Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Bali, does vegetarian mean meat free?


In Bali, are vegetable dishes always vegetarian? No! Be careful when ordering a vegetable dish in a restaurant or warung.  Dishes that claim to be vegetarian sometimes contain fermented shrimp paste, and in curry dishes such askare sayur (vegetable curry), a meat-based stock.

In the case of shrimp paste, the smell of the rotten ocean can be smelled right away (and from far away).   You politely refuse your food, and it will either be remade for you without shrimp paste, or you go somewhere else to eat.  We’ve done both and usually prefer to eat fruit for dinner instead in these circumstances.
With vegetable curry (kare sayur) it is much more challenging.  Balinese curry is flavourful and aromatic, with ingredients like lime leaf, lemongrass, and candlenut.  Occasionally there is a meat broth additive. You will know several hours later when you are stuck in the washroom.   These broth powders are full of MSG, known locally as masako, and it is also a favourite ingredient in local cooking.  Larger grocery stores will usually have a major section with different kinds of MSG.
Banana leaf wrapped "vegetarian" breakfast containing meat.
Balinese people are extremely kind and will never want to offend anyone, but this often results in white lies.  Some hotels have small, banana leaf-wrapped breakfasts which often contain rice or noodles. We were staying in a hotel in Denpasar and we asked if the included breakfast was vegetarian. “Yes, yes, this is vegetarian,” was the reply followed by a gentle and warm smile.   We opened the banana leaf parcel to find mie goreng (fried noodles) mixed with nasi goreng (fried rice) and shredded chicken!
Instead of being frustrated by a person’s vegetable ignorance (vegnorance), you must realise that the concept of a plant-based diet is fairly foreign to a lot of people, and cooking a meal exclusively of vegetables may seem strange to them.  Instead of having a negative attitude towards the situation, a friendly explanation to what a vegetarian diet is all that is needed.

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