Bali | Culinary Destination in Indonesia
Bali deserves its place as a major culinary destination in Indonesia, which it owes in no small part to its unique mix of spices. Basa gede combines shallots, coconut oil, chili, candlenuts, cloves, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and a revolving cast of other seeds and roots; all come together to form the flavor base for many of the foods in the list below.
You’ll love gorging on these Balinese foods, whether you find them off the streets, in a warung stall, or in a five-star Balinese restaurant. We’ve also provided information on the best places to try these foods, reaching all across the island—so you can hit the ground running with a food tour of Bali!
Babi Guling: Bali’s Classic Roast Pork
Bali’s Hindu cultural base allows pork, unlike most of the rest of Indonesia. This accounts for the popularity of babi guling (literally “rolling pig”), or whole pig stuffed with Balinese spices and slowly spit-roasted over a fire.
Individual servings of babi guling consist of a square of crisp pork skin and underlying meat/fat, a mound of rice, Indonesian crackers called krupuk, and a helping of lawar (see below).
Formerly a ceremonial dish reserved for special occasions, babi guling has now become a regular tourist draw.
Lawar: Venerable Vegetable
Highly and variable, this combination of chopped vegetables, mincemeat, coconut milk, and Balinese spices is a staple of both ceremonial and daily meals.
Lawar comes in “red” and “white” variants (the former contains pig blood, the latter has none) and can be custom-made to taste. Balinese swear by babi lawar (pork lawar); Muslim foodies ask for kuwir lawar (duck lawar); and vegans can ask for lawar nangka, or lawar with young, savory jackfruit.
Lawar is usually made to order, as this dish can go bad in less than a day.
Bebek Betutu: Duck Amuck
Balinese spices do wonders for duck—as a mouthful of bebek betutu demonstrates! A whole duck carcass is stuffed with a mix of lemongrass, ginger, onion, and other indigenous spices; wrapped in banana leaf; then slowly roasted in a pit. Spices can be manually massaged into the duck meat for added flavor.
A classic bebek betutu can take a whole day to prepare, but the wait is worth it—the process produces a crispy yet tender poultry dish redolent in spices.
Jaja Laklak: Go Green for Breakfast
You can find jaja laklak in most hotel breakfast buffets around Bali, but the best (and most authentic) can only be had in Bali’s morning markets. These sweet rice-flour cakes are cooked on a traditional clay pan until bubbles rise to the top and they firm into a crispy-chewy consistency.
Jaja laklak derives its green color from the addition of pandan leaf, which also adds a fresh flavor to the batter. Diners have a wide choice of toppings, from the traditional brown sugar and grated coconut to more exotic choices like durian.
Jukut Ares: Banana by Any Other Part
This banana dish is surprisingly savory, and no surprise there—jukut ares is derived from banana stems, the deepest part of the banana plant that remains after the greener, older outside parts have been peeled off.
The banana stems are thinly sliced, boiled in salt to remove the bitter taste, then sautéed in Balinese spices before mixed with meats like pork, duck or chicken. The end result is a vegetable-based, brothy meal that locals serve both at home and in their holy sacrifices during major Balinese holidays.
Sate Lilit: It’s a Wrap!
Its name literally means “wrapped satay.” Unlike your other satay variants, where hunks of meat are pierced through with a bamboo skewer, sate lilit consists of spiced ground meat hand-molded around a lemongrass stalk before being grilled.
The lemongrass stalk imparts a fragrance and slightly sweet flavor unique to the dish, separate from the basa gede that sets this satay variant apart from its peers elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Sate lilit can be made from any meat, but the Balinese prefer using pork or fish.
Ikan Bakar: Smoke Gets in Your Fish
Nobody dines on the beach in Jimbaran without ordering this simple yet oh-so-delicious grilled fish dish that becomes fully Balinese by dint of its marinade. Turmeric, galangal (red ginger), sambal (chili sauce), and other local spices impart a flavor that is only improved by the smokiness added by the cooking process.
Ikan bakar is made to order, with freshly-caught tuna or red snapper grilled over coconut charcoal then served with a sambal dipping sauce on the side.
Nasi Campur: Rice Remixed
It’s the ultimate cheap, balanced meal: white rice served with chicken, boiled egg, lawar, peanuts, sambal, and tempeh (soybean cake). Every establishment, from the humblest streetside warung to the poshest five-star Bali hotel, offers its own take on nasi campur. If you can’t decide what to order, stick to nasi campur and you’ll never go wrong.
Where to try it: Nasi Campur Men Weti (Jalan Segara Ayu No.8, Sanur, Bali; Google Maps); Dapoer Pemuda (Jalan Veteran No.11, Dangin Puri Kauh, Denpasar, Bali; Google Maps)
Srombotan: Salad Supreme
This salad-like dish hails from Klungkung regency east of Ubud. Sold in markets all over Bali, srombotan delights Bali foodies with its interesting medley of kangkung (water spinach), bean sprouts, long beans, eggplant, and spices.
The sliced vegetables are momentarily boiled, tossed with basa gede (Balinese spices), grated coconut, and sambal. Authentic srombotan is served on banana leaf and garnished with fried peanuts. It can be eaten by itself, or as part of a heavier meal alongside rice.
Bubur Sumsum: Heavenly Porridge
Sumsum translates to “bone marrow” in Balinese, which clues you in on the consistency of this sweet, rice-based porridge. Glutinous rice is boiled in coconut milk until it thickens considerably; it’s served afterward with palm sugar syrup, chopped fruit, or sweet potato dumplings.
Bubur sumsum can be served in its original white form, or cooked with pandan leaf for a fresher flavor and a surprising green flavor.
During the Tumpek Wariga festival 25 days before Galungan, Balinese devotees offer buburm sumsum (among other things) to the protector of plants Sang Hyang Sangkara.