The Untold Stories of Balinese Cuisine

The Untold Stories of Balinese Cuisine

The ties that bind Balinese culture and its culinary world

The culture of our Balinese friends has always been a fascinating one, with its people – who are predominantly Hindu – holding up high the importance of both religion and traditions. Even more thought-provoking for us here at Good Indonesian Food is the fact that its culinary world is strongly influenced by their customs – a peculiarity that we would like to share with you here.

Balinese men know how to cook
Ask any Balinese male of the species about the intricacies behind the cooking of Lawar (Balinese traditional salad) orBe Guling (suckling pig), and they will most likely provide you with a detailed answer that would impress even Gordon Ramsay. According to Pak Ketut, my driver-cum-tour guide during my gastronomic adventure in Bali, it’s compulsory for the men on the island to communally cook for significant occasions in their banjar (village), while the women would be tasked to create handicrafts for the offerings. To find out more, go on YouTube and have a look at an episode of “Bizarre Foods” where host Andrew Zimmerns goes for a trip to Bali and ends up participating in cooking up a Lawar for a tooth-filling ceremony.

Food as an offering
Indonesian culinary expert Bondan Winarno once mentioned on his book “100 Mak Nyus Bali” that the Balinese people see food as a link between humans and deities. They use food as a mandatory component for their offerings to their gods and goddesses, and this is a custom that they practise on a daily basis. For example, they would take a spoon of rice and offer it to the gods in the morning before they start their day. Special occasions would require a more extravagant culinary offering, which would tend to involve the whole village working together hand-in-hand to cook up the food.

Balinese executive chef
Akin to a restaurant, each banjar would have its own executive chef, which is dubbed be lawa. The person to be given the title would be responsible to lead the communal cooking ritual, which includes preparing the shopping list, allocating the portions of the meal for all the guests, and so on. He or she could also be invited to become a guest cook at other villages too, albeit for a price.

Be Guling
The Balinese dish that is Be Guling would surely be an unfamiliar one for visitors to the island, and it can be easily found across Bali. However, did you know that it was originally a dish that was made for important rituals such as weddings and funerals? They would present the whole pig as the custom entails those animals for offerings should not be cut or damaged. With the many joints offering Be Gulingin Bali, my personal recommendations would be Babi Guling Candra and Babi Guling Dobiel.

Lawar is always the first meal to be cooked for any ceremony or event in Bali. Usually served with rice and several other dishes, the Lawar itself is made from finely chopped meat, vegetables, coconuts, and various spices. There are a few types of Lawar that one would tend to see:Lawar Tulen (a red coloured Lawar which colour is made using blood), Lawar Putih, Lawar Kuning, Lawar Penyon, andLawar Hijau. Ngelawar is a Balinese ritual that involves all the men in a village getting down and dirty together to cook up some Lawar. For one of the most authentic Lawar you could ever taste in Bali, head down to Lawar Bali Kartika.

Finding turtle meat
In Bali, satay is not just a popular dish, but also a crucial one to the culture of its people. The ingredients of Sate Lembat – made from pork, chicken, duck and turtle meats – are selected based on Tattwa Darsana or Sila Sasana, a belief in the Hindu religion that requires the blood of animals who live on land, sea, and air. Since sea turtles have become endangered, the inclusion of sea turtle meat has become a rarity. For its religious ceremony, a letter must first be signed by a high-level priest in for the Balinese people to be granted permission to obtain the meat of a sea turtle.

Started her career as a food writer in 2012, Jessicha Valentina is the online editor of Good Indonesian Food. Jessicha has loved Sayur Asem since she was a wee kid and spends her free time trying to cook it.


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