The 9 Best Dishes in Balinese Food Culture You Must Try

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There is more to Bali than beautiful beaches and amazing waves: Balinese food culture is full of distinct flavor and spice, perfect to give your tastebuds a kick and leave you wanting more. The Island of the Gods is a dream destination and it’s no secret as to why Bali is so popular. Tropical sunshine and jungle adventures paired with a delicious nasi goreng and banana juice to chase it down leaves tourists desperate to come back time and time again.

Bali has been voted #1 Travelers Choice Best of the Best Destination by Trip Advisor for 2021, holding on to the title for yet another year. There is so much to do on the island, from learning to surf in Bali to exploring the best waterfalls in Ubud. All of these amazing and fun activities are a hungry business, and you will need to keep your energy levels up high with some of the best on offer from Balinese cuisine found in every warung (local eatery).

We’ve done the research and have asked the community for their favorites. Think nasi goreng, sate lilit, incredible local fish BBQs, and even more tantalizing traditional cuisine. Eating in Indonesia and Balinese food is an adventure in its own right!

9 of the Best Local Dishes in Balinese Food Culture

Traditional fruit stall in a Balinese market
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Before we dish out the details, it’s important to know some of the basics. Nasi is rice, a foundation of Asian cooking and Balinese cuisine, served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Banana leaves, soy sauce, coconut, and spices are also key ingredients in Balinese cooking and preparation. These flavors combined make magical food, just another reason to love the island.

So now you have your traditional sambal matah and rice at the ready, why not add it to one of these tasty Balinese dishes to heat up your tastebuds. These are the top 9 dishes in Balinese food culture as voted for by our community poll. Which is your favorite?

Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng

Nasi goreng is the national dish in balinese food culture
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Let’s start with the national dish of Indonesia and a favorite among the surfers: nasi goreng and mie goreng. Nasi goreng is fried rice, mie goreng is fried noodles. It’s a simple dish, yet utterly delicious, and you will be able to find it just about everywhere across the island.

This mixed rice (or noodle) dish is jam-packed of taste and full of punchy flavor, completed by a fried egg on top. Spices and ingredients used include garlic, shallots, sweet soy sauce, turmeric, and ginger. You can then decide whether you want it kept simple as a vegetarian dish with mixed vegetables throughout, or choose to add chicken, pork, or seafood.

Every warung and restaurant will cook their own style of fried rice or noodles. It is often served with sliced tomato and cucumber as a garnish and sambal on the side for those who like it spicy. This is the ultimate post-surf dish and a solid favorite after a long day scuba diving in Bali.

Jimbaran Fish BBQ

Grilled fish is a huge part of bali cuisine
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A fish BBQ is always a good idea, especially from the East coast fishing village Jimbaran. Fresh from the ocean and straight on the grill, this is as good as it gets. Jimbaran is the main fishing harbor in Bali because of the large protected bay which is sheltered from the strong swells hitting the island.

Here you can see the fishing boats coming back from a day out on the sea, baskets of fresh fish ready for the markets and restaurants. Go straight to the beachfront for the best warungs. You can walk the length of the beach deciding which fish you want from the icebox displays: tuna, red snapper, jacket fish, and mahi-mahi are the most common catches of the day, along with prawns, lobster, and squid.

We recommend you get to Jimbaran around 5 pm, ready to grab the best table for dinner with a view. The warungs set up their seating areas directly on the beach so you can dine with your toes in the sand. Jimbaran Bay has one of the best sunsets in Bali making this a great spot for honeymooners or couples wanting something romantic under candlelight.

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Ayam Betutu

Ayam Betutu
Balinese Nasi Campur (mixed rice) with Ayam Betutu (spiced chicken) in Denpasar Bali. Photo by Wikicommons

Ayam Betutu is Balinese Spiced Chicken, a traditional dish of the more northern regions of the island. This is a whole chicken that has been marinated in aromatic herbs and spices, wrapped in banana leaves, steamed to cook, and then grilled for a final touch. The Klungkung region also stuffs the chicken with an assortment of vegetables including cassava leaf and kale.

