Thousands of islands with different cultures make up Indonesia, so it’s no wonder that Balinese food is just as diverse. To complement your holiday experience in Bali, you would not want to miss out on some of its most popular dishes.
Our list of Balinese food to try includes exotic choices such as lawar (minced meat salad), bebek betutu (roast duck), sate lilit (Balinese satay), and the island’s famed babi guling (whole spit-roast pig). The Balinese have a rich collection of snacks, cakes and desserts for your sweet tooth too.
1. Sate (satay) varieties
Sate (or satay) are marinated, skewered and grilled meats served with spicy sauce. The meat usually consists of diced or sliced chicken, goat, mutton, beef and pork, but you’ll also find satay that’s made with fish, tofu, eggs or minced blends.
Bali’s variant is the sate lilit. Made from either minced beef, chicken, fish, pork, or even turtle meat, it’s mixed with coconut, coconut milk, and a rich blend of vegetables and spices. The satay is then wrapped around bamboo, sugarcane or lemongrass sticks before it’s grilled over charcoal. You can enjoy sate lilit with or without dipping sauce.
2. Nasi ayam and nasi campur
Bali’s take on chicken rice, nasi ayam and nasi campur are served at many warungs (small eateries) and restaurants throughout the island. A plate of white rice comes with different elements of Balinese food, such as a portion of babi guling (roast suckling pig) or betutu (spiced chicken or duck), mixed vegetables, and a dab of spicy sambal matah (Balinese sauce).
Nasi ayam and nasi campur are sometimes served with a bowl of soup. For those who do not want it too spicy, simply ask for it without the sambal.
3. Bebek and ayam betutu
Betutu is the slow-cooked equivalent of Bali’s babi guling (roast suckling pig). Suitable for those who don’t eat pork, this iconic Balinese dish consists of a whole chicken (ayam) or duck (bebek) stuffed with traditional spices, wrapped in banana leaves, then enveloped tight in the bark of a banana trunk. The entire thing is baked or buried in a coal fire for 6 to 7 hours, resulting in a rich and juicy meat that easily separates from the bones.
4. Babi guling
Babi guling is an all-time favourite, consisting of spit-roast pig stuffed with rich traditional spices and vegetable mixes such as cassava leaves, slowly rolled over (guling means “to roll” in Indonesian) a coal fire.
The crisp brown skins are prized, while the meat is a tender and juicy treat. At first, babi guling was a communal treat during special festivities and ceremonies, but you can find it at many warungs (food stalls) and restaurants that specialise in this dish.
5. Tahu and tempeh
Among the most versatile of food items, tahu (tofu) and tempeh come in different preparations – some as savoury snacks, and others as accompaniments and main-course dishes. These soybean curds can be fried, stuffed and battered. Many Indonesian cuisines, especially rice dishes, include tempeh crackers. Some of the best tahu snacks are the stuffed and fried versions, which usually include a mixture similar to spring rolls.
6. Jimbaran seafood
Beachside cafés on Muaya Beach in Jimbaran Bay typically serve grilled seafood, ranging from shrimp, clams, crabs, calamari, lobsters and a wide assortment of fish. But in terms of taste, the secret lies in each of the café owner’s recipes of barbecue sauce and condiments – usually in the form of homemade sambal, which has collectively become known as “sambal seafood – Jimbaran style”. From sweet-sour blends to the typical hot and spicy, tasting is believing when it comes to Jimbaran seafood.
7. Pepes and tum
Pepes is an Indonesian-Sundanese cooking method that uses banana leaf as food wrappings. Thin bamboo sticks seal both ends of the small package, before it’s steamed, boiled or grilled until cooked. It is most commonly used to prepare fish as pepes ikan, but meat, chicken, tofu or vegetables are common ingredients as well.
Tum takes on a different form, with the wrapping folded and stitched at one top end, and is usually steamed. Tum commonly contains minced pork mixed with spiced paste. The use of banana leaves adds an aromatic and authentic Balinese flavour to pepes and tum.
8. Traditional cakes and desserts
Traditional cakes in Bali are collectively called jajanan pasar (traditional market cakes). Originally used to accompany ceremonial offerings, these local desserts are now available throughout the day. There are plenty of jajanan pasar to choose from, which mainly use rice flour, glutinous rice, sugar, coconut, and tropical fruits.
Some of the most common desserts in Bali include wajik (sticky rice cake), pancong (rice flour and coconut milk cake), jaja batun bedil (glutinous rice balls in palm sugar soup), bubuh injin (black glutinous rice porridge), pisang rai (steamed banana), and kelepon (coconut-covered rice cake with liquid palm sugar).
9. Nasi goreng
Nasi goreng (fried rice) is one of Indonesia’s most notable dishes. It’s made by stir-frying cooked rice with a combination of meats and vegetables, ranging from scrambled eggs, diced beef, strips of chicken, shrimp, anchovies, lamb, crab, green peas, onions, shallots and a blend of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and hot chilli sauce. The presentation usually features the typical toppings – sliced tomatoes and/or cucumber, fried shallots, fish or shrimp krupuk (crackers), and acar (mixed pickles).
Lawar is a mix of finely chopped meat, vegetables, grated coconut and spices. In some areas of Bali, this traditional dish is prepared by mixing fresh animal blood with meat and spices to strengthen the flavour. The dish is usually served immediately after preparation as it cannot be kept long. There are 2 main types of lawar – white and red. The white version appeals to vegans and vegetarians as it doesn’t contain meat or blood.