How adventurous are you when it comes to eating local cuisine when you travel? To me, being immersed in a culture through food is one of the highlights of my travels. I’ve tried salty, oily, milky tea in Mongolia, pigs’ ears sauted in garlic in the Philippines and squirming live octopus tentacles in South Korea – and that’s just in Asia.
Balinese food, particularly in the tourist-crammed areas like Kuta, Legian and Seminyak is not as wacky as the above examples. Compared to countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the cuisine is not overly spicy, however you can request the hot sambal, a fresh chilli concoction as a condiment to compliment any meal. Meals (including breakfast) usually are served with rice and are eaten with a fork in the left hand and a spoon on the right. The spoon serves a dual purpose to cut up any foods (food is usually quite soft and steak is not typical to Balinese cuisine) and scoop up the rice/meat to eat.
A few typical meals in Bali include:
Fried rice, sometimes with chicken and/or seafood, served with a fried egg on top and prawn crackers on the side.
As with Nasi Goreng but with noodles instead of rice.
Indonesian salad of spinach, mung beans, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, and tomato, with sweet peanut sauce as the dressing and prawn crackers on the side. Can be eaten with rice.
(Pronounced Chap Chay)
Chinese-influenced stir fried vegetables.
Satay meat (usually fish or chicken) grilled on skewers, served with a sweet peanut sauce.
Being an island, Bali is rich in seafood and while it is pricey, first-time tourists should visit Jimbaran Bay for a dinner on the beach. Here, a multitude of restaurants compete for clientele, offering a selection of fresh seafood (which you can choose), which is marinated in garlic and chili and grilled.
Michael and I were stuffed with a buffet selection at the Seafood Cafe which included corn soup, a side of vegetables, steamed rice then plates of grilled lobster, fish, prawns, clams and squid. Traditional Balinese dancing topped off the experience. All this cost about 125,000 rupiah in total.
For a cheaper (and arguably just as scrumptious) experience, check out Gong Corner on Poppies Lane. Prices (and taxes/surcharge) vary with each restaurant, but Gong always gets a queue of hungry people thanks to its delicious food served cheaper than other restaurants in the heart of Kuta. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of Western, Indonesian and Chinese-influenced food – we paid on average 53,000 rupiah for two people, including drinks.
Anika Cooking School
Michael and I also did a cooking class in Bali at the Anika Cooking School, which I would highly recommend to any food lover.
Starting off with a trip to the markets, we were acquainted with various herbs used in Balinese cuisine, including four types of garlic, turmeric, chilies, coriander (cilantro), blocks of crushed peanuts mixed with herbs and sugar (for satay sauce) and other mouth-watering ingredients.
Getting back to the school (which also doubled as a hotel and spa), we were treated to fresh hibiscus tea and a few very sweet desserts, including sticky rice balls rolled in grated coconut and liquid palm sugar that burst in your mouth once you bit into it.
The only downside of the cooking school was that we were not able to do the cooking process from start to finish – a lot of the ingredients had been chopped already for us, leaving us to do only some momentary mortar and pestle work and stirring. However, this was balanced by the fact that we saw all the dishes been prepared and cooked before our eyes.
There were 10 dishes in total, including tofu fritters, chicken and fish curries, fried rice and noodles, followed by a pandan-flavored pudding and banana fritters (deep fried bananas in batter, usually drizzled in honey).
Similar to other Asian countries, drinking water from the faucet is not recommended, however bottled water can be readily purchased in convenience stores for 2500 rupiah (about US 30 cents). In restaurants, soft drink, beer (Bintang is the local brew) and fresh fruit juices (usually tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, pineapple and coconut) are on the menu.