Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine & Food Culture of Bali by Dr. Vivienne Kruger offers over 40 authentic recipes to showcase the cuisine and traditions of this small island in Indonesia. It isn’t all about the recipes. Dr. Kruger’s 10 years of research has produced an in-depth look into the culture and community life surrounding the cuisine. The paperback format and small size makes it perfect for casual reading. I will also be sharing her recipe for Sate Lilit Ayam (Balinese Chicken Satay) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Balinese Food is divided based on the type of food and how it is used in 21 chapters: Sacred Ceremonial Cuisine; The Balinese Kitchen; Traditional Village Foods; Snacking on Bali; The Balinese Bumbu (A Sacred, Powerful Paste); Breakfast in the Morning of the World; Dewi Sri and the Cult of Rice; The Hanging Ketupat Basket (Rice on the Run); Babi Guling and the Balinese Pig; Bebek Betutu (The Balinese Duck); The Village Chicken; Seduced by Sate; Seafood in Bali; The Perils of Penyu (Ritual and Dietary Turtle Meat); Bali: Emerald Vegetarian Garden of Eden; The Sweet Life; Fruits of Bali; Sacred Refreshments; Traditional Village Drinks; Sweet Spirits, Hot Arak Nights and the Gods of Wine; and Kopi Bali (The Heavenly Coffee).
This book is best for the more experienced cook, particular one with knowledge of Southeast Asian ingredients. Dr. Kruger collected the recipes from an assortment of Balinese locals who pass down their traditions orally. Precise measurements are not always listed and the steps to some recipes are not perfectly clear. These dishes are also completely authentic and certain ingredients may be difficult to find if markets specializing in Southeast Asian food are lacking in your area. Photographs are not provided with the dishes. The center of the book does contain a section of color photos featuring scenes of Balinese life and some dishes, such as Babi Guling (Spit-Roasted Suckling Pig), Gado-Gado (Mixed Vegetables with Peanut Sauce), and Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay).
There are a few recipes that I do not see myself making, but still appreciate their inclusion for the cultural and historical aspect, particularly: Lawar Capung (Dragonfly Lawar), Tirta (Holy Water), Capung Goreng (Fried Dragonfly), and Serapah Penyu (Turtle).
The book ends with notes on Balinese equipment and ingredients that may be difficult to find with substitutes and equivalents when available. There is also a small resource guide on where to buy Balinese ingredients and spices online and in the following countries: United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain.
Sate Lilit Ayam (Balinese Chicken Satay)
Meat on a stick is one of Chad’s favorite foods, so I picked out a recipe from the Sate section to try out. Sate was introduced to Indonesia by South Indians, but it has adapted into countless possibilities based on the region, religion, and available ingredients. Dr. Kruger writes about the numerous types of sate, how they are cooked, and provides two recipes at the end, Sate Lilit Ikan (Grilled Ground Fillet of Fish in a Balinese Spicy Sauce with Fresh Shredded Coconut) and Sate Lilit Ayam (Grilled Ground Chicken in a Balinese Spicy Sauce with Fresh Shredded Coconut).
Sate Lilit Ayam is created by grinding chicken with spices and coconut until it forms a sticky paste. The paste is wrapped around the lower part of flat, wide skewers made from bamboo or lemongrass. The sate can be served with either a sweet soy chili or peanut dipping sauce.
Don’t form the meat mixture too thick around the skewers or the outside will burn before the interior has a chance to cook.
I used short (5.9 inch), flat bamboo skewers. I was able to find them on Amazon: BambooMN Brand Premium Flat Style Bamboo BBQ Skewers, 5.9″ – 100pc Bag.
I also made Nasi Kuning (Yellow Rice), Dadar Gulung (Pancake Rolls Stuffed with Grated Coconut), Kolak Ubi (Sweet Potato Kolak), and Babi Kecap Bali Style (Pork in Sweet Chili Sauce- Not Photographed).
