Balinese herbs and spices are what make Balinese food and cuisines unique. The richness of the authentic Balinese cooking’s flavor and aroma comes from the fresh harvests from the fertile soil of Bali. While you have heard about some of the best authentic Balinese food and cuisine, you might want to know the Balinese herbs and spices used for the cooking.

Balinese Herbs and Spices used for cooking

Bali has almost the full range of Asian herbs and spices, which are freshly used to make various authentic and traditional Balinese dishes. Besides, they are also widely used for traditional medicines or healthy drinks. Here are some of the Balinese herbs and spices used:

  • Garlic (bawang putih) – add delicious aroma and depth of flavor
  • Shallots (bawang merah) – often combined with garlic, used for onion-based dishes, mostly used independently for making ‘sambal’
  • Lemongrass (sereh) – widely used in many dishes even in the tea
  • Kaffir lime leaves (daun jeruk) – commonly used in lemongrass or coconut milk-based dishes
  • Bay leaves or salam leaves (daun salam) – traditionally used to add more flavors to the meat-based dishes
  • Ginger (jahe) – juicy yellow flesh with a strong aroma, good to get rid of fishy smells, or to add spicy natural flavor.
  • Galanga, or Greater galangal, or Alpinia galangal (lengkuas / laos) – whiter flesh and less strong aroma compared to ginger, can be grated to add crunchy bits to fried chicken or beef
  • Kaempferia galangal or Lesser galangal (kencur) – smaller and looks bubblier compared to ginger, has sharp and sweet taste, usually grounded together with other spices to cook Balinese and Indonesia cuisines
  • Turmeric (kunyit) – used for natural yellow coloring and add a somewhat bitter flavor
  • Candlenut (kemiri) – used as a thickener and a texture enhancer in curry pastes and other dishes
  • Coriander seeds (biji ketumbar) – add spicy, citrus flavor
  • Lime (jeruk nipis) – to enhance the flavors of the recipes or to diminish the fishy smells prior to cooking
  • Chili (cabe) – different chilis are used depending on the dishes: big chili to add more red decorative colors instead of the spiciness, bird’s eye chili to add up more spicy flavors, etc.
  • Shrimp paste (terasi) – fermented shrimp used to add more aroma and robust the savory flavor
  • Nutmeg (pala) – add warm and spicy aroma and flavor, might be used in some pork ribs soup
  • Pepper (merica) – add the heat and depth of flavor to any dish
  • Coconut oil (minyak kelapa) – one of the secrets of the tasty Balinese dishes, they mostly use coconut oil to make the spice paste, grill the satay, make sambal matah (Balinese chili mix), etc.

Various Balinese basic spice paste

Indonesian or Balinese dishes mostly use particular basic spice paste for cooking most cuisines. Some of them are commonly sold in the traditional market, made from some fresh Balinese herbs and spices and packed into some small package for you to skip all the complicated process of preparing it from scratch.

If you prepare it from the fresh spices, grind all of these Balinese herbs and spices smoothly and fry it in coconut oil, let it cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge, use sparingly when cooking. Here are some Balinese basic spice paste commonly used for Balinese cooking and the ingredients:

  • Base Genep
    This is the essential aromatic seasoning spice paste for Balinese food, including for satay lilit, lawar, betutu, and other Balinese cuisines. It consists of complete set ingredients of 15 Balinese herbs and spices, which are: turmeric, greater galangal, lesser galangal, ginger, garlic, shallots, big chili, bird’s eye chili, lemongrass, candlenut, tomato, coriander seeds, white pepper, bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves, then adds some shrimp paste with salt and sugar.
  • Base Suna Cekuh
    In Balinese, “suna” means garlic and “cekuh” means lesser galangal, which both dominate this spice paste. It includes the garlic, lesser galangal, shallots, bay leaves, turmeric, all fried in coconut oil. This paste is popular to cook with the octopus (called as “gurita suna cekuh”).
  • Sambal Matah
    This is the (raw) authentic Balinese food of chili sauce made from finely chopped fresh shallots, lemongrass, bird’s eye chili, a dash of shrimp paste, and pour the boiled coconut oil – added with some salt, sugar, and lime.
  • Sambal Terasi
    This is the cooked version of “sambal” (chili mix), which consists of shallots, garlic, bird’s eye chili, shrimp paste, some tomatoes (optional). Fry all ingredients in the oil, take it out, grind them – add some salt and sugar.
  • Base Rajang
    For this particular spice paste, instead of being ground smoothly, the ingredients are just finely chopped. They include bird’s eye chili, lemongrass, turmeric, greater galangal, ginger, coriander seeds, and pepper.