Bali – a place of frangipani blossoms, lush humidity, and the scent of clove cigarettes and diesel. I spent the last week there relaxing, and of course, sampling as much street food as I could.
Here are ten top Balinese street foods to try, exemplifying Balinese flavour combinations of ginger, galangal, coriander, fresh turmeric, white pepper, palm sugar and chili. I’ve deliberately tried to avoid typically Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng and gado gado and instead stick to those foods native to Bali.
Enjoy the feast!
Simple food terms:
warung: small shop or stall
So… ayam goreng = fried chicken, mie ayam = chicken noodles. There you go! Speaking like a local already!
1. Babi Guling: Roast Suckling Pig
Babi ruling is roast suckling pig with crackling skin like shards of toffee hiding the tender, juicy meat. But it’s also so much more than that. Every part of the pig is used to make several side dishes that accompany the pork in a harmony of tastes and textures.
kuah nangka – a small bowl turmeric-heavy broth with pieces of cooked young jackfruit and pork
urutan – a dark air-dried sausage, made from the pig’s intestines and stuffed with a mixture of finely chopped heart with grated coconut and spices. The sausage is then wound around bamboo to air-dry, then fried in pieces
fried blood – fried with shallot and garlic until set and firm
satay lillit – a single fish and coconut satay on a sugarcane stick, for contrast and sweetness
pork skin puffs – crouton-like crunches of puffed fried skin, they lend a great crisp crunch to the meal
fried chitterlings – fried intestines
sambal – chilli, salt, garlic and oil
lawar – the quintessential babi guling side dish: see below
Made to accompany babi guling, lawar is made from shredded coconut, minced pork, spices and chilli, with the addition of fresh pig blood to make the authentic red version. Both blood and non-blood versions are remarkably light and fresh, cutting through the richness of the roast pork.
3. Bakso: Chicken Ball Soup
Bakso is a simple dish of clear soup with noodles, chicken balls, tofu and egg balls. It’s a snack for any time of day, and every street in Bali has a roving bakso vendor looking for business. Simple and satisfying, and very cheap – about $1 a bowl. You can add chilli sauce and kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) to taste.
Although satay originated in Java, every Indonesian island including Bali has their own way of cooking it. In Hindu-majority/Muslim minority Bali, the satay is usually marinated chicken or lamb (although pork satay is also available). The satays are char-grilled and served with a peanut sauce mixed to taste with kecap manis and chili.
5. Ayam Betutu
Ayam means chicken, and betutu is the method of cooking. The chicken is marinated in a blend of galangal, ginger, fresh turmeric, garlic, lemongrass and spices, then slow-cooked wrapped in banana leaves.
It’s the most tender way of cooking the meat – and packed with Balinese flavours of turmeric, galangal and pepper.
An alternat variation is bebek betutu – duck betutu, richer and darker.
6. Nasi Campur
Nasi campur, mixed rice, is a wonderful way to try tastes of several dishes at once. Like many Balinese foods the combination of textures is as important as the different tastes. Served on a round of banana leaf, a mound of rice is surrounded by (clockwise from top) – cucumber and spicy sambal, a marinated egg, satay ayam, mixed vegetables, ayam betutu (see above), and crunchy spiced tempeh.
The extra crunch comes from a huge thick krupuk rice cracker – I became addicted to these in Bali!
7. Nasi Jinggo
Sold in a folded banana leaf pinned close with a toothpick, nasi jinggo is a pyramid of saffron rice served with a tiny palette of mixed tastes and textures – some soft wheat noodles, a spicy sambal, sweet toasted coconut, crisp-fried tempeh, and fried shallots.
It’s usually eaten as a night-time snack, and is full of flavour despite its simple appearance.
8. Balinese Sweets
The length and breadth of Balinese sweets could sustain a happy eater indefinitely. Most are made from sticky rice or casava flour and flavoured with pandan leaf, palm sugar, coconut or banana. My favourites were definitely klepon (seen covered with fresh grated coconut in the bottom left above). These green pandan-leaf flavoured parcels are stuffed with palm sugar that turns to syrup on cooking When you bite into them the golden syrup squirts into your mouth (or down your chin if you’re unprepared). Utterly delicious.
9. Pisang Goreng: Banana Fritters
Golden crispy-fried fritters made with tart-sweet lady finger bananas. Enough said. The minimum purchase seems to be about ten fritters, which is enough for two (but only if the other person really doesn’t like bananas).
10. Es Teler/Kacang Ijo: Ice Desserts
Es teler translates loosely as ‘ice intoxication’, and it’s a mad, colourful mix of crushed ice (yes, be careful) with red beans, coloured jellies, tapioca pearls, carnation milk and syrup.
The traditional Balinese version, kacang ijo, looks rather plain by comparison – sweet green mung beans are mixed with ice, coconut milk and carnation milk. Refreshing.
Where to find Bali street foods:
Street food is everywhere in Bali! You don’t have to go far to find a vendor selling something delicious. But if you’d like to try a lot of street foods in one place, you can’t go past the Pasar Kereneng night market in Denpasar.
Pasar Kereneng Night Market
Open 5pm -11pm daily