A Taste of Bali: Satay, Sambal and a Smile

Eating your way through a destination is just as engaging as seeing it. Selamat makan—enjoy your meal.

By Gi Gi O'Brien   |   October 21, 2021

  Akharis Ahmad, Unsplash

The traditional foodways of Indonesian cuisine never fail to reveal the magic, the culture and the charm of Bali. The streets here are filled with laughter, the tooting of scooter horns and the buzz of local street life. Strangers perch on plastic seats sharing tables at the local restaurant, or warung, everyone welcomed and warmed by the calm vibe and good smells. That’s the power of food. It communicates culture in ways that bring people together.

Finding the right ingredients at home is a way to travel, making authentic recipes that take you back to your favourite places. My two Bali standouts—satay and sambal—give me all the feels.

Satay Sauce
Satay is all about that perfect, spicy peanut side dip that lends a smooth, rich flavour to char-grilled meat or fish. Here’s the secret behind the sauce.

1 can (300 ml) coconut milk
½ small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp brown sugar
2 pinches turmeric powder (optional)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk, onion and garlic on medium heat until sizzling and browning. 2. Add brown sugar, turmeric powder and red pepper flakes and stir for a few minutes. 3. Add the peanut butter and soy sauce and bring to a light boil, stirring frequently. 4. Reduce heat, simmer for a few minutes and serve.


Spicy Sambal
My rendezvous with “spicy,” in the truest essence of the word, started with a spontaneous bite of a really hot red pepper. I bit straight into the pits of scorching fire, seeds and all. I was not a lover of spicy food—I was simply trying to prove a point that I had no fear. What I did have was bulging eyes and a runny nose.

Then, strangely, I wanted to add chili to just about everything.

That’s when the Indonesian chili paste sambal and I began our love affair. Various ethnic groups produce hundreds of variations that each express and magnify their hotness in creative ways. The hotness of the chili pepper along with the standard dash of salt gets you into the sambal game at dragon level. Other sambals add layers of complexity in the ways they combine a variety ingredients, which can include vinegar, lemon, garlic, anchovies, tomatoes, onions or even shrimp paste. This helps tame the dragon, but for me, the cleaner the chili and the less diluted with other ingredients, the sweeter the sambal—and by sweet, I mean ferocious. Here’s a dragon recipe to give you the best base.

3 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup chopped chilis (select the heat you desire)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp white vinegar

1. Heat coconut oil in a small saucepan on medium. Add the chilis and garlic and sauté. 2. Transfer everything with a slotted spoon to a blender, add salt and blend. 3. Return everything back to the pan and add vinegar, heating to medium and stirring to desired thickness, about one to two minutes.


Gi Gi O'Brien

Gi Gi is a global social entrepreneur, inspired author and director of strategic marketing at Travelier. She spends much of her time writing in iconic destinations, including her bases—Barbados, Bali, Los Angeles and Australia.

Look for Travelier in print soon.