Balinese Cuisine at the Warung.

Food, glorious food, glorious Balinese food. It’s one of the reasons I keep returning to this beautiful island. Good Balinese food is seductive yet quite subtle. Two famous Balinese sambals,¬†sambal matah and sambal merah, add depth to a simple grilled fish or chicken, while the combination of white pepper and coriander seeds, turmeric and galangal, purple shallot, lemongrass, palm sugar, chilli, and terasi ( fish paste) are pounded together to make a rich tasting bumbu, or Balinese spice paste, the basis for a simple curry.

Warung in the Sindhu Night Market

There are many tiers of eating establishments, or rumah makan, in Bali: you can pay a fortune at an upmarket international hotel, continuing to eat the cuisine from your home country, or watered down versions of local cuisine in a Western style restaurant, or you can try a more authentic and economical meal at a simple warung. A warung is a small family owned eating place, often located on the street or beach. Some may look a little ramshackle and temporary, often with small benches and plastic stools, and will usually be patronised by locals.  Other modern warungs have sprung up in the beach suburbs around Sanur, but some bare no relationship to the real thing.

Many warungs are made from wooden, bamboo or thatched materials, perhaps with tin walls. In the past, the Warung tenda, a portable warung that looked like a tent, was more common, with roofing and walls made from Chinese blue and white plastic tarps. Other interesting warungs include kitchen carts on wheels, colourful bright blue Bakso stalls, motorbikes with gas cookers, and night market warungs set up with little tables and chairs. Warungs also tend to specialise in one or two dishes which are often based on a secret family recipe.

Morning bubur cart travels around the back suburban streets of Sanur, sounding a morning bell. Rice porridge comes with tasty toppings like ground peanuts.

I’ll admit It takes a brave heart to venture into the¬†tasty world of the¬† street¬†warung: you need to assess the cleanliness of these eateries and often that’s quite hard. Word of mouth, and popularity with locals- these are good indicators. Also check out the washing up facilities and water used. Good warungs are clean as hundreds of locals eat here every day. You may need to know a few food words, and simple phrases if you have special dietary preferences as often there’s no menu or price. Tanpa daging ( without meat) or tidak daging ( not meat) will suffice if you don’t eat meat. As food is often cooked to order, a warung cook is happy to adjust a recipe for you, leaving out ingredients that you don’t like.

Not all warungs are cheap: a few located around the Sanur beaches have become famous, rating highly on TA and frequented more by tourists than locals. One popular grilled fish restaurant, Amphibia, operates flat-out from midday till late. They work from a small tin shed, and grill the fish and seafood on a charcoal BBQ set up on raised platforms outside. Bench seating is nearby. You order your fish, lobster, prawns, octopus, squid and clams by weight, then they are barbecued and served with rice and vegetable urab and sambal. These boys never stop. They buy the fish early in the morning at Jimbaran, then store it under ice in large tanks: during lulls in business, you can watch them tenderising and peeling octopus, cleaning prawns and fish, running hoses around the place and stoking the BBQ with charcoal. A share plate of snapper, prawn, shrimp, a few calamari rings and razor clams is AU$20. Sit on a little stool on the beach and share the platter, washed down with a Bintang beer.

Hot work. Cooking at Amphibia. Sindhu Beach, Bali

Another Warung favoured by Westerners is Jackfish, a family run business right on the beach just past Semawang. Nyoman, the brains behind this warung, trained as a mechanical engineer but after working off shore for years, decided to open a fish themed Warung. His mother waits on tables and makes the Urab ( mild tasting Balinese salad made from bean shoots, green beans and coconut ). His father sorts cutlery and napkins and helps with the accounts. Nyoman does the grilling, waiting on tables and everything else. The family come from five generations of fishermen, and now source their¬†daily deliveries from local sources. They often cater for large parties so check before hand as Jackfish closes when they do large groups. When I’m staying in the Semawang end of Sanur, I eat at Jackfish everyday, it’s that good.

Grilled snapper, rice, urab, and two sambals. IDR 60,000/AU $6. Jackfish is located right on the sand at the southern end of Sanur.
Energetic Nyoman of Jackfish, Semawang Beach, Sanur, Bali

When in the mood for snacks, I head for¬†warungs specialising in deep-fried foods, called¬†¬†Gorengun. At these little carts you’ll find feep fried springrolls, deep-fried tofu or Tahu Isi ( Tofu stuffed with bean shoots)¬†and battered gado-gado and other things with tofu, as well as an array of sweets such as Onde-Onde. A bag of 8 snacks will cost around AU$1 and will come with a few green chillies and chilli sauce.