Nasi Kuning is made by combining steamed rice with a fragrant turmeric paste that creates a yellow hue. The rice is most often served in the form of a cone with the top wrapped in a piece of banana leaf to resemble Gunung Agung, Bali’s most holy mountain and the only active volcano on the island. It is generally made for the holiday Kuningan and certain birthday celebrations. With the help of a food processor to create the spice paste, this dish was incredibly easy to prepare with a stunning presentation.
Dadar Gulung are spongy, green rice flour crepes filled with a sweet coconut palm sugar filling. The green color is made with pandan and suji leaves. I was unable to locate suji leaves, so I combined natural blue and yellow food colorings in its place. This only gave it a slight green coloring. I wasn’t too sure about this recipe at first. The batter calls for a large amount of salt (I used kosher salt and decreased it a little with tasting). The directions also call for the addition of warm water to the batter, but do not specify how much. I added enough to create a smooth, pourable batter. I also had some issues folding the crepes around the filling, but that is mostly to me needing practice. All doubts dissolved when I tried a bite. The combination of slightly salty crepe with sweet coconut filling is quite incredible. Of the recipes I tried in this book, Chad said this one was his favorite.
Kolak Ubi is a dish made by simmering sweet potatoes in a coconut palm sugar sauce. It was one of the easiest desserts I have made lately. Everything is just boiled in a single pot until the sweet potatoes are tender and the palm sugar has created a slightly sticky, caramelized sauce. Dr. Kruger also included a recipe for kolak made with bananas. I did not make that particular recipe, but did add a few slices of banana to Chad’s Kolak Ubi bowl.
Most of Indonesia practices Islam and therefore avoids pork, but Bali is predominately Hindu. I did not have the means (nor a large enough family/celebration coming up) to prepare Babi Guling, an impressive whole 75-110 pound roasted and stuffed pig, so I settled on Babi Kecap Bali Style. I simmered pieces of pork in a strongly spiced sweet soy sauce. Chad said it was even better as leftovers (which he took to lunch with him so I did not get a chance to photograph the dish). This is a recipe where the instructions could have been a little more clear for the more novice cook. The introduction mentions slow-braising the pork, but the instructions only state to simmer the pork until tender with no particular mention of the time needed.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine & Food Culture of Bali and learning more about the cuisine of this island. I really hope I get the chance to visit someday and try the food firsthand. While this may not be the best choice for those not previously exposed to Southeast Asian food, it is a wonderful addition for others wanting an in-depth history and cultural guide to Bali.
Looking for more Indonesian recipes?
Sate Lilit Ayam (Grilled Ground Chicken in a Balinese Spicy Sauce with Fresh Shredded Coconut) Recipe
Adapted from Balinese Food
Sate Lilit Ayam (Grilled Ground Chicken in a Balinese Spicy Sauce with Fresh Shredded Coconut)
- 11 small shallots peeled and chopped
- 5 garlic cloves chopped
- 5 orange chilies each 1 1/2 inches long, stems removed and chopped
- 2 (1 1/4 inch each) pieces lesser galangal peeled and grated
- 3 slices fresh turmeric peeled and grated
- 1 piece (3/4 inch) fresh ginger peeled and grated
- 2 pounds ground chicken
- 3/4 of a freshly grated coconut
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- Coconut oil for greasing
- Steamed white rice
- Sweet soy sauce with chopped chilies
- Peanut dipping sauce
- In a food processor or large mortar and pestle, combine shallots, garlic, chilies, galangal, turmeric, and ginger. Blend or grind into a smooth paste.
- Blend in the chicken until smooth, then mix in the grated coconut to create a sticky yellow paste.
- Mold the chicken paste around the pointed ends and up half of the bamboo sticks, making sure the chicken is not too thick.
- In a large skillet, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Once thoroughly heated, add the prepared sticks in batches, being careful not to overcrowd, until golden on all sides and cooked through. Repeat with remaining sticks.
- Serves immediately with steamed white rice and sweet soy chili or peanut dipping sauce.