Balinese Food Culture: Eating Durian and Pig in a Local Market

After our experiences snorkeling with Sila near the sacred island of Menjangan, our guide and host invited us to see a local marketplace in Pejarakan on the way back to our homestay at the House of Hobbit.  He rightly thought we might be curious about such a place, and we enjoyed getting to see the kinds of foods locals tended to peruse and purchase for their own home cooking.  It was much more like a permanent farmer’s market than a westernized grocery store would be (we did visit one of the latter in Sanur in southern Bali), and seemed to be made up of stalls manned by individuals who had provided those particular goods for sale, with whom you would directly negotiate and pay.  We were led through somewhat quickly, but we were still able to get a sense of the wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, grains, and unknown-to-us types of food available there.  There were definitely many foods in textures and shapes that we do not see at home, some of which we had the pleasure to experience while in Bali.

Towards the end of the experience, I asked if people would mind if I took a few photos, and upon receiving permission, had a minute or two to capture the following looks into the food-focused section of this local marketplace.  (This was one of numerous experiences on our trip where we didn’t pull out the camera quickly (or at all) due to feeling intrusive or voyeuristic if we were to take photos of people’s lives, even if visuals of the people and their daily environments were striking or fascinating to our eyes.  At least we got permission here briefly before we left!)

Looking down one of the corridors of the food market
Sorting and cleaning hot peppers for sale
A colorful selection of the hot peppers so important in much of Indonesian cuisine
Banana tree leaves, cut and folded for use in cooking!  One of the ways we encountered banana leaves in food was in pepes ikan, a fish stuffed with a sambal sauce and grilled wrapped up in a banana leaf.  The first time we ever ordered this dish, the restaurant at our B&B had run out of banana leaves, so a young worker there had run out into the night to find some more, and returned cheerily waving to us with his machete and the banana leaf he had just cut down for our dinner!  We were kind of confused, since we hadn’t yet known that the banana leaf was a crucial ingredient for what we had ordered…
A fruit seller, who, among other tasty looking foods, had dragonfruit and giant grapes
A dragonfruit we got to eat the next day at House of Hobbit, along with a box lunch our host’s sister got for us
Being amazed at the color of the dragonfruit, soon to be followed by enjoying the taste!  It has a medium level of sweetness, and generally tastes rather tropical.  The flesh is like cantaloupe in texture, but a little softer and grittier.
Seriously, look at that color!  It was so bright, the camera had trouble capturing it, but I swear this is actually pretty true to life here, without any upping the saturation…
We also got to try miniature (to our American standards) bananas!  Tasty but a little differently flavored than the varieties we’re used to.
One of the most surprising fruits we had the pleasure to try while in Indonesia was the snakefruit, or salak, which grow on a type of palm tree.  After seeing them (or their discarded skins) in numerous places throughout Bali and Java, we finally got a bag of them while at the market, which turned out to be a good decision.  Once you peel off the thin, snake-scale looking skin, you will find several cloves stuck together, which look like large pieces of garlic, surrounding a smooth brown pit.  They have a similar texture to garlic flesh, but instead have a mildly sweet flavor reminiscent of dried apples with a touch of bubblegum.  Since most fruits in Indonesia were off limits to us because of concerns about the safety of the water used to rinse them or the knives used to cut them open, it was a pleasure to find a fruit that was easy for us to rinse and peel ourselves, and therefore safer to eat!  Plus it was tasty.
Hanging above the food stalls were traditional decorations for sale, made of a type of dried palm leaf, I believe.  We saw hangings in this style in front of homes and temples several places in Bali, and learned that they are used to mark times and places of celebration.
On our way out, I grabbed a hip shot of this food stall, which is strapped to the back of a motorbike for easy transport.  Well, relatively easy.  One more of the many ways we saw motorbikes being used creatively and resourcefully while in Indonesia.
After all that, Sila asked us if we wanted to get some lunch and try out a local specialty version of spit-roasted pig.  Since we were curious, and there aren’t many options for restaurants in this area that are more tourist-friendly (food-safety-wise, I mean), we agreed, and were led to another part of the market where we came face to face with our lunch.  Neither of us (perhaps particularly me) quite expected the pig to be still intact and waiting for us, on display at the entrance to the little eatery.  This made us a little hesitant (we were a tad shocked by the half-intact animal, but were mostly concerned with the idea of the meat being out in the open in the Balinese heat), but we ended up going along with the plan anyway.  Sila arranged our orders for us, and brought us two surprising plates.
The pyramid of rice is apparently a traditional mark of properly local Balinese food.  In the front of it, you can see slices of that same pig topped off with crispy orange slices of its skin.  To the left are two skewers of satay (in retrospect, I’m not sure if this was more pork, or the usual chicken).  As to the other pieces of meat, pickled vegetables and fried things, I really couldn’t tell you what they are.  A few of these things took a little for us to figure out how to eat, until we realized that we had been served forks (as obvious westerners) but that Sila was just using his hands, and that that was probably a good idea for the more challenging pieces of our meal.  All in all, though, it was pretty tasty!

