Get your ducks in line at Bebek Timbungan, where original Balinese cuisine is ahead of the crowd, writes Stephanie Mee. Images: Lucky 8.
It’s funny how authentic Balinese cuisine isn’t as prevalent as you would think at restaurants in Bali. Sure you can find ayam betutu or babi guling at select spots, but most dishes at your typical restaurant or warung actually come from other parts of Indonesia. If you really want to sample true Balinese flavours and recipes that originated on the island, you have to specifically seek them out.
Bebek Timbungan is one of only a handful of restaurants in Bali dedicated entirely to Balinese culinary heritage. The restaurant first opened in the Secret Garden complex in Bedugul with the goal of showcasing the uniqueness of Balinese cuisine from all over the island, and it became so popular that the owners later opened a second location on Sunset Road.
The menu at Bebek Timbungan takes its inspiration from the Dharma Caruban, an ancient lontar scroll that outlines how to make various Balinese dishes including basa gede, the spice paste that is central to so many recipes. Many of the dishes are traditionally eaten during special occasions or were reserved for royalty in the past, so they are different to what you usually find at your run-of-the-mill warung.
All of the menu items are designed to share, so the best way to experience the restaurant is to come with family, friends or colleagues and order a variety of dishes. That way you get a great balance of cooking styles and flavours and a better understanding of the diversity of Balinese cuisine.
The Sari Segara Sup Bening is a great start to the meal. This clear seafood soup features squid, snapper, prawn and subtle hints of ginger, lemongrass, lime and basil. The Sup Ares & Calon Ayam is another good option with chicken meatballs and tender slices of young banana leaf topped with crispy garlic and shallots.
Moving on to mains, the signature dish is the eponymous Bebek Timbungan. Bebek means duck and timbungan refers to a style of cooking where meat or fish is mixed with spices and herbs and placed in a bamboo tube and slow cooked for hours over charcoal. The result is beautifully smoky, moist duck that falls off the bone. It comes with sides of long beans and three different types of Balinese sambal.
Other enticing mains include the crispy duck with vegetables tossed with shredded coconut, the Ayam Betutu (smoked chicken), and the Sapi Panggang Sambal Matah, which features slices of grilled sirloin topped with a raw sambal made with sliced chilies, shallots, lemongrass, shrimp paste and lime juice. For sides, the blanched starfruit leaf salad makes for a tasty and toothsome addition to the meal.
The seafood selection is also superb with offerings like local mussels grilled over charcoal and topped with a sweet peanut sauce, wok-fried crab seasoned with lemongrass, lemon juice sauce and salted duck egg, and the Ikan Tambusan Bali Lawas Genit, a whole fish marinated in basa gede, then baked and served with spicy water spinach and sambal.
If you do come with a group, we highly suggest trying the Megibung set menu. Megibung refers to a communal style of eating where people come together to share a variety of dishes served on banana leaves. It dates back to the 17th century when the king of Karangasem insisted on eating with his soldiers during war time to promote a spirit of togetherness and equality.
The megibung menu at Bebek Timbungan starts with a refreshing herbal drink called Lolo Daun Cemcem, then a massive platter of dishes including the restaurant’s famous Bebek Timbungan, deep fried prawns, seafood soup, two different types of Balinese satay lilit with minced fish and minced chicken, two kinds of vegetables, yellow rice, and three kinds of sambal.
A visit to Bebek Timbungan wouldn’t be complete without trying at least one of their Balinese desserts like the rujak with sliced tropical fruits in a spicy palm sugar dressing or the bubur injin, a black rice pudding with coconut and palm sugar. Pair it with a Black Eye coffee made with Indonesian beans roasted on site.
The Pisang Goreng Panas Dingin is the chef’s own creation and it features fried bananas rolled in piping hot caramel, then dunked into ice water to give the bananas a crunchy, cool exterior while keeping them warm inside. It adds a modern touch to a menu that is otherwise steeped in history and makes for a unique way to finish a meal of authentic dishes you won’t find in many other places.