Into the market
When all those western foods, western restaurants with the hand-wringing western-accented maitre d’ and, often most annoyingly, formal western table manners, have bored you to death, then it is time to go Bourdain-like, or if you prefer Bobby Chinn-like, and hit the streets of Bali on an exhilarating adventure to the roadside food stalls offering local delicacies.
Traditional markets are always the perfect site to start the adventure. Most of the traditional markets on the island sell fresh commodities in the morning and turn into a food bazaar in the evening. The food bazaars in Peken Badung and Kereneng market in Denpasar open until early in the morning, although after midnight the menu will be limited to chicken soup, beef soup, spicy nasi jango, and those half-boiled free-range chicken eggs that are the preferred aphrodisiac among the local Casanovas.
Some 30 kilometers east, at the Pasar Umum (public market) in downtown Gianyar, the culinary choices are richer and cover basically all the best foods that Balinese traditional chefs can offer. Cart stalls line the street in front of the market offering the ubiquitous babi guling (suckling pig) and grilled chicken with a simple sauce made of coconut oil, onion and zedoary (white turmeric) served with hot rice and hotter sambel matah (shredded raw shallot, onion and chili) condiment.
Inside the market, the offerings also include srombotan salad – a good choice for vegetarian visitors, pork satay, grilled freshwater fish and Javanese-style bakso meatballs. There are also several cart stalls specializing in the colorful Balinese traditional cakes, generally made of rice flour and seaweed. These cakes are literally the only sweet fare on offer in the market. All other available food only provides a varying degree of spiciness.
A culinary expedition to these traditional markets may not satisfy your taste buds, or even your hunger, but will surely add another layer of comprehension to your experience and understanding about this island.
One caveat, though, there is always a possibility that this adventure will leave you with an acute indigestion problem. But after all, what is an adventure without any risk of danger?
— Photos by I Wayan Juniarta