Bali is a magical place with food dishes that are so deeply connected with their culture and worship, that preparation and sharing of ceremonial food is almost ritualistic. Regardless of whether it is special or every day, Bali has a strong food culture that involves a real labour of love.
If food is not prepared with love, then it has no flavor… Balinese saying
I will do a later post on the special ceremony foods, but today’s post will be about one of the ordinary everyday foods, Nasi Campur. Nasi (rice) Campur (mix), a good cupful or two of rice with delightfully spicy side dishes that is prepared once a day, and eaten all day long - breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In Balinese households, there are very few fridges or freezers as they call them. This is because the local markets that are teaming with fresh produce open every day (except religious holidays) between 2 and 4 o’clock in the morning. By 8am every household has been and bought their daily supplies of fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish, meats or tofu and tempeh. Tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans and more likely to be eaten on a regular day than fish (ibek) or chicken (ayam). Duck (bebek) or pork (babi) usually only appear on ceremony days.
Most families still have a garden and will use what they can harvest there first before buying anything. The rainforests here are more like food forests – where every tree bears some sort of food, coconut, banana, papaya, mango, mangosteen, durian, with gingers, turmeric, lemongrass, ferns, vegetables and much more growing underneath. Grasses, vegetation and even small trees are cut and taken home for the chickens, cow or a pig or two. Most families still grow their own rice which is the mainstay of the Balinese diet.
What has been gathered, or shared or purchased is prepared early each morning and cooked in a good quality coconut oil immediately. The best tasting rice is steamed over a boiling pot on a small ceramic wood stove, but many now have a modern electric rice cooker for convenience.
Most Balinese dishes involve a good dose of garlic, tiny little red onions, fat red chillis, fresh bright orange turmeric, fragrant gingers (often more than one variety) cumin, coriander, and ground two handed in a large flat stone mortar into a paste. Balinese cooking is an amazing amalgam of sweet, sour, spicy and aromatics like lemongrass and kaffir lime that is lovingly prepared from the finest raw ingredients.
Some of Bali’s best kept secrets are the home-made produce, which are just being discovered by the outside world. Like the nectar of the coconut flower gathered while it is still high up in the coconut tree made by one village that specializes in boiling this nectar down to a thick toffee like consistency, setting it in half coconut shells and calling it palm sugar! This sugar adds a complex sweetness to balance the seasalt evaporated on the black sands of Bali. The cooking process and the salt, sugar, acid and spices are natural preservatives, so food is cooked only once a day, and then whenever you are hungry, you can eat. Salamat makan - good eating...
It is not customary to have a “mealtime” and all sit down together. Meals are eaten quickly with your right hand. As soon asyou are finished eating, you get up, wash your hands and face, clear away anything that will attract flies or ants. Then you can relax to share stories, have fun and plan the next temple ceremony or family celebration. The men will have a kopi (Bali sweet black coffee) and a cigarette, and the women will pull out the palm and banana leaves and work communally to make offerings while they chat.
Bali is still a third world country in many ways. Thankfully few will have nothing to eat, as rice is cheap and nearly always available. A woman in the “Tourist markets” trying to sell something late in the day may say forlornly “Please Mum, just one sarong. I no sell all day. If you no buy, then there will be no flavor on the rice tonight”