Balinese food gets me excited every time we come back to Indonesia’s most popular holiday spot. I get excited about unpretentious flavours and time-tested spices that result in mouth-watering food that I just can’t get enough of.
While other Southeast Asian cuisines may offer a similar selection of dishes, many foods in Bali have a unique twist with tantalising flavours.
Next time you are relaxing in Bali, you simply must try all ten of these.
1. Pisang Goreng
Let’s start with dessert. Because nothing is sweeter than my all-time favourite – fried bananas. Bali has such a variety of bananas from the small, sweet varieties to the large ones that look like a weapon. The different types make fried bananas a treat each time. Served with honey or palm sugar syrup, a little bit of flaked coconut or vanilla ice cream or just plain from the roadside stalls, nothing is better than Pisang Goreng.
2. Mie Goreng
A classic Indonesian staple of fried noodles is often served with vegetables and a choice of chicken, shrimp or pork. Sometimes it served with a fried egg on top, chicken sate sticks, prawn crackers and peanut sauce. Oh, and don’t forget the pickled vegetables. Josh’s favourite.
3. Nasi Goreng
Similar to Mie Goreng, but fried rice instead of noodles. This is the most popular staple of the Balinese. They literally eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice is grown all over Bali, so there’s no shortage of this grain all year round. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad Nasi Goreng in Bali – every chef knows how to do it justice, from the 5 star resorts the roadside stalls. So simple yet so delicious.
Unlike its Malaysian counterpart, Indonesian sate is not satay. Mashed chicken is blended with an array of spices, melded onto a stick (usually lemongrass) and barbequed. Unless written on the menu, it probably won’t include peanut sauce While we prefer the chicken sate (sate ayam), Indonesia specialises in fish sate (lilit ikan).
5. Babi Guling
Bali’s most famed dish – the suckling pig. Pork is rubbed with turmeric, stuffed with a spice paste (usually coriander seeds, lemongrass, lime leaves, salam leaves, chillies, black pepper, garlic, red shallots, ginger and lesser galangal) and then roasted on a spit over coconut husks or wood until super tender.
Beware when ordering this – it’s nose-to-tail dining, so you might receive an obscure piece of pork on your plate. Enjoy!
6. Nasi Campur
A local favourite, Nasi Campur means “mixed rice” and usually consists of small portions of vegetables, fish or meat with a mound of steamed rice. There’s no 1 “right” combination of flavours, so it’s rarely the same. That is what makes it so fun – you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Think of it as an Indonesian antipasto.
7. Bebek Betutu
Smoked duck is probably one of the more unique dishes in Bali. The duck is rubbed and stuffed with a mix of spices, wrapped in an areca palm leaf or betel nut bark and smoked with the embers of rice husks. Most restaurants require one day’s notice since cooking takes around 12 hours.
8. Mini Rijsttafel
A mini rijstafel is a meal to be shared. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that literally means “rice table”, a name that has stuck since colonial times. Depending where you order, it usually comes out all at the same time and contains a mixed selection of Balinese and Indonesian delicacies like Bebek betutu (smoked duck), chicken with sambal, prawns, pork & chicken sates, sayur urap (mixed Bali vegetables), potato croquettes, tempe, tofu and yellow nasi tumpeng (rice cone).
9. Spring Rolls
Who doesn’t love crispy spring rolls? Filled with mixed vegetables and minced chicken, served with a peanut sauce or a sweet chilli sauce. A winner every time.
“Mix-mix” is one of Indonesian’s best-known dishes. Essentially it is a vegetable salad bathed in a classic peanut sauce. While it’s a cold salad, I think it would taste awesome warm too. At its base are boiled long beans, spinach, potato, corn, egg and bean sprouts coupled with cucumber, tofu and tempe.
You can try these Balinese foods almost anywhere, from budget to upscale restaurants, from roadside food vendors to luxury hotels. But whatever you do, make sure you tick them all off.
I particularly love that most ingredients in these dishes are sourced locally so they’re as fresh as can get. Spice mixes are made by hand. There’s little reliance on processed ingredients.
You might just discover a new favourite flavour sensation or realise it’s not your cup of tea. That’s the beauty of being adventurous with food. But one thing is for sure; once you’ve conquered all these Balinese dishes your tastebuds will be dancing like never before.