Base Genep, Spices of Bali

A STANDARD spice MIXTURE is used in Bali in cooking a great many meat and vegetable dishes. Every housewife has a box of the ingredients around the kitchen. The Balinese call it Basa Genep, which means “com­plete spices.” The most familiar ingredients in Basa Genep are Uyah, a coarse sea salt, and pepper: black pepper {mica selem) and white pepper (mica putih). The pepper is sold as pepper corns, and both varieties are rather similar in appearance except that the black variety has wrinkled spheres. Both come from the same plant, Piper nigrum, the only differ­ence being that white pepper, somewhat milder, comes from seeds that have had the outer hull removed.

Also included will be tabia, the general word for what are called chilis in English. These are lalah, “spicy hot.” Chilis come in all shapes and sizes. Their degree of spiciness seems to vary according to their size—the largest chilis, tabiagcie, are about as “spicy” as our bell peppers. Like all chilis, tabia geAe are green before maturity, turning red when ripe. The Balinese don’t use them much because they have little flavor. The Balinese do not like to eat the seeds of the tabia and carefully remove them before using them. The medium chilis, about 12 centimeters long, are often called tabia Jawa, and the small ones are called tabia cenik. The very smallest, tabia kerinyi, are by far the spiciest and must be used with cau­tion. It is difficult for a foreigner to distinguish between a small tabia cenik and a true tabia kerinyi, but the Balinese have no problem. Typically a Balinese family will have a chili bush in its front yard, because they grow very easily and with little care.

Tabia for seasoning are mashed up and blended into sambel using a shallow round mortar made of black stone, called batit basa, and a pecu­liar stone pestle. The mortar, ctmtok, has the shape of a cone but bends at right angles near the flat, grinding end, so that the operator holds the handle parallel to the mortar and rolls the flat end back and forth over the mixture to be made into a sambel. It is more of a mashing motion than a grinding motion. Tabia are the standard ingredient in the many different varieties of sambel. One favorite kind involves mixing thin slices of tabia kerinyi with salty soy sauce.

Also in basa genep is bawang barak, literally “red onion,” but more like what we would call a shallot. This onion is small, with reddish-purple skin. There is a strong onion odor, but the tears do not flow as copiously as with our larger onion, some of which are now being raised for the tourist trade in Bali. These are called bawang Bombay. Bawang barak are widely grown in Bali, and the tops are sometimes sold separately as veg­etables called don bawang.

Garlic (kesuna) in Bali comes in very small cloves. They do not differ appreciably from those in the West, except they do not seem to be as strong smelling. Their small size makes the Western fashion of garlic using rather difficult. Instead of peeling and sectioning the garlic and onions, most Balinese cooks just slice them, skin and all, before chopping or mashing with mortar and pestle.

A very common and important spice is fermented shrimp paste, called sera. It is sold at the markets in small, rectangular cakes. It has a very ripe smell. It can be easily cut with a knife and is often mashed up with the other spices in the mortar. It is never eaten raw, but alwavs incorporated into the fried spices that are used with vegetables, meat, and fish.

Basa genep includes four common rhizomes, only one of which is well-known in the West. Ginger, which the Balinese call jae, is familiar. Turmeric is known to Western cooks as a bright yellow powder. The Balinese call it kunyit, and it is always sold fresh. Turmeric is a large rhi­zome with bright orange-yellow flesh. Kunyit has a faintly sharp smell, and it stains anything it touches—a kunyit chopper is marked for days after the act.

Cekuh is another root, known occasionally in the West as lesser galan-gal. The skin is very thin, and the inside is white. Cekub has a faint, spicv smell. Its leaves can also be used as a green vegetable, hen is known else­where as laos or greater galangal. Laos powder is a standard spice in import shops in the United States. Unlike most other Balinese or Asian spices, it has a rather subtle taste. Inside, the spice is a dull white, and it is not as moist as the others. It has only a very faint odor.

Very important to add a sour taste to foods is celagi (also lunak), or tamarind. Tamarind trees are very common in the dryer sections of Bali. They are very tall, spreading trees with peculiar, irregularly shaped pods. Inside the pods is a mass of large flat seeds, imbedded in a stringy, gooey, black or brown mass of flesh. Celagi is sold as the entire interior of the seed pod packed in plastic. For use, it is soaked in water and the resulting solution is used for imparting the sour taste. The seeds and stringy parts must be removed.

Tingkih, or candlenuts, are also included in the basa genep. These are large nuts that, in the shell, look like overgrown pistachios. Most often they are sold without shells, and the meaty nuts-look like they are made of yellow candle wax. The nut itself is quite soft and can be easily crumbled or cut with a knife. Candlenuts do not have a very distinctive taste, but the Balinese use them at every opportunity.

Gula, sugar, is always on the shopping list. Coffee or tea is simply not palatable to a Balinese unless it is about 50 percent sugar. Two kinds of sugar are available. Familiar white sugar is what the Balinese call gula pasir—pasir is Indonesian for “sand.” Cheaper and more popular is gula barak, a dark brown palm sugar. Gula barak is sold in round cakes, and it has a richer taste than gula pasir. A syrup made of it is a popular topping for fruit and ice dishes and is an invariable accompaniment to certain types of jaja, or rice cakes.

Another important ingredient in basa genep is ketumbah, the familiar whole coriander seed. So is monosodium glutamate, MSG, which is sold in little packages, just big enough for the average pot full, in almost all warungs. Aji-No-Moto and Mi-Won are the most widely available brands. The Balinese call it pitsin.

Add to the above list the ever-present lemo, and you have base genep. Lemo is a very small green citrus. The Balinese use them in quantity for seasoning, putting the whole rind into some of their dishes. It is not gen­erally intended to be eaten because the taste is quite strongly citrus-like. But the unwary chewer can get a mouthful very easily and regret it.

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