This dish is highly adaptable and can use whatever vegetables the warung or family have available. It is usually served with simple steamed rice. It is an island equivalent of a roast chicken, packed full of flavor in the chicken meat.

You may see bebek betutu on some menus, which has changed the chicken for duck. Nasi kuning is a common side when locals want to make this main course for a special occasion. Nasi kuning is yellow rice, flavored with turmeric for an aromatic taste.

Sate Lilit

Sate in Bali food
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One of the most iconic dishes in Bali is sate lilit. Sate, or satay, can be any minced meat or veggie combination wrapped around bamboo or lemongrass sticks. It is a versatile dish that can have a different number of sauces, flavors, and sides.

Spicy peanut sauce is a common accompanying sauce to have with tempeh, pork, or chicken sate along with authentic sticky rice. But you can also find fragrant lemongrass and grated coconut flavorings as well. This is a fantastic traditional dish from the Balinese food culture that you must try from local warungs across the islands.

Cap Cay

capcay
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Cap cay, pronounced ch-ap ch-ai, is one of the many vegetable dishes found in Balinese cuisine that can have chicken, pork, or seafood added to suit individual taste. It’s predominantly made up of mixed vegetables sauteed in an oyster sauce and broth. The garlic and ginger really add a unique flavor that the cap cay is best known for.

This stirfry is delicious and authentically Balinese. A top tip: add tempeh or tofu into the mix! Tempeh and tofu are meat-free options that aren’t just for vegans. Both are soybean products full of fiber, vitamins, and probiotic qualities. Tempeh adds a nutty flavor and is normally goreng fried. It is without a doubt a firm favorite in Balinese cuisine and brings an extra element to the cap cay dish.

Gado Gado

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Gado gado literally translates as ‘mix-mix’ which is carried over well into this Balinese dish. This is one of the healthiest dishes to come out of Bali; a cold salad packed full of crisp green vegetables, beansprouts, boiled potatoes, eggs, and peanut sauce. You will be able to find this meal at every warung across Bali.

The ingredients used are fresh and traditional to the island. It is typically served with white rice and tempeh or tofu on the side. But you can add in fried chicken or pork to bulk the meal out after a long day in the water.

Soto Ayam

Soto ayam bali food
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Next, we have soto ayam, a popular dish not only in Bali but also across all the Indonesian islands, Singapore, and Malaysia. It is a hearty-herbal and aromatic chicken noodle soup that not only tastes amazing but is also good for the soul. This is seriously tasty.

Soto ayam is made using traditional Indonesian flavors including turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and lime leaves. At the bottom of the bowl, you’ll find vermicelli rice noodles under the juicy chicken meat. It is normally topped off with a boiled egg, fried shallots, and a sprinkling of coriander for garnish.

Balinese people always have a portion of steamed rice on the side, adding it to the soup throughout the meal, and gerupuk crackers for extra crunch. However, most tourists would probably be satisfied just with the noodles buried underneath. Spicy sauce (sambal) is, as always, served on the side and you can add to your personal taste.

Babi Guling

babi guling is a ceremonial dish in balinese food culture
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Suckling pig, babi guling, is one of the more traditional dishes in Balinese food. This is served in ceremonies and for special occasions such as weddings, business openings, and birthdays. Around the island are warungs dedicated to serving babi guling, making this local favorite accessible for people every day as a popular lunch option.

The pig is stuffed and infused with mouth-watering Indonesian spices, a fusion of turmeric, coriander, black pepper, lemongrass, and garlic. It is then spit-roasted.

A plate from a local warung can include an assortment of the meat: a minced pork sate style stick, succulent chunks of the meat, crisped pieces of the skin, and crunchy fried crackling. It is also served with urap, a beansprout salad with grated coconut on top, as well as sambal sauce and white rice. Locals also love to have the lawar soup as well, which is made from the boiled bones and offal with coconut milk.

