Book Review: The Secrets of Balinese Cuisine

Many people in Bali and elsewhere will be delighted to read this book because they will have already sampled the delectable fare offered in Heinz von Holzen’s restaurant, Bumbu Bali in Tanjung Benoa, which is generally regarded as the only truly authentic Balinese restaurant in the whole of the island. Many have tried to copy the concept and one restaurant in Ubud has even taken the same name but has not managed to achieve the same standard.

After seven years of running Bumbu Bali and having already produced a very good book on Balinese cuisine, the author and his team have recently produced their latest guide to local food, Bali Unveiled: The Secrets of Balinese Cuisine. Much research has gone into this project, including a year of working and cooking with Balinese people in their homes to ensure authenticity.

This fully illustrated 208-page hard cover publication is filled with not only 100 of Bali’s favorite dishes, but also with many anecdotes about the everyday life and food culture of the Balinese and this alone makes very interesting reading.

Together with American author and Balinese cultural authority, Fred B. Eiseman, who has written several books on Bali’s culture, Heinz von Holzen was able to discover many of the secrets this fabulous cuisine has to offer.

Both beginners and experienced cooks alike will find it a pleasure to flip through the pages to gain a fascinating insight into Balinese cooking. Learn about the food, the culture, the usage of the many sacred and unusual spices and the preparation of the many dishes including delicacies such as Honeycomb Salad, Mushrooms Grilled in Banana Leaves and, of course, the famous Roast Suckling Pig and Roast Duck in Banana leaf. There is even a section on how to cook rice, which everyone thinks they know about, but be prepared to learn some alternative methods.

The book is divided into various food categories and each section is beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by the author depicting everyday life in Bali; it is apparent that his artistic skills are not confined just to the kitchen because the pictures are exceptionally good.

Many of the photographs were taken during special ceremonies either within Bumbu Bali restaurant or while the team was visiting villages to document the recipes and preparation of the dishes for the book.

Heinz von Holzen claims that this attractive new book would not have been possible without the expert assistance from the team at Marshall Cavendish International Asia, in Singapore who spared no effort to make this a world class publication but he is being too modest. Admittedly, a good publisher can make a huge difference but only when the basic material is of high quality; as is the case with this book

The recipes are very easy to follow and this is almost certainly a result of the fact that the author runs regular Balinese cookery classes, including visits to local markets, and he is already used to explaining how to prepare all the dishes.

The instructions are more user-friendly than many recipes one finds here in that proper measurements are given, which most people will understand; none of these stupid ‘cups’ that mean nothing to anyone outside of America! (With apologies to Betty Crocker!).

Readers may want to pass by the recipes for snail soup with spinach and the snail sate, which perhaps don’t appeal to everyone, and possibly the fish-head soup doesn’t sound very exciting either but the book tells the real story of Balinese cuisine and it would have been unfair to leave out dishes simply because westerners might find them rather strange.

One item which will never appear in any of Heinz von Holzen’s books or in his restaurant is turtle meat. He is a strong adversary of the trade in turtles and runs a campaign to save these poor creatures from extinction. He buys turtles in local markets and returns them to the ocean, he also purchases turtle eggs which he keeps until they hatch and then releases the babies on a secluded beach so that they will have a chance to grow to maturity.

The book is outstanding and well worth the price of Rp 325,000. It is available in bookshops throughout Indonesia but readers in Bali can order it by telephone at (0361) 771256, with delivery at no extra charge. It will soon be on sale in bookshops around Asia, in Australia, Europe and the United States.

Bali Unveiled: The Secrets of Balinese Cuisine
By Heinz von Holzen,,
2004 ISBN: 9812326979

Reviewed by Andrew Charles