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Everyday Fare and Ritual Feasts

Ngajeng! or Makan! (meaning "Eat!" in Balinese and Indonesian respectively) are expressions one often hears when passing people in Bali as they are eating. In fact, this is not an invitation to join the meal, but rather an apology for eating when the passerby is not. It is a reflection of a strong sense of community found in Bali, and of the great cultural importance attached to food and eating.

Basic ingredients

The staple food of Bali is white, polished rice. Nowadays cooked rice (nasi) is of the fast growing "green-revolution" variety found everywhere in Asia. The traditional Balinese rice (beras Bali) tastes better, but is restricted to a few areas and is now mainly used as a ritual food. Other, less frequently grown varieties, are red rice (beras barak), black rice (ketan injin), sticky rice (ketan) and a type of dry rice (padi gaga) grown in the mountains. Rice consumption averages 0.5 kilo per day.

Many local vegetables grow in a semi-wild state. These include the leaves of several trees and shrubs, varieties of beans (including soybeans), water spinach (kangkung), the bulbs and leaves of the cassava plant, sweet potatoes, maize, etc. ne flower and trunk of the banana tree, young jackfruits (nangka), breadfruits (sukun, timbul) and papayas may also be cooked as vegetables. Foreign vegetables such as cabbage and tomatoes are now commonly found also.

Though they form a major part of the diet, vegetables are considered low-status; high status foods are rice and meat. Because it expensive, however, meat is reserved for ritual occasions. Surprisingly, fish plays a relatively minor role as a source of protein. Though the seas surrounding Bali are rich, the Balinese are not avid fishermen, as the sea is considered dangerous and impure.

The distinctive flavor of Balinese cuisine derives from a sambal condiment and spice mixtures. A standard mixture will include shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, cardamom and red peppers ground together in varying proportions depending on the recipe. A distinctive flavor is also imparted by strong-smelling shrimp paste (trasi) and chopped cekuh root.

The usual drink served with Balinese food is water or tea. Apart from this, there are three traditional alcoholic drinks - drops of which are sprinkled onto the earth during rituals to appease the bhuta or negative forces. Tuak (or sajeng) is a mild beer made from the juice of palm flowers. 'Me flower is tapped in the afternoon, the juice collected overnight in a suspended container, and the next morning it is fermented and ready to drink.

Arak or sajeng rateng ('straight sajeng') is 60 to 100 proof liquor distilled from palm or rice wine. It is basically colorless, but may have a slight tint from the addition of ginger, ginseng, turmeric or cloves. Brem is a sweet, mildly fermented wine made from red or white sticky rice. Yeast is added to the cooked rice, which is wrapped and after about a week liquid squeezed from it is ready to drink.

Everyday fare

Upon waking around 5 or 6 each morning, the typical Balinese woman goes to the kitchen to boil water for the morning coffee and cook rice and other dishes for the day. Cooking is done only once and the food is then eaten cold throughout the day. Breakfast in most cases consists only of coffee and fried bananas or rice cookies. Some will eat small portions of rice with vegetables, often bought in a nearby warung.

When the woman has finished cooking, she will prepare a number of small banana leaf mats on which she places rice and other foods. These are then offered to the gods placed in the house shrines, on the ground by the entrance gateway and in front of all buildings in the compound. Only after this has been done can the main meal of the day commence, usually at about 11 am. A smaller evening meal is had between 5 and 7 pm, just before or after dark.

It is quite unusual for a family to sit and eat together in sharp contrast to ritual meals, which stress togetherness. Everyday meals are taken in private; one goes into the kitchen, takes what is there and retreats to a quiet place to eat alone, more or less in a hurry, with the right hand. Nothing is drunk with meals; afterward there is lukewarm tea or plain water to rinse the mouth and hand.

Everyday meals consist of rice, one or two vegetable dishes, sambal, peanuts, grated coconut with turmeric and spices, and perhaps a small piece of fried fish bought in a nearby warung. Usually the same meal is eaten several times, and in general there is not much variation from day to day.

Vegetables are cooked with coconut and spices and served dry or with plenty of broth. Cooked maize with grated coconut and sugar, boiled sweet potatoes, fried bananas and rice cookies are popular snacks. Rujak, a plate of raw fruits mixed with lots of chilies, shrimp paste and/or palm sugar is also popular.

Ritual feasts

Special ritual foods are prepared for each ceremony by the family or community involved. Villagers contribute materials and labor, and the dishes are prepared in the temple's own kitchen. Usually there is a strict division of labor. Men slaughter and butcher the pigs, mix the spices, grate the coconuts, and prepare the sate (meat skewers) and other dishes such as blood soup and pork tartar, usually very early in the morning (between 3 and 5 am). Women cook the rice and prepare vegetable offerings (which may be consumed after their consecration).

Each village or area has its own ritual cooking specialists who direct the work. There is a great deal of local variation in dishes, and people from different regions can spend hours discussing differences in traditional foods. For instance, the ritual meat dishes of Gianyar are said to be "sweet" while those from Karangasam are "hard" or "biting."

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