Image source: Cookmeindonesian

Base genep translates as “complete spice”. It is a culinary paste that blends together more than a dozen ingredients.

A recipe for the Base Genep spice paste is mentioned in the Dharma Caruban manuscript, which describes food preparations for the royal courts, and in the Taru Pramana, an ancient Balinese manuscript which describes all the effects of Balinese medicinal plants

This spice blend is similar to a curry paste and has been part of Balinese cuisine for at least 2,000 years.

The recipe is said to come from Draupadi, the main female protagonist of the Mahabharata and the wife of the five Pandava brothers (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva).

[The most well-known part of Draupadi’s life was the episode of the famous ancient Vedic game of dice at Hastinapura (the “City of Elephants”), where Yudhishthira lost all his possessions.]

Base Genep ingredients

Each ingredient of Base Genep is associated with one of the sacred direction of space (dik in Sanskrit) and their associated deities:

  • Galangal (Alpinia galanga), or Lengkuas is associated with Lord Brahma (South)
  • Turmeric is associated with Lord Mahadewa (West)
  • Ginger is associated with Lord Vishnu (North)
  • Aromatic Ginger (Kaempferia galanga), or Kencur, associated with Lord Iswara (East)
  • Indonesian Bay Leaf (Syzygium polyanthum), or Salam (a Balinese replacement of the Indian Bay leaf) are added, although Indian Bay leaf can also be found in Indonesia
  • The rest of the blend consists of Coriander, Candlenuts (“Indian Walnut”) and Nutmeg, in a base of coconut oil

The Dewata Nawa Sanga (Nava-Dikpāla in Sanskrit) is the diagram of the Guardians of the Nine Directions in Indonesian Hinduism

Several of these herbs are said to have psychic properties.

The essential ingredients of the blend are the aromatic root vegetables (Galangal, Lesser Galangal, Turmeric, Ginger, Garlic and Shallots).

Ancient vs Modern Recipes

Base Genep is especially found in the famous Balinese Betutu Chicken and sate lilit (fish satay), which combines the spice blend with ground fish, and as a component in sauces and soups, although not all restaurants use the original base genep recipe.

Indeed, chilies have been added since the Colombian Exchange, which were not present in the original recipe and many modern chefs ignore the spiritual undertones of the recipe, modifying it with other ingredients, which result in many derivations.

Simply put, Base Genep pastes that are using chilies are not the true recipe. Real Base Genep is not supposed to burn your tongue.

Before the introduction of red chili pepper in the 1500s during the Colombian Exchange, the peppery spice most used in Indonesia was Javanese Long Pepper (Piper retrofractum, a close cousin to pippali), a very powerful medicinal herb and a more refined spice than the red chili peppers used today in almost every local dish.

Therefore it is possible with some research to recreate the original Base Genep with maximal potency, using the true ancient recipes that existed before modern modifications.