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Nasi Campur

nasi campur is a key dish in balinese food culture
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And last but not least, is the classic nasi campur. This translates directly as “mixed rice” and puts together all the best bits of Balinese cuisine. Each warung will vary what is included on the plate, but it most often has a piece of meat, vegetables, egg, and tempeh.

However, you can find nasi campur dedicated warungs that give you the freedom to pick and mix up your plate. You simply choose your color of rice (white, yellow, or brown) and work down the buffet counter that includes meats, fish, vegetables, tempeh options, tofu, noodles, and egg varieties. This is one of the most popular ways to sample the incredibly diverse range of food in Balinese cuisine.

Across Bali, you will see small stalls set up on the side of the roads with locals selling small packages either wrapped in brown paper or banana leaf. This is called a nasi jinggo, which is similar to nasi campur just a little bit smaller with peanuts and sambal sauce. A nasi jinggo package is a great mid-afternoon snack and can cost as little as 3,000 rupiah! (20 cents!)

Something Sweet in Balinese Food Culture?

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It’s no secret that Balinese people have a mega sweet tooth. Palm sugar and coconut milk are often used in making sweet treats across the island, perfect for after one of the dishes mentioned above for Balinese food culture.

  • Pisang Goreng: Pisang goreng are banana fritters, a delicious snack loved by both locals and tourists. Local restaurants may choose to serve them with ice cream and syrup as a full desert.
  • Jaja Bali: Jaja Bali are small and super sweet cakes made from sticky rice, coconut milk, and sugar. They come in an assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes.
  • Martabak: Martabak is a thick pancake filled with chocolate, sprinkles, and other sweet sauces. You can also get savory martabak options.

Easy Sambal Matah Recipe

sambal matah is a staple part of balinese food culture
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Sambal matah is the most highly rated flavor and spice combination in Balinese cooking. It is fundamental to many of the local dishes and often seen as a side accompaniment for an extra kick. The flavor is raw and distinctive, and it is super easy to replicate at home.

Ingredients:

  • 5-8 red chilies (vary depending on the level of spice desired)
  • 5 shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1-2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 tbsp shrimp paste (umami) or fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 kaffir lime, juice and zest (can use normal lime)
  • 1 thin slice of ginger
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Mix the shrimp paste, oil, salt, lime, and sugar into a paste.
  • Finely chop chilies, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and ginger.
  • Add to the prepared paste and mix well.
  • Serve as a chunky sambal matah, or blend for a smoother option.

FAQ

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What is a traditional Balinese breakfast?

Breakfast in Bali can look a lot different from Western choices of smoothie bowls and granola. Believe it or not, nasi goreng is a popular choice to have in the mornings as rice is a staple part of the food scene. However, the Balinese also enjoy an omelet or tropical fruits, like dragon fruit, snake fruit, rambutan, and pineapple, to kick start their day.

Make sure you try kopi bali (Bali coffee) with your breakfast. This is a strong blend of caffeine, typically served black with sugar. The coffee grains are left at the bottom of the glass, so don’t drink all the way down to the bottom of the glass.

What is Bali’s national dish?

Bali’s most iconic local meal is nasi goreng, a fried rice dish flavored with garlic, chili, soy sauce, ginger, and fried shallots. It is served with a fried egg on top and prawn crackers on the side. This popular recipe from Bali can be vegetarian with cabbage, onions, and carrot mixed throughout, or chicken, pork, or seafood can be added.

Babi guling is the traditional dish used for ceremonies and celebrations in Bali. While nasi campur and nasi jinggo are a popular everyday option for Balinese people.

What is unique about Balinese food?

The herbs and spices used in Balinese cooking are what makes the food so special. The combination of ginger, chili, soy, shallots, garlic, and turmeric is balanced with sweet coconut milk flavors and palm sugar, giving that unique taste of Bali to the dishes. Fresh meat and fish is a cornerstone ingredient to most of the dishes served in Balinese food culture.

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