Until the late 20th century, the Bali cooking visitors know today was reserved for festivals and royalty. The staple diet of most ordinary people was rice and vegetables, nibbled throughout the day and eaten semi-formally at two-hour intervals or dauhs, along with mangosteens, durians, fried dragonflies, crickets and occasional meat.
But with increased prosperity, the Balinese adopted royal cuisine as their own – much preferring it to Western food, which they consider nyam-nyam, or flat and tasteless. However, these days some concessions are made for the tourist palate. Royal Balinese food was traditionally served at room temperature; today it’s usually warm, if not hot. The strong chillies Balinese adore are added less liberally to dishes served to visitors. And many of Bali’s original recipes have been forced to adapt: flying foxes and pangolins – game staples when Bali had abundant forests – have been replaced by chicken; sea turtle meat and blood (to flavour stews and sauces) are prohibited.
But Bali’s glorious spices are still used. Many of them, such as kencur and white turmeric, are unique to the region. The age-old cooking methods are still prevalent too. You’ll see few woks in Bali – most traditional Balinese dishes require hours of marinating and slow-cooking, with food wrapped in banana leaves and roasted in stone stoves with rice husks or coconut bark for fuel. The results are worth the wait though and – as with the dishes on the next page – fit for a king too.
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