Bali has become a popular tourist destination among bloggers and influencers. It seems as if everyone has their own recommendations about where to stay and what to see while visiting this South East Asian paradise. Although we found plenty of information about how to find hotels, tours and “instagramable” spots, the topic of Balinese cuisine was not as prevalent.
During our trip, we learned that dining in Bali is not a social experience. In fact, most people don’t have the chance to enjoy an authentic Balinese meal unless they are invited into someones home.
When Chef Heinz Von Holzen moved to Bali, he also realized this. As a result, he opened Bumbu Bali Restaurant. The goal of his restaurant was to bridge the gap between visitors and authentic cuisine. Bumbu Bali is now internationally renowned for its distinct Balinese flavors and cooking classes that help educate tourists.
We had the pleasure of dining at Bumbu Bali Art Cafe and we truly felt as if Chef Heinz and his family had opened their home to us. After a delicious meal and drink with Chef Heinz, we were inspired to delve deeper into the world of Balinese cuisine and learn about how it differed from the food found on other Indonesian islands.
What We Learned
To give you a bit of background, Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. In fact, over 87% of the countries population adheres to Islam. And although less than 2% of Indonesians practice Hinduism, 83% of Bali’s population is Hindu. To put it simply, Bali is home to most of the countries religious minority.
As such, Balinese Hindus are very proud to share their life with tourists. The “Eat, Pray, Love” phenomenon has only added to the islands appeal and Bali has become a Mecca for yogis, spiritualists and tourists seeking cultural immersion. While it is easy for Balinese guides to take tourists to temples and art markets, sharing immersive food experiences is a little more difficult. Although we practically begged our tour guides to take us to roadside warungs, (food carts), we were discouraged from dining at many of these small eateries. Instead we received a stern warning about the unpleasant sickness known as “Bali Belly” which is said to plague tourists.
TIP: Roadside eats aren’t the only thing that can get you sick. The water in Indonesia is not safe to drink, so you may want to pack a life straw to filter the tap water during your travels.
Things To Try
Instead of risking food poisoning on our honeymoon, we stuck to sit down restaurants. Because we knew that Hinduism prohibits the consumption of beef, we knew that restaurants serving beef versions of local cuisine were tourist traps.
Instead, we looked for traditional restaurants serving chicken (ayam), duck (bebek) and pork (babi). So what are some of these island specialties we were be looking for? Check out our list below:
The salak fruit is nick named “snakefruit” because of its scale like skin that sheds off, much like a serpents. This interesting fruit is native to Bali. To eat it, take the tiny tip between your fingers and twist it until it starts to peel. Be careful as the skin is sharper than you might think.
Inside, you will find a fruit shaped similarly to garlic cloves. The fruit has the consistency and mellow taste of an apple or other tree fruit. We enjoyed this as a morning addition to our breakfast or muddled into our cocktails in the evening.
Babi Guling, or suckling pig roast, is a Balinese delicacy. Because of the expense and labor required to roast a whole animal, Babi Guling is not typically cooked at home. Instead, you will find locals go to a roadside warung to order a portion of the meat or reserve a whole pig for a ceremonious occasion. Unlike Kalua Pork or other island roasts, Babi Guling has a spicer rub and is served with the crunchy skin, similar to Mexican chicharrónes.
Lawar is the vegetable and minced meat dish often served alongside Babi Guling. Although Lawar is found all over South East Asia, the dish originated in Bali. Distinctive elements of Lawar include the presence of green beans, coconut and oftentimes animal blood for added flavor.
If Lawar sounds a bit too exotic for you, we recommend ordering betutu. Betutu is a roasted poultry dish made of chicken (ayam) or duck (bebek). Typically, the bird is stuffed with a traditional spice mix and wrapped in plantain leaves to keep it moist during the cooking process. This dish is easy to find on hotel and restaurant menus because it is palatable to many kinds of tourists, but the best indicator authenticity is the spice factor. Traditional betutu makes Nashville Hot Chicken look mild!
Developed as a street food, sate (or satay) is one of the more recognizable dishes found in Bali. The seasoned skewers can be made of various types of seafood or meat and is typically served with various sauces. Unlike the skewers popular in Thailand or Singapore we were surprised at how spicy the sate dishes were in Bali. We loved how it was always served over a mini charcoal grill!
If you follow our blog regularly, you know we always make time for a cup of coffee. Lucky for us, Bali is home to one of the most exotic and expensive coffee types in the world.
Jokingly referred to as “Cat-poo-ccino”, kopi luwak or luwak coffee is made from partially digested coffee berries. Yes, you read that correctly. The beans are harvested from luwak poop. This strange delicacy has become one of the most expensive coffees in the world. It may sound strange, but the history of this production is all too familiar. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Although the exact origins are unclear, the history of Luwak Coffee dates back to the days of Dutch occupation when coffee plantations were established. Being a cash crop, the native islanders were prohibited from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Utilizing the digested beans was a perfect loophole and the rest is history. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We found this story of exploitation and reclamation to be a perfect tale of Bali’s resilience and enjoyed our little cup of history.
One of our favorite treats in Bali was laklak. This traditional rice cake is served with grated coconut and brown sugar syrup. We purchased some fresh from the market and our tour guide showed us how to douse the cakes in the rich, sugary sauce. This treat was perfectly balanced with flavor and tasted somehow sweet and buttery at the same time. Our biggest regret was not purchasing more!
If you find yourself eating something green, with a distinct, earthy flavor, you are probably eating pandan. Pandan is an herbaceous leaf that grows abundantly throughout Southeast Asia. Depending on how it is prepared, the end product can be anywhere from neon to hunter green as seen below. To us, pandan tasted like a nuttier version of matcha.
Needless to say, our trip to Bali was full of flavor. We loved the local cuisine and the warm hospitality it was served with. Have you had the chance to taste any of these treats? If not, which ones would you like to try most? Let us know below!