Ever wondered how Balinese recipes have so much flavour? Well, it has a little something to do with a magic spice blend known as Basa Genap (aka Bumbu Bali or Balinese Spice Paste). Filled with freshly ground herbs and spices, chilli, lemongrass and garlic, this Balinese Spice Paste recipe is ready to heat up your kitchen, Indonesian style.
Guys, I know we’ve been a little quiet lately, but I swear we have a good excuse!
We’ve just come back from a brand new edible adventure, this time through the island of Bali, Indonesia.
To dig deep and discover as many traditional dishes as we could possibly eat over 12 delicious days.
On foot we explored the regions of Legian, Tabanan, Ubud and Seminyak, discovering busy morning markets (pasar pagi) tucked away in the back streets, and unveiling a world of fresh vegetables, tropical fruits and fragrant spices just waiting to be cooked.
We found street food vendors galore, dishing up daily offerings of Indonesian goodies like bakso (meatball soup) and gado-gado (blanched vegetable salad with yummy peanut sauce).
With every new discovery, our curiosity just kept growing…
What more deliciousness could Bali possibly have in store?
Quick note: This is a Sponsored Post celebrating culture and agritourism at Puri Taman Sari Resort, and the amazing work they do to support local communities in Tabanan and Pemuteran. There may also be affiliate links in this post, which means we may get a few cents if you purchase something through the link. We want to make sure some of our hard-to-find ingredients are reachable at the click of a button. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.
Bali abounds in freshly made street food, you just need to know where to look.
From nasi ayam (chicken, noodles, rice and spicy sambal wrapped in a banana leaf), to smoky chargrilled sate babi (pork satays) and juicy ayam betutu (Bali’s famous chicken dish marinated in balinese spices and slow cooked for 24 hours)… we discovered there’s so much going on behind the scenes in Balinese cuisine.
In the middle of our trip we headed away from the beaches and into the countryside of central Bali to a resort called Puri Taman Sari. There we met a trio of food lovers: Gusti, Bagus (pictured above) and Chef Lole.
Our day began with an early morning bike ride through picturesque rice fields to the local fresh produce markets.
I was hard-pressed to choose between admiring the views as we rode along, or keeping my eyes on the skinny trail in front of my wheels. But after a quick pit stop at a small warung (shop) in the centre of the rice field, the skinny concrete path widened, sloping downward so we could pick up the pace and take in views of newly planted rice crop like this.
At the markets we took in the sights and sounds of traders and buyers calling out across the stalls, while traditional gamelan music streamed in from the temple across the street.
Then it was back on the bikes for the return trip to Puri Taman Sari.
What happened next wasn’t just a cooking class, it was more like a cooking fiesta and celebration of all things Balinese food.
From the moment we stepped into the outdoor kitchen, Bagus, Gusti, Chef Lole, Sarah and I talked madly in both Indonesian and English, learning and sharing everything we knew about Balinese ingredients and learning brand new cooking techniques.
Together we chopped, ground, grilled and fried our way through five of Bali’s beloved edible creations:
- Sate lilit – spicy minced tuna satays blended with grated coconut, palm sugar and basa genap (Balinese Spice Paste), wrapped around thick bamboo skewers and grilled over the fiery coals on the panggangan (Balinese charcoal grill).
- Jukut gedang mekuwah – Balinese papaya soup, which wasn’t sweet as you might suspect. The papaya tasted more like daikon radish boiled in chicken broth spiced up with basa genap. Yum!
- Tum ayam – minced chicken infused with basa genap, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed in a kukusan (bamboo steamer basket).
- Berkedel jagung – a crispy corn croquet similar(ish) to bakwan jagung, which as you might have guessed, was also spiced up with basa genap.
- Godoh – deep fried banana and local sweet potato drizzled with honey for dessert.
As you might have already noticed, we quickly discovered a trend across these classic Balinese dishes…
Most (except the sweet fried godoh) featured the Balinese Spice Paste known as basa genap. We quickly fell in love with its flavour-packed blend of herbs and spices ground together in a traditional Indonesian mortar & pestle (cobek & ulakan).
Also known as basa gede or ‘bumbu Bali’, basa genap translates as ‘complete seasoning’ or ‘big seasoning’ in Balinese. With all those curiously delicious flavours and textures blended into one, it’s no wonder basa genap brings big flavours to your cooking.
It was our ‘Ah Ha!’ moment: So that’s what’s been giving all those Balinese dishes we tried their distinct and recognisable flavour.
Sarah and I took turns to grind the mix of fresh galangal, ginger, shallots, garlic, chilli, turmeric, pepper, coriander, candlenut and terasi (Indonesian shrimp paste) with the cobek and ulakan until it transformed into a vibrant yellowy-orange spice paste.
The smell from all those fresh ingredients alone was enough to set out mouths watering before we even started cooking.
We had so much fun using the cobek and ulakan, that later on Bagus and his friend offered to take us to the Mengwi night markets so we could buy our own set to take home.
(And despite the fact that the heavy volcanic stone weighed a ton, we managed to fit it in our bags with room to spare! )
How to Make Your Own Balinese Spice Paste (Basa Genap)
Keen to whip up your very own basa genap? Depending on where you live, you should be able to source most of the ingredients from a mix of your local supermarket, fresh produce markets and/or an Asian grocery if you have one nearby. If not, you could always try heading online or substituting fresh ingredients for dried or powdered versions where necessary.
Key ingredients to look for include:
We’ve found these at our local Asian grocery here in Australia, but if you have trouble sourcing them you can substitute with macadamias. The texture will be similar but the taste isn’t quite the same. Still, they’ll do the job nicely. 🙂
Galangal (+ Lesser Galangal)
Similar in appearance to fresh ginger and turmeric, we’ve found regular galangal at our local Asian grocery or markets too. If you need, you can substitute with extra ginger.
Lesser galangal is similar in appearance to ginger, but with a more concentrated flavour than galangal. It’s often a little more difficult to find, so if you can’t get your hands on it, feel free to leave it out.
Shrimp paste! This is a must have ingredient in South East Asian cuisine.
While you can find terasi (as it’s known in Indonesia) or belacan (as it’s known in Malaysia) in wet or dry pastes, it’s the dry variety that you’ll most often find in Indonesian cuisine. Made from dried shrimp that’s been mixed with salt and fermented for several weeks, terasi is usually sliced and sold in small blocks.
The smell is… pungent, but when used in small doses it provides an addictive umami kick to your edible creations! Your best bet for terasi is to source from an Asian grocery or online.
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- 3 cm fresh galangal or substitute with ginger
- 2 cm lesser galangal
- 1 cm fresh turmeric or 1 tsp powdered turmeric
- 5 small red onions shallots
- 8 cloves garlic
- 3 candlenuts or substitute with macadamia nuts
- 5 small red chillis change to suit your preferred heat level
- 1 - 2 pinches terasi shrimp paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Using a mortar & pestle (or a cobek & ulakan):
- Pop your ingredients onto the flat base of the ulakan or into your mortar and grind away with your pestle/cobek. You shouldn't need to push or grind with too much effort, just let the weight of the pestle/cobek work its magic on your ingredients. Continue to blend until your fresh ingredients have combined nicely into a paste.
Using a food processor:
- Pop your ingredients into the food processor and blend until well combined. It's up to you whether you blend into a smooth paste or not. If needed, you can add a little water or oil to stop the ingredients sticking to the edges and get a nice smooth consistency.