Tasty deep-fried vegetarian snacks from a Gorengan cart at the Sindhu Nightmarket, where a $1 goes a long way.

The Warung situated right in front of the Bunjar Pantai Semawang, has great ocean views and is well sheltered from the wind. They do the best spring rolls in the district. Three large vegetable lumpia ( AU$1.50) make a tasty lunchtime snack. Try with a mug of hot lemon tea ( AU.65c) a fresh juice ( AU$1.50)  or cut straight to the chase with a chilled Bintang to wash them down.

Satu Bintang besar, dua gelas, Terima Kasih.

Guide to Balinese Cuisine here

Morning Street Food in Bali

I’ve really taken to Balinese street food lately, especially at breakfast time. At around 6 am, a few Balinese women arrive at the beach end of Jalan Pantai Sindhu and set up small stalls along the brick walls. They come laden with baskets on their heads, after cooking the morning snacks at home. They sell out quickly and are gone by 9.30 am. One young woman sells a fabulous array of Indonesian cakes, as well as tahu isi, and Balinese thick black coffee. The other older woman sells large wedges of cut fruit, rempeyek cacang¬†(peanut krupuk) and triangular packets of rice with a little spicy condiment and a hard-boiled egg: open the package and it becomes your plate, then eat with your fingers Indonesian style.

Sweet cake lady

It’s an idyllic start to the day, slowly waking with the sun rising over the ocean. sitting in a traditional Balinese platform on the sand.¬†Here’s my list of favourite kue ( snacks) from that shy vendor:

  • tahu isi-¬†a large square of tofu stuffed with bean shoots then deep-fried in batter served with a small green chilli which you insert into the middle.
    Tahu isi. Stuffed and fried tofu.

    Inside the tahu isi
  • ¬†dadar gulung – a green pandanus leaf¬† rice flour pancake rolled up and stuffed with grated coconut and palm sugar

    Dadar Gulung, rolled pandanus pancake stuffed with coconut and palm sugar.
  • ¬†kue pisang,¬†made from rice flour, coconut milk and sugar filled with slices of banana, the mixture is wrapped in banana leaf then steamed.
    Kue pisang for me.

    Mr T’s favourite green stuffed cake. I don’t yet know the name of this one, but it has a similar stuffing to Dadar Gulung.
  • klepon¬†, green-coloured balls of rice cake filled with liquid palm sugar and coated in grated coconut. The liquid explodes when you bite into it. Made from rice flour, pandanus paste or powder, palm sugar or coconut sugar, grated coconut.
  • onde- onde. Round balls that look a bit like Moshi, but are completely different and taste rather healthy.¬†Made from glutinous rice, mung bean (or lotus) paste, sugar, sesame seeds.

    round balls with sesame seeds are Onde- Onde
  • Kue Talam, a two layered steamed cake, usually in two colours, made from¬†rice flour, steamed sweet potato, palm sugar, tapioca, and coconut milk.
Sindhu Beach, 6.30 am. Cake and Coffee vendor

The young woman, my new best friend, doesn’t speak English and I have just enough Bahasa Indonesia to get by. You’ll need to know your numbers, along with a few other words like gula (sugar) pisang¬†(banana) kopi (coffee),¬†tahu (tofu) and ketan ( sticky rice) or just wing it. Each cake and snack is a taste sensation and at dua ribu¬†/ IDR 2000/ AU 20 cents a piece, it’s hard to go wrong.¬†Although there is a little palm sugar in each of these bites, they are not overly sweet, and go well with thick black coffee. Those containing sticky rice are rather filling too.

Which one today?

In the past, these Balinese cakes came wrapped in banana leaves, as did most street food items. You now notice that these tasty treasures from morning street vendors use plastic wrapping or sealed in cellophane. Some snacks, such as¬†pisang goreng¬†¬†(banana fritters) and kue pisang come plastic free. Of course, if I had eaten the huge banquet breakfast in my hotel, or opted for one seated at a little cafe nearby, I would be completely oblivious to the amount of plastic used along with the food waste that these places produce. The young woman photographed collects all the plastic waste she sells. It’s heartening to know that Bali is now addressing the plastic issue, with recycling bins prominently displayed.

Morning fruit with a squeeze of lime. Fallen Frangipani blossom.

Today’s breakfast of two coffees, two pieces of stuffed tofu, two little cakes, a wedge of watermelon and a wedge of papaya came to AU$2. I prefer this style of breakfast to the big banquet western style breakfast. It’s another chance to eat like a local, watching as they pull up on motorbikes to grab a coffee and a quick snack, and to catch a glimpse of Agung rising above the sea.

See list of popular Indonesian Kue here

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