10 Balinese Dishes You MUST Try

Alexis
Modified on February 1, 2024

Balinese food is different from the rest of Indonesian food. Here are 10 dishes you must try while in Bali.

Sambal Matah and Base Genep: The Typical Spices in (Almost) All Balinese Dishes

Balinese cuisine dishes often use the same ingredients that give a unique flavor to the island's native dishes. These flavors are seldom found in the food from other archipelago islands.

The two culprits behind these specific Balinese scents are Sambal Matah and Base Genep.

Sambal Matah: The Most Balinese of Sambals

sambal matah bali

Sambal Matah is the spicy sauce found in many Balinese dishes.

Unlike some Sambals containing ingredients like tomatoes or shrimp paste, Sambal Matah uses ingredients that are all consumed raw. It includes roughly chopped chilies, shallots, garlic, lime, lemongrass, and is mixed with coconut oil. It is served as is in a small container or alongside/over rice.

A real delight that can be enjoyed with meat, fish, or even vegetables.

Spice Level: Spicy (it's chili), but can be mild with lots of shallots and little chili

Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes (depends on what it's applied to)

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Base Genep: The Blend of Spices that Gives Balinese Flavor to Dishes

base genep bali

Base Genep is not a sauce like Sambal Matah, but rather a blend of spices integrated into many Balinese dishes.

The main ingredients of Base Genep are red chilies, ginger, onions, garlic, turmeric, lemongrass, coriander, and camphor galangal.

Of course, each chef has their own version of the recipe, and many variations exist depending on the warungs you visit.

But in general, when you come across a dish with Sambal Matah or Base Genep, you can be pretty sure that the associated dish is from Bali and not elsewhere in Indonesia.

Spice Level: Spicy but not necessarily chili-hot

Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Babi Guling: The Most Iconic Dish in Balinese Cuisine

babi guling

If there's a dish found throughout Bali that almost all Balinese love, it's Babi Guling.

Babi Guling is a slowly roasted suckling pig and is generally very spicy. It is often filled with Base Genep, which pairs perfectly with pork. Very often, satays (skewers) and other pieces of pork such as blood sausages, grilled offal, or sausages (urutan) are accompanied with lawar. All this is served with rice, like most Indonesian dishes.

What makes a good Babi Guling special is the crispy roasted pig skin, often with a bit of fat on it, served to be crunchy in the mouth. Some will even tell you that it's a sign of quality for any respectable Babi Guling.

There are many warungs serving Babi Guling throughout Bali, each with its own unique taste. The garnish can also change from day to day in the same warung.

Everyone thinks they know the best Babi Guling in Bali, myself included, so don't expect too much objective information about the best Babi Guling on the island. Try a few, and you'll quickly see if it's for you or not.

Generally, you either love it or hate it.

Spice Level: Often very spicy

Vegetarian / Vegan: Not at all

Halal / Kosher: Not at all

Ayam Betutu: All Balinese Spices in One Dish

ayam betutu bali

Ayam Betutu is another iconic dish in Bali (along with Babi Guling). Yet, too many people overlook this wonder during their stay on the Island of Gods. While Babi Guling can sometimes be a bit harsh for Western palates not used to chili and pork, Ayam Betutu is a relatively agreeable dish.

No pork this time, but rather a good chicken cooked in a blend of spices called bumbu Betutu.

Several versions of Ayam Betutu exist. Some recipes steam the chicken and serve it swimming in a very liquid sauce containing these spices (almost like a soup). Others roast the chicken (sometimes in banana leaves) and serve it with the spices on the roasted chicken.

Some Ayam Betutu is very spicy, others much less, making it an interesting and less risky dish for those who want to taste Balinese flavors without worrying too much about chili and its digestion. Even without chili, Ayam Betutu will be very aromatic. It's an explosion of flavors that you must try at least once.

If you prefer duck to chicken, you can opt for Bebek Betutu, which is exactly the same recipe but with duck instead of chicken.

Spice Level: From mildly spicy to extremely spicy, depending on the chef and your enthusiasm

Vegetarian / Vegan: No

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Lawar: A 100% Balinese Preparation Found in Many Dishes

lawar white and red

Lawar is sometimes a standalone dish eaten with rice and sometimes a preparation that is part of a more complete dish like Babi Guling.

Lawar is simply a mix of grated coconut, vegetables, spices, and meats. There are two main types of Lawar: White Lawar (Lawar Putih) and Red Lawar (Lawar Barak / Merah). The white one is the classic lawar, while the red one, like the white, contains blood from the animal, giving it a redder color.

In Bali, many of these lawars are made with pork, but you can also find others made with chicken (lawar ayam) or duck (lawar bebek or lawar kuwir).

If you try Babi Guling, you will indirectly try Lawar in any case. However, stopping at warungs that serve only Lawar can introduce you to many flavors not necessarily found in Babi Guling.

Spice Level: From mildly spicy to extremely spicy, depending on the place

Vegetarian / Vegan: Almost never but not impossible

Halal / Kosher: For those with chicken/duck only (not the majority)

Sate Lilit: The Balinese Version of Satay

sate lilit bali

Satays (meat skewers) are very popular in Indonesia, found in almost every island in various forms. In Bali, many of these satays are the classic Javanese ones made with chicken or beef, grilled by the roadside, and served with sambal and peanut sauce.

