I didn’t really know anything about Indonesian food before coming to Bali. I knew rice was involved and I assumed dishes would be flavorful. My lack of knowledge was a bit pathetic because my brother-in-law, who is Balinese, is a chef in Bali. He works for a swanky restaurant that focuses on Indonesian cuisine (I have a theory that Anthony Bourdain will soon visit this restaurant and feature it on Parts Unknown, and then my brother-in-law will officially become a world famous chef). So, ya know, maybe I should have at least known the name of a dish or two before arriving, but I didn’t.
During my two-and-a-half weeks in Bali I made it a point to eat Indonesian fare whenever possible. Most of the time I was eating stuff that was specific to Bali, but some of the dishes cross over all of the 17,500+ islands. One aspect of Indonesian food that separates it from other Asian cuisine is that it doesn’t use a lot of oil. For example, when making fried rice (Nasi Goreng), the Indonesian dish will use instant chili paste and steaming rather than the Chinese version of dousing it with soy sauce or fish sauce. Indonesian food also seems to be a bit less sauce-heavy than Indian food.
Basically, Indonesian food is delicious. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a food writer, and my descriptions of taste are pretty crap. The best I can do is to say it’s not as salty as Chinese food nor as minimal as Japanese cuisine (think sushi, Bento boxes, etc.). Each dish had traces of onion, bell peppers and chili peppers, and they tasted like someone grabbed a handful of plants from outside and mashed them up (I mean that in a good way). Everything also had a kind of smokey hint like it was either cooked over a fire or there was smoke nearby (and if your restaurant is in the rice fields then fire is constantly nearby). There’s also a lot of frying going on, which I have no complaints about.
Oh, and things are spicy. I think a lot of restaurants were going easy on this blond bule (me) in the spicy department. Normally I like things so spicy that my taste buds are burnt off. That only happened once in Bali and it was a homemade chili sauce from a warung (my mouth went numb, my throat went numb, everything). Besides that, certain dishes were spicy, but nothing too crazy for a Western palate. Again though, that could very well be a result of me being Paley McPalerson and maybe I just wasn’t ordering traditionally spicy dishes. Clearly I’ll have to go back to Indonesia and find out!
One of my millennial failings is that I don’t take pictures of my food. I’m not a foodie, so why bother? In Bali, however, I couldn’t stop taking photos because Indonesian food not only excels in taste, but presentation, too. It didn’t matter where I ate–a fancy restaurant, a hipster cafe, or a small warung (kind of like a Mom and Pop stand/restaurant) on the side of the road–everything was presented beautifully! Even the takeout food had a unique look; at least when compared to the U.S. In the States we pack to-go orders in boxy Styrofoam. In Bali it’s tied in plastic bags. Even soup! When I first saw someone spooning food into a small plastic sandwich-looking bag I was worried how sloppy and messy it would be to carry and then dish it out. Turns out my worries were unwarranted. Tying the food in a fairly air-tight plastic baggy makes them very easy to carry, and then you just cut a hole in the bag and pour the contents into a bowl. So simple!
Now here comes the mean part of this blog: photos of all the wonderful food! Feast your eyes and drool. (Also, my apologies that I don’t remember what some of the dishes were called.)
I’m going to start with this photo first. It’s from the menu of the Savannah Moon restaurant in Ubud, and it gives a pretty good synopsis of traditional Indonesian dishes.
And now onto the dishes…