Here’s a compilation of the most bizarre foods and drinks in Bali, some commonly found as side dishes that accompany meals served daily at local restaurants throughout the island, while others can be a bit rare and harder to find, but which you may stumble upon on your travels to the more rural areas. Most of these strange and weird food are favoured by locals, but visitors - particularly of the adventurous type - may find the unusual tastes to their liking.
For example, there’s a fruit salad dish that the locals crave for, but which visitors find awkward due to it being served in chillies and fish broth, or an ingredient that is actually highly toxic, but adds great aroma and flavour to soups and stews when cooked. With the all-time favourite babi guling roast pork, almost nothing of the pig goes to waste, including the blood and intestines! Have a different kind of culinary adventure with this list of the most bizarre foods and drinks in Bali.
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This is the traditional salad mix that mostly accompanies any kind of rice dish in Bali, be it nasi babi guling or nasi campur. There are two types of lawar, based on the ingredients. Lawar putih (‘white lawar’) is less bizarre and comprises shredded coconut, young jackfruit slices, string beans and spices. Meanwhile, lawar merah (‘red lawar’) has red, raw sliced meat and pig’s blood tossed in. Dare to try the latter? It’s easily found at any warung or local restaurant serving babi guling.
Foreigners are often bewildered at why locals love their sweet-tasting fruits served with chillies. Rujak is a traditional fruit salad with a twist – it’s extremely spicy thanks to the added chillies. Different versions include local tropical fruits such as young mangos, starfruit, young papaya, jicama, and so on, often sliced with a serrated knife, then doused in a dressing of liquefied shrimp paste, salt and chillies. You may come across the ‘dry’ version throughout Southeast Asian countries, with only shrimp paste and salt. In Bali, though, they often order theirs with tuna broth or kuah pindang added!
This treat is known among the coastal Balinese communities, particularly around the island’s south. Seaweed - or bulung in the local tongue - comes in two varieties: the common stringy carrageenan seaweed and the bulbous boni type. Salads for both options are served in the same manner, with the same kuah pindang chilli and tuna broth as rujak, and topped with grated burnt coconut and fried nuts.
Another common Balinese rice dish accompaniment is urutan or Bali's version of blood sausages. Some Europeans and Americans may be accustomed to sausage skins filled with blood and cooked or dried and mixed with a filler until they congeal. Bali’s urutan is another by-product of babi guling and, in its raw form, the looks will certainly lower your appetite. But when sliced, fried, and served, it’s truly tasty and well worth a try.
This fruit is indispensable in several Southeast Asian dishes. Raw and ripe keluak fruit and its seeds contain hydrogen cyanide – highly toxic if consumed uncooked. When they are processed through boiling or roasted in hot ash, neutralising the harmful chemicals, keluak gives off a wonderful flavour and aroma to soups, such as rawon veal or beef stews.
These rice field snails are a valuable source of protein for agrarian communities in Bali. The favoured types are the darker to black ones, as they have a tastier and more delightful texture compared to the yellow types. The snails are gathered from the mud, shells cracked open, then washed. They are then boiled before cooked into soups, salads or prepared on skewers to be grilled as satays, together with a blend of Balinese spices.
Another easily found and popular source of protein among rural Balinese communities are lindung or freshwater eels. Catching eels using strings and hooks is a favourite pastime among Balinese kids in the countryside, and they take their fresh catches home for their mothers to prepare and cook, together with an aromatic blend of garlic and galangal. They are also usually dried before being fried with a batter into a crispy snack.
The Balinese make herbal drinks from various types of leaves and fruits, much like jamu from Java. They refer to any liquid mixture or traditionally-prepared herbal tonic as loloh. Often, loloh is taken to maintain general good health and the ingredients are known for their medical benefits. Some of the most commonly used are tibah or morinda fruit, hibiscus flower, don kayumanis or leaves of the star gooseberry tree, with other herbs and spices such as salt, roast shallots, ginger and turmeric to taste.
This is a by-product of traditional coconut oil processing, in which the remaining foam and residue that rises above the boiling coconut milk is sifted away to be coal-roasted alone in banana wraps as a white, mildly sweet and soft-textured condiment to accompany rice dishes. Tastes somewhat like melted cheese and shiitake.
Srombotan is a local raw (or partly-cooked) vegetable salad mix, originally from Bali’s regency of Klungkung. The main components include partly-steamed fern leaves, winged bean seeds, bean sprouts and cabbage. It is then topped with a very spicy kalas sauce made of coconut milk blended with turmeric, chillies, galangal, shallots, garlic, coriander and a little bit of sand ginger. Certainly a must-try on your visits to East Bali – if you can handle really spicy dishes!
In some rural areas of Bali, kids dig under wilted banana trunks to find these ugly, thumb-sized larvae. They consider these a high-protein snack. After being thoroughly washing, the morsels are then roasted or fried with spices to taste.
Another lawar mix to look out for (although rather hard to find) is this one that uses bee larvae and their honeycombs as main ingredient. Sometimes the honeycomb is left intact, with some of the larvae oozing out during the cooking process, together with the common blend of vegetable and spices that make up the usual lawar mix. The dish is as rare as the harvesting of beehives, so it’s one of the hardest to find on this list. Nevertheless, the textures and flavours of burnt honey with Balinese spices is something really exceptional and definitely worth a try, if you get the chance.
Usually, entrails are thrown out in western cooking… But chicken intestines are saved for this deep-fried Indonesian delicacy which you can find sold at most local restaurants in Bali. Thoroughly washed then basted in turmeric (a natural disinfectant), and then sometimes rolled in tapioca flour batter, the short or flat-cut intestines are then thrown into hot oil until crisp. They look more appealing when cooked, and actually taste great too. There’s also skewered versions inthe manner of satays as well.