The Balinese version of satays is a bit different from the satays in the rest of the archipelago, and the taste is unique. It's called Sate Lilit.

Unlike other satays, Sate Lilit is made with minced meat, mixed with coconut and some spices (lime, shallots, etc.), then wrapped around the skewer again. The result gives a flavor and texture that are unlike other satays in the archipelago.

Sate Lilit can be made with pork, fish, and sometimes chicken. They can be served alone or integrated into Balinese Nasi Campur.

Spice Level: Low or not spicy

Vegetarian / Vegan: No

Halal / Kosher: Fish/chicken versions

Grilled Fish with Sambal Matah: A Must-Try Dish in Bali

ikan bakar grill fish bali

Bali is an island, and like many islands in the archipelago, many Balinese were fishermen before Bali opened up to tourism. Fish is a staple in Balinese cuisine, and it's easy to find excellent fish on the island.

The typical dish in Bali when it comes to fish is both simple and extremely effective. Just grill a fish (on a barbecue) and accompany it with Sambal Matah.

No fuss, no need for many ingredients or elaborate sauces. Freshly grilled fish, Sambal Matah, and rice, and you're about to have a real feast.

Spice Level: To your liking based on your preference for Sambal Matah

Vegetarian / Vegan: Still no

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Nasi Bali or Nasi Campur Bali: Balinese Version of Nasi Campur

nasi bali

Nasi Campur is a dish that somewhat means everything and nothing in Indonesia. For a quite obvious reason, "Nasi" means rice, and "Campur" means mix. Nasi Campur is, therefore, a dish based on mixed rice with... other stuff. Usually, vegetables, meat, and sambal.

The majority of Nasi Campur found in Bali and the rest of Indonesia are inspired by Javanese warungs, and many are run by Javanese. Therefore, it's rare to find pork and other typical ingredients of Balinese cuisine in them.

But if you know where to look, you can find Balinese Nasi Campur.

Bali, of course, has many different versions of these Nasi Campur. The typical ingredients that make up its cuisine can be present: Lawar, pork, chicken, fish, Sate Lilit, and regularly Sambal Matah or Base Genep.

Unlike Babi Guling and other Ayam Betutu that can be "celebration" dishes or at least weekend dishes, Nasi Bali, like the "classic" Nasi Campur (if that really exists), is typically the kind of everyday dish for the locals.

Spice Level: Variable

Vegetarian / Vegan: No

Halal / Kosher: Rarely (pork is often present)

Urutan: Balinese Pork Sausages

urutan bali

Where there are pigs, there are sausages. Bali and its cuisine rich in pork are no exception to the rule.

The local sausages here are called Urutan. Like European sausages, they are quite flavorful and composed of all the pork offal imaginable.

Balinese Urutan adds an important ingredient: chili. Sometimes a lot, just to make sure your dish won't be bland.

Urutan can be bought directly at the market or supermarket like any other sausage and put into any dish. Alternatively, in Balinese dishes, you often find slices of Urutan in Babi Guling or Nasi Bali.

Spice Level: Often spicy or very spicy

Vegetarian / Vegan: Oh, no

Halal / Kosher: Oh, no

Jaje Bali: A Delectable Dessert Unique to Bali

jaje bali

Fortunately for those with a sweet tooth, not all dishes in Bali are made of pork or chicken. Balinese people have a penchant for sweets, and among them, Jaje deserves a special place in this ranking.

There are a thousand and one ways to prepare Jaje Bali, and each cook incorporates their own ingredients. Generally, Jaje Bali includes grated coconut, black rice, sugar, various kinds of pastes or porridges made from rice flour, wheat flour, or coconut.

In short, a delectable dessert that you can find both in restaurants in more elaborate forms and at traditional markets in simpler forms, sometimes wrapped in banana leaves.

Spice Level: None

Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Pie Susu: The Balinese Tart to Bring Home

pie susu bali

The Pie Susu is a typically Balinese tart made with milk.

The ingredients are those usually found in desserts of this type: sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and, of course, milk, among others.

The advantage of Pie Susu is that it won't bewilder a Western palate too much. No spices, no strange fruits, no unusual meats. Another significant advantage is that it is sold in packets or boxes of packets that can easily be packed in a suitcase and distributed to family as a souvenir of your stay in Bali. This is much less the case with Babi Guling or Ayam Betutu.

Spice Level: None

Vegetarian / Vegan: No for the traditional Pie Susu, but vegetarian recipes might exist

Halal / Kosher: Yes

Conclusion

You may have noticed that the dishes truly originating from Bali and consumed by locals have little to do with what one imagines Balinese food to be when listening to travel agencies or influencers who usually repeat nonsense that others have said before them.

The Hindu religion, which allows the consumption of pork, is strongly reflected in Balinese cuisine, and Balinese people are very few in number who are vegetarians or vegans, contrary to what some tourists may think. The vast majority of vegan-friendly restaurants seen in Ubud, Canggu, or Uluwatu are actually run by foreigners and aimed at a foreign clientele.

Similarly, the traditional nasi goreng, mie goreng, and other nasi campur with Javanese influence found everywhere in Bali are mostly not native to Bali and are quite different from traditional Balinese food. That doesn't mean they are not delicious, though!

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