One of the things that I love most about travelling is the chance to discover new cuisines.  Indonesian food is the perfect blend of spicy, punchy flavours that make for a delicious meal. So obviously, I had to try my hand at making a few. 

How much do you know about Indonesian food? If it’s anything at all, you knew more than I did a week ago. Sure, I knew that I loved the food in Bali – each time I’ve been I’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying something new here and there. But if you’d asked me how you put it together – well, I’d have had no clue.

This is why I came to find myself sitting down in my bath at 6am preparing myself for a six hour Balinese cooking class at the Amandari, Ubud. If a 6am wake up isn’t dedication to the cooking cause, I’m not sure what is.

To Market

Market Picture to Gather Indonesian Food Ingredients

We started the day with a trip to the local market – something that I’ve begun to see myself as a bit of a dab hand at recently. The first indication that this wasn’t going to be quite the market experience I was used to was when we hopped in the car and drove out of Ubud. And drove, and drove… you get the point.

After about 45 minutes, we pulled up in a small village for a ‘real market experience’ according to my driver. I suppose it would have been even more authentic if he’d left me to communicate with the stallholders in my rather indecipherable form of mime, but there’s only so much a girl is willing to embarrass herself first thing in the morning and I gladly accepted his assistance (read: his perfectly fluent Bahasa Indonesian) . I’d been kitted out with a shopping list and together we worked our way through stalls stuffed to the brim with the wacky and the wonderful.

At 7am the market was almost empty. I’d assumed that this was because anyone with perfect senses and no pressing matters to deal with would still be comfortably drifting in the land of nod. But no, it was because most of the women in the village had already been at 4am when the market had opened and were now busy turning their purchases into delicious meals to be scoffed by the rest of the family later in the day. Hats off to them. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to eat what I’d make at 4am in the morning.

Much of the produce in the market was quite familiar by now but there were still quite a few things that I hadn’t spied in the other Asian countries I’ve been to so far. Did you know that you can cook with fern tips?  They starred on our shopping list and were duly bought, not without a little curiosity on my part.

Once we’d collected the required ingredients from the various old ladies vigilantly manning the stalls, we set off for the cooking school, which is housed in the Kedewatan village a few minutes down the road from the hotel. And the fun began.

Traditional Balinese Recipes

Indonesian curry paste

Like most cuisines, the trick to Indonesian food is in the preparation. Lots of preparation. The menu of the day consisted of six dishes, which mean a fair amount of chopping, peeling and pounding (my arms are going to be bulging with muscles by the end of this trip if I keep this up). All with the help of some very sharp knives….

We prepared the food on low tables out in the courtyard. Time after time I was shown how a vegetable or spice was to be chopped (as a rule, into as small pieces as is humanely possible with very few exceptions), provided with a block of wood and set to it. There was rather messy making of the coconut milk (squeeeeeze, and squeeze – an excellent stress reliever, who needs one of those silly little balls when you have a duck curry to make?), which was my favourite…

The dish that took the longest time to prepare was actually the simplest – the rice, which we served with sweet potato. There are several stages to preparing this rice: you have to wash and steam the rice in a bamboo steamer for 20 minutes or so, take it off the heat, put it in a bowl and add boiling water. Cover and leave until the water has been absorbed and then add the diced pieces of sweet potato. Put back into the steamer with bay leaves for 30 minutes and voila! It’s rather complicated but worth the hassle, take my word for it.


The next dish was the Balinese duck curry or Bebek Gerang Asem. I wasn’t fully convinced by the idea as I thought the duck’s strong flavour might prove to be a bit too much with all the other herbs and spices. But I was completely wrong and very happy about it.

Unlike Thai curries, you add chicken stock to the paste and cook until the duck is as soft as butter (there are a few more stages in between, see the recipe). You add the coconut milk, cook it on a low heat for a little longer and it’s good to go.

You can also learn how to cook Thai food with these recipes straight from Phuket.

By this point, everything was bubbling away in pots, cooling or ready to be mixed together (in the case of the vegetable salad), so we had a short breather in which the chef told me the key to success with when cooking Indonesian food is to keep calm. “Hot and flustered food is not tasty food.”

Feasting on Traditional Balinese Food

The Final Verdict

Finally, it was time to eat. It would be hard to say which was my favourite. I think the duck curry might have won the title, but it was close. Another highlight of the meal (there wasn’t really a lowlight if I’m honest) was the Urup Campur, Balinese Mixed Vegetable salad, one of those glorious concoctions of cooked and raw vegetables with just a hint of chilli, which went perfectly with the duck curry.

Oh stuff it, I loved it all – especially the part where I got to eat all that lovely Indonesian food sitting on a platform overlooking a quiet valley of rice paddies. It was the perfect setting for some incredibly tasty dishes. If anyone makes this for me at home I’ll be eternally thankful. If not. I’ll definitely be making them myself.

