinese seasoning and spiced grated coconut, some pork crackling–the mouth-watering of crispy skin– and bone broth with a few chunks of bone-gristle which could also include pumpkin or jack fruit.
Try it at: Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 3
Jalan Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud
Ayam means chicken and Betutu is the cooking technique which takes around two hours. The chicken is wrapped in banana leaves, marinated and steamed with lots of herbs, spices and shrimp paste. It is then grilled and finished over a fire (generally, coconut husk are used for the fire wood) so that the moisture is kept and the chicken comes out extremely juicy and soft.
One portion of Nasi Ayam Betutu is typically served with urap/lawar, plecing kangkung (blanched water spinach with sambal merah (chilli dressing), sambal matah – most popular Balinese spicy dressing, made of chopped chillies and shallots mixed with coconut oil (extremely spicy!) and roasted peanuts.
Try it at: Ayam Betutu khas Gilimanuk
Jalan Raya Tuban No. 2X, Tuban, Kuta.
Sate, or Satay means grilled meat (commonly, it’s beef, lamb, pork or chicken) skewered onto wooden sticks and grilled over coconut husks. Traditionally served with fresh peanut sauce or kecap manis (thick sweet soya sauce).
Another dish you cannot miss is Sate Lilit. Minced fish or chicken mixed with grated coconut and spices wrapped on a bamboo skewer and grilled, served with sambal matah.
Try it at: Sate Babi Bawah Pohon – Pork Satay
Jalan Dewi Sri – Campuhan I, Kuta.
Seafood by the beach
A walk through Jimbaran reveals plenty of local warungs and fancy restaurants which offer dinner under the moonlight. Plenty of choices for seafood await, including lobsters, prawns, clams, squid and many varieties of round and flat fish they catch in the local water.
Kedonganan Fish Market opens in the early morning. Here, the fishermen sell their catch of the day and the diners can buy directly from the local fish market at a cheap price. After that, bring all the seafood you bought to the small local restaurants adjacent to the market, overlooking the ocean, where they will grill, bake or sauté it for you. Go around 4 pm for an early dinner because these restaurants close shop around 8pm.
Try it at: Warung Bu Wiwin – Grilled Fish & Cooking Services
Kedonganan Market, Jimbaran (located in the corner of the market and facing beach)
Nasi Campur means white rice and a mix of several side dishes such as spiced chicken, urap, sate lilit and sambal. This dish is usually comprised of large chunks of chicken, chicken liver, stir-fried peanuts mixed with grated coconut and sambal merah – fried concoction of red chilies mixed with shallots and garlic and muddled in a traditional way with paddle and mortar. (called cobek).
Try it at : Nasi Ayam Kedewatan Ibu Mangku
Jalan Raya Kedewatan No. 18, Ubud.
Balinese Pork Ribs
It’s difficult not to fall in love with these finger-licking pork ribs served in a special barbeque sauce. The cooking process is quite similar as the Babi Guling method. The ribs must first be boiled and smeared with barbeque sauce then grilled over the coconut charcoal. The coconut smoke adds another distinct flavor element to the ribs.
Try it at: Naughty Nuri’s
Jalan Raya Sanggingan NO. 88X, Ubud.
Jalan Mertanadi no .62, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta Utara.
This spicy flavored meat dish uses a mixture of various herbs and spices in a four hour cooking process to dry and heavily caramelize the ingredients. At room temperature, Beef Rendang can last for weeks. Visitors will find many Padang restaurants on Bali’s roads, typically open 24 hours, as well as in the form of souvenirs to bring home for their loved ones.
Try it at: Restorant Padang Sederhana
Jalan Raya Uluwatu No. 19, Jimbaran.
Gado – Gado
This is an authentic dish to the Betawi (name for native Jakartans). Mixed together in a peanut sauce dressing with a hard-boiled egg, vegetables such as long beans, bean sprouts, spinach, corn, potatoes and cabbage pair with fried tofu and tempeh (soya bean cake).
Gado-gado is widely available in many warungs and even in high-end restaurants. It is usually served with tipat, the rice rolled inside banana leaf, commonly used as a food replacement for steamed rice (if you don’t like tipat, you can change your side to rice), fried shallot and crackers.
Try it at: Kafé Betawi
Mal Bali Galeria
Jalan I Gusti Ngurah Rai
Bakso or “meatballs” is a very popular food in Indonesia. The meatballs are served in beef bone broth with rice vermicelli or yellow noodles, cabbage, bean sprouts and sprinkled with fried shallots, celery, kecap manis and sambal. Although, it can also be made from pork or chicken meat, bakso is usually made from beef. The beef is grounded and mixed with a little tapioca flour, shaped into balls and then boiled in steaming water.
In Bali, there are many varieties of bakso – but because the Balinese have religious dietary restrictions on beef, many local warungs swap the beef for chicken or pork.
Try it at: Warung Nyoman – Soto Bakso
Gg. Kuta Theatre, Pasar Kuta.
The ultimate “must-try” dish while you are in Bali is Nasi goreng or literally “fried rice.” A plate of fried rice complemented with eggs, sliced chicken, chilli, spice paste, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), chili sauce, vegetables and crackers.
Another version is mixed with salted dried-fish, goat meat, seafood, sausages or anything else you may choose. This simple, yet tasty dish will surely make your belly full and happy.
Try it at: Nasgor Gila Kuta
Jalan Mertanadi No. 8