Finally, another interesting food experience we picked up at this market was our very own durian, which Sila helped us pick out.  We forgot to take a picture of it, but here are some from the internet of this infamous fruit:

Spikes!  These intimidating fruits can grow up to about a foot long and between 2 and 7 pounds in weight.  (From Wikipedia. Creative Commons Citation: by Kalai – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Now, the durian isn’t just infamous for its spikes, although that is the root concept behind its name in the Malay language family.  Instead it is dreaded (or celebrated) for its intense smell and flavor.  There are many flavor varieties throughout Southeast Asia, with various regions having their own local preferences for how intense a smell/taste they aim for, or for how deeply ripe they prefer the fruit to be before eating.  However, the reputation remains the same: the durian isn’t for the faint of heart.

There are maybe 6 or so pods of edible flesh within each fruit (seen here in bright yellow), and they come out with a thin skin holding together a mushy core. (From Wikipedia. Creative Commons Citation: by مانفی – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.

Some people find it to have a pleasantly sweet aroma, and the 19th century British natural Alfred Russel Wallace even described its flesh as “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds” (according to Wikipedia, at least.)  Despite that, many who haven’t grown up with it are inclined to equate it with the smell of rot.  Common allusions when describing its odor are garbage, rotting onions, or sewage, and the smell can linger in a place for days.  As a result, many hotels and public transport options throughout Southeast Asia prohibit bringing even a single durian fruit onto their premises.  The first market we visited in Bali, the Hardy’s near the beach in Sanur, had a terrible, sickly, chemical+garbage kind of smell near the front of the store, and in retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if that had come from durians.  (At the time, we didn’t yet know what they looked like, and had been too weirded out by the smell to stick around in that area long enough to find out…)

Despite all this, we were curious to try a piece of the infamous fruit, since we were super unlikely to ever encounter it anywhere in our home country, and, well, we just have a lot of curiosity about new experiences.  We’d heard that the flavor to eat was more pleasant than the smell, and so we were hopeful that we could find one that we could stomach.  Luckily, the durians at this particular marketplace didn’t have too strong of an odor (unlike some we had passed being eaten at street-side stalls elsewhere on our trip), and Sila helped us pick out and negotiate for one of reasonable quality.  Once we got back to the House of Hobbit, and settled on the raised/covered eating platform by our cottage, Sila found us a large knife and cracked open our durian for us to eat (its flesh, incidentally, was much paler than the bright yellow in the photo above).

And… it tasted OK! But not really any better than OK. It had a strong, garlic-like flavor, but sweeter with an odd aftertaste, and the texture was akin to overripe bananas or spinach artichoke dip. It sounds worse than it was, but we definitely weren’t too keen on eating the whole thing ourselves. We offered a few pieces to Sila, who ate one but insisted we eat the rest since it was so normal for him and we should have the honor of eating what was left while we had the chance. So we ate the remainder, quasi-regretting it as we did so, although we did appreciate his hospitality and the consideration of his gesture…  But it was like the flavor got weirder the more we ate of it, perhaps due to the lingering quality of the odor in our mouths.  Regardless, fun experience on the whole, though!

It was worth it to try, but won’t be something we’ll be regularly adding to our diet in the future.  We wouldn’t be entirely opposed to testing out some other durian varieties in other parts of Asia, though… just in case.


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