Eating in Bali is a delightful adventure. Even foods that are familar to you, like meat satays (meat-on-a-stick, sate in Indonesian), are transformed by the street vendors who marinate familiar (chicken, beef) and less familiar (rabbit, goat) meats and then roast them over fires perfumed by the coconut husks used for fuel.
The local restaurants and street vendors are the places where you can find the most authentic of Bali cuisine. A few Balinese foods you should try:
This staple is served any time of day and will be familiar to you. It is fried rice. And like fried rice at any Chinese restaurant it can contain almost anything. Rice is essential. And oil. But it may have various meats and seafood: chicken, beef and shrimp most often. At simple street vendors the only vegetable may be garlic and white cabbage. Others may add carrots, leeks or onions. The dish is seasoned with soy sauce and chili paste. The chili paste can transform a bland dish to a blistering one — you’ll get a chance to choose. The Nasi Goreng Special is fried rice with a fried egg (sunny side up) on top.
This dish is often an artistic arrangement of various foods arranged carefully around a serving of steamed rice. Favorites include grilled tuna, beef or fish satays, fried tofu, peanuts, corn, vegetable curry, and cucumbers. Beware a reddish sauce which may be on the side of the dish: sambai is a concoction of chilies, shallots and salt and is usually extremely hot to the tongue.
This simple soup will stick to your ribs for a day’s sightseeing. The basics of bakso are a clear broth with noodles and a meatball. The meatball is huge (think baseball) and usually of finely ground beef, or sometimes chicken. The noodles are rice or egg noodles. The cook then adds whatever else is available … greens, mushrooms, etc. You add ketjap yourself, a condiment which varies between vendors. Ketjap may sound like ketchup, but has no tomato base; it’s made from soy sauce, dark sugar and molasses and may be seasoned with ginger, coriander and star anise. Bakso is said to be President Obama’s favorite dish from his childhood.
This vegetable salad with peanut sauce is another dish with wide variations between vendors. It can be a beautifully arrangement of fresh and cooked vegetables with the sauce in a separate dish. Or … it can be a rather ugly pile of things swimming in sauce and covered with a layer of crackers. In any case, the vegetables will be varied and fresh and the peanut sauce alive with chilies. A basic Gado Gado may have: blanched cabbage, string beans, garlic, corn and bean sprouts; boiled sliced potato; sliced hard boiled eggs and fresh lettuce and cucumbers. In Bali the peanut sauce is usually poured over the salad and is made from ground fried peanuts, sugar, lime, shrimp paste and tamarind water. There may be some fried tofu on the side of the dish and the dish is usually topped with some form of cracker, either plain or the deep fried puffed crackers seasoned with shrimp or fish that are a favorite ‘chip’ in Bali.
photo from Wikimedia