Balinese Food by Dr Vivienne Kruger

Balinese Food by Dr. Vivienne Kruger

Balinese Food is a different kind of cookbook, a combined “sociological cookbook” and “cultural travelogue” that has been written from the world-view of the Balinese themselves. The book is actually an extended essay that explores the exotic world of Balinese cooking, a cuisine that is an inextricable part of the island’s culture and community life.

In 20 detailed chapters, Vivienne Kruger explains Bali’s foods and food history in the broad contexts of traditional village customs, society and religious ceremonies with chapters on the Balinese kitchen, the joy of snacking at a roadside food stall (warung), visiting a traditional Balinese market, preparing delicious satay with a Balinese twist, brewing potent Balinese coffee, as well as sections devoted to ingredients, equipment and resources.

In her 10 years (2003-2013) of meticulous hands-on research, Kruger doggedly sought out Bali’s traditional kampung food, the best roasted duck (bebek betutu) and the ultimate nasi goreng in back alley warung. She waded through village rice fields to photograph dragonflies on the wing and water buffaloes tethered to plows. She ate spicy grasshoppers (balang), banana tree trunk soup and endless variations of sambal matah (delicious, fresh red shallots, slivers of red peppers, and coconut oil). She investigated sweet green jaja cakes and mysteriously scented breakfast porridges decorated with who-knows-what frilly tree leaves.

In order to present the full range of food experiences, Kruger conducted face-to-face interviews with scores of cultural experts, master cooks and long-time Balinese friends. Contacted by email, the author informed me that the most difficult aspect of writing the book was obtaining authentic local recipes. Her village informants, worried that they would accidentally give her the wrong information, were reluctant to participate in a Western book project. They come from an oral tradition and were unfamiliar with the standard recipe format, preferring to cook by instinct and inherited food memories from trusted grandparents.

During her research, Kruger casts light on Bali’s culinary-religious mindset and at the same time reveals a number of in-depth insights into little known aspects of the island’s cuisine.

*Balinese practice a unique solitary eating custom. Unlike in the West, the notoriously sociable and gregarious Balinese eat all of their meals by themselves – quickly, privately, alone and undisturbed. Family members carry their food-laden plates to a corner, turn their back to the others and eat in very happy silence. Some believe that talking will kill the spirit of the food.

*Consisting of white rice, fried noodles, tempe slivers, tidbits of chicken, grated fried sweet coconut (serunding) and vegetables, Bali’s legendary nasi jenggo is served with scorching-hot, blood-red sambal sauce on the side. Wrapped in triangular, green banana leaf packets, the dish is available at convenience stores and local stalls in traditional markets for only Rp4000 to Rp6000. Another popular dish she recommends, seldom tried by Westerners, is fruit-based rujak, which packs a delightful load of local fruit, chilies and spices.

*Excellent commercial dessert packets of jaja (snacks) in plastic wrappings, along with petite portions of spicy, savory pre-wrapped foods, are sold at the Matahari department store on Kuta Square. The large supermarket on the ground floor stocks all kinds of fruits (rambutan, mangosteen, salak, etc.), as well as drinks, coffees and foods at quite wallet-friendly local prices.

* To make the classic, mandatory ceremonial dish, lawar merah, the religiously required red color, raw uncooked pig’s blood (darah babi) is added to sliced coconut pieces. The fresh blood becomes hard after 10 minutes, so it must be blended with lemongrass to make it soft again with the consistency of red water. Hot coconut oil is then mixed with the meat, sauce and coconut. The Balinese don’t get sick from the raw blood because the vast potpourri of spices kills the bacteria. Green daun jangu leaf from a grass-like tree and kaffir lime juice adds a delicious fragrance, inoculates users against any contamination and completely eradicates the smell of pig’s blood.

*To find truly authentic Balinese village food, Kruger suggests relying on your Balinese driver. Professional drivers have traveled all over the island and know the best places to enjoy the finest Balinese cuisine. Kruger suggests that a guest invited to a home ceremony in a village should always bring the traditional Balinese gift of rice, sugar and coffee.

*Heinz Von Holzen’s Bumbu Bali restaurant in Tanjung Benoa in the Nusa Dua area presents huge scrumptious portions of genuine Balinese food. Served in an artful manner in elegant and authentic Balinese-style surroundings. She recommends the large portion board sampler as the best representative of upscale Balinese food on the island.

One of the author’s most valuable informants was Kasena, her faithful friend and driver since 1995, who not only served as a walking Balinese dictionary, but drove her all over Bali’s rural areas in her quest for culinary accuracy, taking her to unique villages and local eateries, which would otherwise never have been visited. The book’s 48 selected recipes are the same ones found steamed and fried in village temples and family compounds in Bali’s pre-dawn mornings. All recipes were demonstrated and tested in small warung kitchens and private Balinese homes, with the author carefully observing, measuring, cataloging and photographing each step in an often complicated and laborious process, guaranteeing that the flavors will be authentic. Recipe sequences were carefully recorded, as were the ingredients and their amounts.

Bringing to life time-honored village cooking traditions, Balinese Food is a delightful social and cultural guide, lively travel journalism as well as a valuable resource for expatriate residents, home chefs, culinary historians and the general public who have an interest in food preparation, food culture, Balinese food and Asian cooking.

More than just another recipe book, it is a distillation of the writer’s deep experience and knowledge of Bali’s extravagant, multi-layered and spiritual culinary practices. This book represents a lifetime of study and observation and will greatly enhance our understanding of this complex and important island.

Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine & Food Culture of Bali by Dr. Vivienne Kruger, Tuttle Publishing 2014, ISBN 978-0804844505, paperback, 304 pages, dimensions 13 cm X 20 cm. Available for Rp180,000 at Periplus ( and Ganesha bookstores (

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