FOOD

As much as Bali is famous for its offerings-the food presented to the gods-it is not reputed for its cuisine. And the gourmet delights, which do exist, are too often hidden from the eye.
As throughout most of Asia, the staple food in Bali is white rice, sometimes mixed up with cassava (nasi sela). People now mainly consume new rice, introduced during the agricultural revolution of the 70s, but, if given the choice, they still prefer the beras Bali or Balinese rice. Red rice (beras barak) is also used in some preparations while black rice (ketan injin) and sticky rice is favoured for Balinese sweets.

The coconut is an extremely important ingredient which produces coconut milk (santan), grated coconut (nyuh kikih), coconut palm sugar (gula aren), and coconut vinegar (cuka nyuh). Tuak, an alcoholic drink, is made either from the flowers of the coconut or the jaka palm tree (tuak jaka), from which the Balinese also extract most of their sugar.
Vegetables grow in the wild in the fertile volcanic soil of the island, on the small plot of land that most rural Balinese have at the back of their houses (teba). The main ones are the kangkung (water spinach leaf), daun sawi (cassava leaf), sela (cassava tubercle),
bayem (spinach), keladi (taro), and a variety of beans. Foreign vegetables, introduced in the Dutch times, also regularly find their way to the Balinese table, including cabbage and carrot from Europe and maize (jagung), tomato, potato and carrots from the Americas.

The every day meal (ajengan) of the Balinese is quite simple; it consists of plain rice, one or two dishes of vegetables and a piece of dry fish or meat, served with some grated coconut, peanuts and a combination of base (spices), mainly turmeric and chili. The food is cooked only once, in the early morning, and is eaten individually three times a day, early in the morning, at 11 a.m. and around sunset.

Eating together is endowed with religious, rather than merely social significance. In the typical communal megibung feast, the guests sit in circles of eight people around a tall mound of rice placed on a small round table, the dulang, and surrounded by other dishes. The sitting arrangement symbolizes the eight directions of the rose of the wind with their corresponding Gods, while the mound of rice is a symbol of the cosmic mountain, Mahameru. The whole is a representation of the cosmic Padma or Lotus representing both Oneness and Multiple Infinite.

The etiquette of megibung is no less complex than its religious meaning. The nobility, satria and brahmanas in particular, should sit on the high ground of a verandah, and the other groups sit in places corresponding to their status. Males are also separated from females. These rules have considerably softened in the last fifty years, though and now take into account power, wealth and prestige. The serving is done by a parent or servant, who should sit cross-legged on the ground while performing his/her function.

At the end of the feast, there is always a lot of sate and rice left over. Some guests may bring it home for their own consumption. Caste and prestige are always taken into account. It would be not only improper, but also impure, for a Brahmana or a Satria to consume a Sudras left over.

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