Base Genep at it’s Best with BUBUR BALI
For the Balinese, making the basa gede spice mix is somewhat of a spiritual exercise, read on and learn more about it.
EVER noticed a pelangkiran (a small wooden altar) in a Balinese kitchen? For the Balinese the kitchen is sacred, and most of the food produced within is not simply sustenance, but imbued with spiritualism. The shining example of this is the foundation of Balinese cuisine, base genep, also known as basa gede, or bumbu Bali. The complex spice mix is used in everything from vegetable dishes to satay, to braised chicken and smoked duck.
Like many Asian spice mixes and pastes its long list of ingredients features the usual suspects; lemongrass, chilis, ginger, galangal, garlic, turmeric and shallots, along with dry spices such as coriander seeds, nutmeg, and white and black pepper. Candlenuts give creaminess, the turmeric a mustard hue. But none of these ingredients presides over the palate – they’re all in perfect balance. As I learned from Bli Ketut Gogonk, proprietor of Warung Tresni in Renon, this is the philosophy behind basa gede.
Bli Gogonk is known as a belawa, a term from the Mahabharata. Bima, the second of the Pandawa brothers, delighted the gods one day with his culinary aptitude, and they bestowed upon him the name belawa. Today the title indicates the bearer is not only skilled in the kitchen, but also has a wealth of local culinary wisdom.
“Basa gede has four crucial elements,” explained Bli Gogonk. “First there is white galangal. According to the philosophy, this color represents the direction of east. Then there is greater galangal, which is red in color, representing the direction of south. If we are talking about basa gede, we must discuss the balance of values. And in our understanding, cooking is a process for making offerings.
“Offerings are what is most important,” he continued. “In our terminology, this kind of cooking is called Ngolah. Ngolah is a motion concentrated on the manifestation of the food itself. If we want to know about it more deeply, the philosophy is that this food is intended for the achievement of eternal happiness… which means that it’s a balance.”
Perhaps the best way to experience basa genep in its purest form is with buburBali (bubuh in Balinese). You’ll find the rice porridge at just about every traditional market on the island, though it’s also sold from warung as well as street-side (just look for the brightly colored insulated plastic bucket). As always, the Indonesian phrase “beda tangan, beda rasa – different hands, different flavor” applies, but the basa gede broth usually shines.
At Pasar Ubud it’s served with bulung (seaweed), crunchy, nutty soy bean sprouts and a tender little mound of sautéed shallot skins; at Pasar Sindu in Sanurseaweed is swapped for shredded, curried chicken; while in Gianyar one has the earthy pleasure of telur pindang – an egg slowly boiled in kecap manis and curry leaves, and spices such as cinnamon and cloves. There’ll always be urap(steamed green vegetables with spiced shredded coconut) and sambal, of course, but these too will be attuned to local taste. While the accompaniments vary between vendors, for this writer the result it always the same. Bubur Bali is hearty but not too heavy, and the combination of bright, spicy base genep and crunchy accompaniments with the silky bubur is, each and every time, extremely satisfying. And how about the bubur Bali at Warung Tresni? You’ll have to go and meet Bli Gogonk to find out.
“In our terminology, this kind of cooking is called Ngolah. Ngolah is a motion concentrated on the manifestation of the food itself.”
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