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Cooking the Balinese way


WORLD Radio - Cooking the Balinese way

A chef in Bali teaches people about the many flavors of traditional Indonesian cooking

Local market in Bali. Amy Lewis

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: tourism and traditions. Tourism is a crucial part of the local economy in many places, such as in Bali, a province of Indonesia. Locals rely on it for much of their income. But tourism can also help preserve the culture of the region by promoting traditional flavors and foods.

REICHARD: So what if, instead of just feeding tourists, a chef taught them how to cook in the traditional Balinese way, so that travelers could take a taste of local culture back home with them? Here’s WORLD reporter Amy Lewis.

Cooking class meal

Cooking class meal Photo by Amy Lewis


AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: In Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali, the local market opens at 4 am. Some come early to buy offerings for their Hindu altars. Others purchase plucked chickens and spices for the day’s meals. But many are here to feed their town’s three million annual tourists.

KOMANG: Now I can show you the spices. Ok, we have four types of ginger for you to make Bumbu Bali.

Komang is a local tour guide, driver, and cook. Like most people in Ubud, he depends on tourists for his entire income. The last few years were difficult because of COVID restrictions.

KOMANG: Maybe you know Indonesia, like especially in Bali, we die. Nothing job, because we work tourism. Not active. It mean we just stay at home.

After two years, thousands of vaccinated tourists are back. And that means Komang goes to the market every morning to buy fresh spices and vegetables. Not just to feed tourists…but to help teach them traditional Balinese-cooking. He’s happy to share his food and culture.

Motorbike delivery

Motorbike delivery Photo by Amy Lewis

More than 60 cooking schools dot the island. Some recipe ingredients are typical island fare: There are chilies, bananas, and coconut. But the dishes are steeped in centuries-old tradition and indigenous spices—sometimes up to 15 spices in one sauce.

Rice paddy

Rice paddy Photo by Amy Lewis

MADE: For the ingredient of the sauce you have to chop because today we use traditional way.

Made is a chef at his uncle’s school in Ubud.

MADE: We use our blender. Bali Blender. Mortar and pestle, and we have the big one over there. Manual way today, yeah, so no electronic.

Balinese spices

Balinese spices Photo by Amy Lewis

Ketut Budiasa is Made’s uncle. He’s a trained chef and runs cooking classes in Ubud.

KETUT: I graduated from food and beverage University. I'm school for two years, and then I work in a separate hotel in Bali.

Ketut helps travelers take a taste of Balinese culture back home with them. He started teaching them in his home, but soon there were way too many aspiring cooks in his kitchen.

On this late April morning, he has guests from America, Australia, Germany, Holland, Indonesia, and Singapore. His two open-air kitchens include a dozen gas stoves each and some very sharp knives.

MADE: For the recipe today we will make peanut sauce. I think everybody know peanut sauce because in Bali, this is for everything, every meal. For the satay, spring roll, the plain rice, salad, french fries. (laughs)


KETUT Photo by Amy Lewis

Between preparations of mie goreng and curry chicken, some of Ketut’s ten employees distribute portions of market-fresh ingredients for the next recipe. They whisk away used dishes as if it’s a cooking show and the participants are experts.

Achieving the sliding and rocking motion of the mortar and pestle proves challenging. Made offers a tutorial, but the peanut sauce still ends up chunky. That’s when the blender back home would come in handy.

Ketut and Made want participants to feel confident that they can cook these foods at home, even if it takes more time. They understand that some ingredients—like banana leaves—can be hard to get in some places. Made readily offers substitutes.

MADE: Today we use banana leaf. Do you have at home? Ah! Haha! But if you don't have you can change the leaf with lettuce, bok choy, cabbage.

Komang, the driver and spice-buyer, lights the grill. It’s a simple metal box with two rods across it. They keep the chicken satay and banana leaf-wrapped fish from falling into the coconut husk charcoal fire.


Made Photo by Amy Lewis

After more than two hours of chopping and mashing and cooking under Made’s and Ketut’s watchful eyes, participants sit down to eat. It’s almost cheating for the students to say the food is good—because they made it. But Ketut’s whole team has been working since 4 am to ensure the participants’ success.

MADE: Later we give you the recipe after finished cooking. We have the electronic one. Ah.

Ketut’s passion and teaching skills mean that class participants from all around the world learn some age-old cooking methods. They also experience the nuances of Balinese spices. It’s just a pinch of the vast array of flavors God has made.

Komang drives back to town with satiated students armed with recipes, memories, and the taste of Balinese dishes fresh on their tongues.

Days later, when they arrive in their home country and someone asks how their trip was, they can share more than photos. They can share a meal with all the flavors of Bali.

Student-prepared lunch

Student-prepared lunch Photo by Amy Lewis

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis in Ubud, Indonesia.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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