The thing about Pasar Badung, Denpasar‘s main market, is that you’ve got to get up early to make the most of it. Early. I arrived shortly after 07:00 on my last visit, all bleary-eyed and self-congratulatory, but still felt like I was late to the party, even though the market’s open, in theory at least, around the clock.
I went as part of a cooking class at Hotel Tugu, but even if you just plan on slinking around your hotel pool in Kuta or Seminyak for most of your holiday, this is a great little side trip you can do in just a couple of hours (if you do get up early and beat traffic) to get a taste of, as they call it in the business, “the real Bali“.
Wear sturdy shoes, as the floors are lined with rotting fruit and vegetables, and if you’re going to buy something, prepare to bargain hard.
This is a market targeted at locals, and as Heinz von Holzen warned me at his own Bumbu Bali class, if you buy something at such a market in Bali, “They’ll eat you alive.”
I don’t think they’ll quite do that, but you may well pay a little more than locals do, though when you’re talking about a bag of mangosteens or a banana leaf pocket of coconut sweets smeared in palm sugar syrup, it’s not going to break your bank.
If, however, you plan on buying something like vanilla — which Bali is renowned for and if you enjoy baking I would strongly recommend you do buy — do your research to find out the going rate first. Whatever you do, don’t buy saffron — it’s pretty much never real in Bali, and you’ll end up with a stack of safflower instead.
Spices are up on the second floor and that’s where you’ll see some other interesting dried stuff, like the seaweed below. The seaweed itself isn’t eaten, but the carrageenans it contains helps give Balinese desserts their glutinous hold.
It’s interesting to see that while all the fresh stuff is here, so is the packet stuff, often laden with MSG — which, think of it what you will, has been used in Asian cooking forever.
As usual when it comes to Southeast Asian wet markets, the meat section isn’t for the queasy. But it’s interesting, that’s for sure. There were some chickens there, getting all up in arms about stuff.
And you can ponder the age old question of which came first, of course.
Porters are for hire — like this woman with the basket on her head, below. Though if anyone approaches you to act as a guide, turn them down as you can follow your nose here, with the market just three storeys high. Fresh produce is on the ground floor, spices and dried goods up a floor, then ceremonial type stuff is at the top (the bigger general market across the river, Kumbasari, has tourist trinkets). That’s the general rule, with plenty of bits and bobs otherwise, though.
If you want to spend a little more time in this area — aside from at the other market across the river — do check out the fabrics of Jalan Sulawesi just outside, and stop for a coffee while you’re at it.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 17th April, 2015.