Originally eaten only during Hindu ceremonies, these Balinese dishes can now be found in tiny local cafes and high-end restaurants
Every village has its own version of Lawar, a mix of vegetables, grated coconut meat, minced meat and fresh blood
Tucking into ikan bakar (grilled fish) seaside in Jimbaran Bay is a quintessential Bali dining experience
Bali’s most renowned dishes, made rich by the heavy use of local herbs and spices, are traditionally eaten during the colorful Hindu ceremonies that punctuate life on the Indonesian island.
Dining out is a relatively recent development in Bali – a few generations ago people may have grabbed takeaway from warungs (small shops and restaurants) but generally did not go out to eat.
These days though, plenty of classic dishes are served everywhere from tiny warungs through to high-end restaurants, making it easy for travelers to savor the flavors of real Balinese cuisine.
1. Babi guling (suckling pig)
Pork dishes are relatively hard to find across the mostly Muslim Indonesian archipelago, but Bali’s famed suckling pig makes any roaming traveler’s wait worthwhile.
While strictly speaking a suckling pig should still be feeding on its mother’s milk, in Bali the pigs used in this popular dish can weigh about 70 kilograms (150 pounds).
They are rubbed with turmeric then stuffed with a “base gede,” or spice paste, which usually includes a combination of coriander seeds, lemongrass, Asian lime leaves and salam leaves, chillies, black pepper, garlic, red shallots, ginger and kencur (lesser galangal). The pig is roasted on a spit over coconut husks or wood to tender perfection.
When ordering a plate, expect sliced meat, a few pieces of satay, caramelized crackling and more obscure parts, like crispy intestines – this is nose-to-tail dining at its most traditional.
While warungs serve the dish right across the island, Ibu Oka’s in Ubud (Jalan Suweta/Tegal Sari No. 2) is the most renowned place to try it and is the choice of Bali-based U.S. pastry chef Will Goldfarb, of Mejekawi and Room 4 Dessert.
“They don’t need the press, but I hate the haters,” he says.
Richard Millar, director of cuisine at W Retreat, suggests Pak Malen Warung in Seminyak (Sunset Road).
“The skin is served crispy and the meat is always tender – they also offer a special that is served with rice and spicy soup which is delicious.”
Lawar is a crunch-tender mix of vegetables, grated coconut meat and minced meat mixed with various heady herbs and spices, and often fresh blood – every village has its own version.
While it’s the usual accompaniment to babi guling, lawar can stand as a dish in its own right – lawar nangka, or young jackfruit lawar, is an example.
“This place is always packed,” Meyrick says, adding that the variety of dishes accompanying the lawar are excellent.
“The serapah sapi, which is a mixture of shredded vegetables, velvety offal, thick blood and coconut milk, is just a winner. Don’t be off put by the inclusion of blood, it is a part of every meat dish adding flavor, freshness and texture.”