Despite the blending of a myriad of spices and fragrant roots that give Balinese food its uniquely complex flavour, the typical Balinese kitchen is remarkably simple. A traditional Balinese kitchen (‘Paon’ in Balinese, ‘Dapur’ in Indonesian) is functional but spartan by western practice with just a wood fired stove sporting a blackened clay pot that is used to steam rice and leaf-wrapped foods together with a couple benches and a cabinet where the cooked food is stored during the day. A multi functional ‘Bale-Bale’ which can be used to sit on when preparing the food, a table to set the cooked food upon or place to sit when eating a meal is usually outside, but near, the kitchen.
Fish, when available, is usually grilled over coconut husks. Meats are braised in a sweet soy sauce or coconut milk, while ducks and chickens roasted in banana leaves. However nowadays more modern, urban Balinese households also have a ‘Kompor’ (gas cooker) for boiling water and deep frying. Nonetheless, whether traditional or modern, both stoves receive daily offerings of a few grains of rice, a flower and salt – an offering to appease Brahma, animistic god of fire.
After the rice (note there are many words for rice the two most important are ‘Beras’, before it’s cooked; and ‘Nasi’, after it’s cooked) has been well washed and soaked, it is partially boiled, then set in a ‘Kukusan’ (woven steaming basket) over the clay pot filled with boiling water. The conical shaped kukusan is covered with a clay lid and the rice is left to steam. Every so often, boiling water is scooped out of the clay pot and poured over the rice to keep it moist and prevent the grains from sticking together. Although all cooking vessels were once made of clay, most households now use cast iron. In urban areas where it is impractical to keep a wood fired stove electric rice cookers are used but there is little doubt that the traditional method for cooking rice is far better.
Bamboo and coconut shells are two of the main utensils in a Balinese kitchen. A split length of bamboo is braided so that it fans out and used to lift out and then drain fried food. Bamboo handles are attached to small coconut shells on the end to make spoons, scoops and ladles while narrow bamboo tubes/straws are used blow air into a fire, a bellows if you will.
Every Balinese kitchen has a ‘Kikihan’ (coconut scraper) to grate coconuts. Either its a thin wooden board set with rows of short metal spikes or a sheet of thin iron plate with sharp spikes punched through it. The coconut is passed over the kikihan to grate it. Grated coconut is an integral ingredient to many dishes, in particular satay, and is also wrung out to make coconut milk.
The ‘Pengulekan’ (‘Cobek’ in Indonesian) is a shallow mortar having a concave surface that is used together with a pestle. These are made from either stone or wood. The pestle handle is cut or carved at a right angle to the head such that the action is grinding and mashing, not pounding.
Two other essential items are ‘Batu Base’, a saucer like stone mortar, used for mashing and smoothing dry spices, chillies, shallots and other seasonings into a smooth paste and the ‘Lesung’, a 50cm tall bowl/motar with a 1 meter long pestle used to mash and mix larger quantities. The Lesung is used standing up with the motor/bowl on the ground.
Finally every Balinese kitchen will have a Talenan, a 15cm thick slice of a hard wood tree trunk that is 50cm in diameter and used as a chopping block. This chopping is the base for cutting, slicing, splitting, chopping and mincing meats and vegetables. The chopping block is used to mix meat together with other ingredients.
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