Exotic and kosher

Balinese food offers a brand new treasure trove of previously undiscovered, delicious, kosher-style recipes and menu ideas.
December 16, 2015

Balinese food offers a brand new treasure trove of previously undiscovered, delicious, kosher-style recipes and menu ideas. The Indonesian island’s ancient, indigenous culinary roots run deep: fragrant, gorgeous — and easy-to-make — recipes come straight from the exotic locale’s traditional rural villages.  

Food and religion are synonymous in Hindu Bali: to cook is to pray. Using modern and age-old Balinese cooking techniques and equipment, these are exotic, appealing dishes that even a rebbetzin will be happy to cook for her family.

Bali’s culture and smiling inhabitants have produced dishes that are very easily adaptable to Jewish life and to kosher dietary requirements (32 of the 48 recipes in my cookbook are vegetarian). The island positively oozes with rare tropical fruits such as mangosteen, rambutan, durian, salak, dragon fruit and jackfruit. Disposable banana leaves are traditionally (and continue to be) used as organic, food-laden, hand-held plates, eliminating the necessity to keep separate sets of meat and dairy dishes. 

Because of economics, food-supply logistics and centuries of deeply ingrained village culinary habits, dairy products are rarely incorporated into traditional Balinese dishes. And chicken also is considered to be expensive — a wife may buy it for her family only once a month. 

The basic ingredients used for daily home cooking in the villages are low in calories, saturated fat, meat and cholesterol, and are therefore very heart-friendly. Heavy, fatty foods such as meat are a luxury item and are eaten only in conjunction with major, village-wide religious ceremonies. 

The cornerstones of Balinese dishes are steamed white rice, local vegetables (renegade leaves such as water spinach, exotic yard-long green beans and coiled fiddlehead fern tips), fish and tofu-based creations. Very small portions of village-grilled sardines or anchovies are the protein mainstay of the Balinese kitchen; they are plentifully found in local waters and are very inexpensive. Tempeh (a fermented, soybean-based product) is also nutritious and is widely cooked in the villages of Bali in sweet and spicy versions. 

Readily available, kosher-compatible coconut oil, which is processed from trees found all over the island, is used for cooking instead of butter. A large proportion of traditional Balinese recipes — handed down orally from generation to generation — feature coconut milk or hand-scraped and squeezed grated raw coconut. There also is a madcap love affair with sea salt, liberally sprinkled throughout the food chain, and a dazzling consortium of spices.

Plant-based cooking and food choices come naturally to the Balinese by virtue of economic necessity. The people thank their pantheon of gods for the lush bounty that surrounds them, particularly their ever-pregnant, productive rice fields. The universally loved rice goddess, Dewi Sri, feeds an entire island of almost 4 million people — empowered by high-altitude cold lakes, mountains and running river sources of irrigation water for the rice fields below.

As some of the world’s most flavorful and exotic cuisine, Balinese cooking provides observant Jews, vegetarians, vegans — and the rest of us — an exciting new sleigh ride of healthy, ethical, meat-free dining options.


Bubuh is Balinese for pudding, a favorite, very rich breakfast food or substantial afternoon snack. Adjust the amount of water and cooking time according to the quality of the black rice. It can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days (add the coconut milk only when ready to serve). This recipe is courtesy of Ni Wayan Murni of Murni’s Warung.

In general, special ingredients for Balinese dishes can be found online at indofoodstore.com and elsewhere. For this recipe, the rice is available locally at Whole Foods, and the pandanus leaves and palm sugar syrup can be found at stores such as Bangkok Market, 4757 Melrose Ave.

  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups Balinese, black glutinous rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 pandan harum (pandanus leaves)
  • 3/4 cup thick palm sugar syrup or tube-shaped chunk of Balinese palm sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean seeds
  • 2 1/4 cups thick coconut milk
  • Banana slices or jackfruit wedges


Soak the black glutinous rice for 5 minutes and drain. Put water and rice into a heavy pan and heat. When it starts to simmer, add the pandanus leaves and palm sugar syrup. Simmer over medium heat for about 30 to 40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and vanilla bean seeds. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Put in bowls and top with coconut milk, slices of banana or wedges of jackfruit. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Vivienne Kruger is the author of “Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali” (Tuttle Publishing, 2014).

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