Indonesian Food Recipes

Jukut Gedang Mekuah – Green Papaya Spiced Balinese Broth

800g green papaya peeled and sliced

2 red banana chilli, seeded

1 lemongrass, smashed (discard outer layer)

1 shallot

1 garlic clove

50g lesser galangal (normal galangal will do)

3 hot chillis, deseeded

10g fresh turmeric, peeled

1g terasi (shrimp paste)

50ml oil

3 bay leaves

1 ½ litre chicken stock

Peel the papaya and slice into large chunks. Soak the papaya in water while preparing the other ingredients.

Roughly chop the banana chilli, shallot, garlic, galangal, chilli, terasi and turmeric. Saute together in oil until fragrances are released.

Add the lemongrass and bay leaves, sauté a little longer before adding the chicken stock and drained green papaya pieces.

Simmer for a few minutes until the papya is tender. Season to taste and serve.

Bebek Gerang Asem – Balinese Duck Curry

Balinese Duck Curry Indonesian Food Recipe

4 duck legs divided into two, marinated with salt, merica and limewater.

1 litre chicken stock

80g shallots

50g garlic

50g candlenuts

25g ginger

4cm galangal

20g lesser galangal

15g turmeric (fresh)

4 pc lemongrass

4 pc daun salam (bay leaves)

15g coriander

5g nutmeg

7g chopped black pepper

7g ground white peppercorn

10g shrimp paste, salt and palm sugar

2 tbsp oil

200ml coconut milk

Prepare a hot pan. Cook the duck in the pan without oil until the fat renders out and the duck is well browned all over.

Cut and pound the spices until a paste is formed.

Fry the paste until fragrant in a little oil. Add the duck, stir until marinated and add the chicken stock. Cook for around 45 minutes or until the duck is tender. Add coconut milk, stir and cook on a low heat for a little longer.

Season to taste and serve.

Urap Campur – Balinese Mixed Veg Salad

4tbsp duck sauce

50g roasted coconut grated

50g cooked red beans

50g cooked long beans, sliced (keep these quite crunchy)

50g blanched fern tips sliced

50 g blanched spinach

Juice of one lime

3tbsp fried shallots (for garnish)

Sambal goreng

3 cloves garlic

6 shallots

2 large red chillies

1 small red chilli

1 tsp shrimp paste

1tsp salt

Slice the ingredients for the sambal , fry until light golden colour – season with hthe salt and leave to cool.

Mix the duck sauce withthe roasted coconut and add the sambal goreng. Mix in the other ingredients gently, add lime juice and garnish with fried shallot.

Tumis Pakis – Sauteed Fiddle Head Fern Tips

500g fern tips blanched and drained

3sp salad oil

10 shallots sliced

1 garlic sliced

15g lesser galangal chopped

1 red banana chilli, deseeded and sliced

1 hot chilli, deseeded and sliced

1tbsp oyster sauce

2tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

Blanch the fern tips in boiling salted water and drain. Plunge into ice water, drain again and set aside.

Sautee the shallots, lesser galangal, garlic and chilli in a hot wok. Add the fern tips and season with the oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Nasi Sela – Traditional steamed rice with sweet potato

1kg Balinese rice (soaked in water for about an hour)

1kg sweet potatoes diced and soaked in water

2 bay leaves

Heat water in a pan until it’s boiling, place a bamboo steamer on top. Add rice to the steamer – cover and steam for 20mins.

Remove rice from the steamer, place in a bowl, add hot water (1litre), cover and leave until all the water has been absorbed.

Add diced sweet potato and the bay leaves, mix and put back int he steamer. Cover and steam for 30 minutes (it’s adviseable to leave a hole in the centre of the rice/potato to ensure even distribution of heat).


Sambal Ulek – Tomato Chilli Sambal

Tomato Chilli Sambal - Traditional Indonesian Food

8 shallots, halved

12 red banana chillies seeded and chopped into large pieces

6 hot chillies seeded and halved

3 candlenuts ground

5chopped tomatoes

15g shrimp paste

5sp salad oil

250ml water

Juice from 2 pieces of small limes (kaffir or Balinese)

Sautee all the ingredients in the oil, add the water and simmer until soft. Set aside to cool.

Grind the ingredients into a smooth paste, season with salt, pepper and the lime juice.

Bubur Injin – Black Rice Porridge with Pandan and coconut cream

400g black rice

50g glutinous white rice

2litres water

2 pandan leaves

2 vanilla pods split lengthwise

1tsp salt

1 litre coconut cream

200g fresh grated coconut for garnish

Palm sugar to taste

Mix the black and glutinous rice together and soak overnight in lots of water.

Drain and refresh with one litre of water and cook slowly over a low heat with the pandan leaves and vanilla.

When the water has been absorbed add one more litre and cook until thickened

When the rice is tender and porridge-like sweeten with palm sugar.

Add salt and coconut cream, cook again until thick consistency. Serve with grated coconut.

Indonesian Recipes from a Fabulous Bali Cooking Class

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