As with almost every aspect of life in Bali, its cuisine is distinct and unique for Indonesian standards. It is one of the very few places in the world’s largest Muslim nation where pork is on the menu. Balinese cuisine is tends to be more aromatic and slightly less spicy than other regional food in Indonesia, however there are still a few fiery surprises in store!
Bali’s most famous dish is probably ‘Babi Guling’ which is slow roasted suckling pig. It is cooked slowly overnight for several hours and liberally sprinkled with a mixture of spices, lemon and grated coconut. Another local treat is ‘Bebek Betutu’ or crispy baked duck in banana leaves.
Unsurprisingly Bali has a great range of seafood to choose from and countless restaurants specialise in barbecued fish cooked over coconut husks. The seafood shacks of Jimbaran Bay, just south of Kuta beach are legendary and attract diners by the busload nightly. Here you can take your pick from grilled barracuda, snapper, marlin, jumbo prawns, calamari or lobster, all at bargain prices.
Vegetarians are pretty well catered for in Bali with plenty of tasty cheap eats using exotic vegetables such as dragon fruit, eggplant, sweet potato, kangkung spinach and cassava. Meatless alternatives such as tofu and tempe, a fermented soybean cake are staples of the local diet and found in a huge number of dishes, from soups, curries and stir fries.
In addition to many indigenous Balinese dishes, cuisine from all over the archipelago can be found in restaurants and street side food stalls. These include Nasi Goreng (fried rice with chicken, seafood or pork) Saté (skewers of grilled meat covered in spicy peanut sauce) and Beef Rendang, a mildly spicy curry cooked with coconut milk. You will find many ‘Padang’ style eateries, named after the city where this style of cooking originated. This is fiery hot food that is not for the faint hearted but is incredibly cheap and filling.
There are lots of delicious savoury treats in store and wherever you wander it will be difficult to resist a delicious snack such as seasoned fried potato patties known as ‘perkedel’, oriental style spring rolls or huge pastries stuffed with meat, vegetables and spices called ‘murtabak.’ The Balinese also have a real sweet tooth and there is a bewildering range of refreshing smoothies and iced drinks to choose from. Many contain multicoloured candied fruits and condensed milk such as ‘es kacang’ and ‘es campur’.
You don’t have to feel guilty with an indulgent sweet treat as there are lots of healthy and exotic local fruits to make up for it. There is everything from huge jackfruit, lychees, hard and soft mangoes and snake fruit. The most famous of all is the legendary durian. This huge spiky fruit has a pulpy interior that emits a pungent odour of sewers that many people find just too overpowering.
Alcohol is widely available even in the most isolated villages and is on sale at most general stores and even the smallest road side cafe. The local beer is Bintang or Bali Hai which are extremely cheap and excellent quality. In cosmopolitan resorts in the south of the island, you will find a good array of imported beers, wines and spirits. Uniquely, Bali is one of the very few places in the tropics that produce its very own wines. There are large wine estates in the north of the island which produce vintages that are gaining in popularity in Europe and Australia.
Throughout Bali and especially in the cosmopolitan resorts of Ubud and Seminyak, there is no shortage of global cuisine to choose from including familiar cuisines of Thailand and Japan to the more obscure foods of Lebanon, Russia or even Macedonia. There is pretty much something for everyone whether it is a cheap and cheerful cafe, trendy tapas bar or sumptuous five star beach restaurant.