Bali, Tradition and Change. Witti’s Story

It was the sign on the little Warung that first caught my eye. The first item, Tipat Tahu Kantok, provided only one clue, Tahu (tofu), but the other elements remained a mystery. This was one Balinese dish I hadn’t come across before.

I asked the gentle man standing near the warung about the word Tipat and he pointed out some little palm leaf baskets hanging inside the Warung. Obviously, Tipat was some form of sticky rice steamed in these little baskets: the other elements of the dish were yet to be revealed. The other menu items looked tasty too. Plecing is a tomato chilli sauce and came with aforementioned Tipat, Sayur sounded like a vegetarian dish, Rujak, a spicy fruit salad, and some drinks. What a perfect little menu for a tiny Warung by the sea.

View from Warung Kak Esa

I returned the following day and met the delightful Witti, the cook and owner of this tiny new warung. We tried her tasty version of Tipat Tahu Cantok and began chatting.

Witti has witnessed great change in Sanur over 58 years, most for the better.

Witti has worked at the beach end of Segara Ayu, at the northern end of Sanur, since she was a girl. She regrets that she never went to school: in the 1960s, her parents didn’t consider school important and so she was taught to collect coconuts, make shell jewellery and so on. Of course Witti is literate and speaks three languages fluently as well as a smattering of other languages too. She learnt on the street and is a modern, well spoken Balinese woman, as sharp as a tac, happy and vibrant. Her own three children completed high school and now she proudly talks about her grandchildren and the soaring cost of education these days, a subject that all Indonesians worry about.

The beautiful Witti cooks up some tasty treats.

She remembers many aspects of life from the past quite vividly. She spoke of the day Mt Agung erupted. She was four years old at the time. That eruption was one of the largest and most devastating eruptions in Indonesia’s history, killing an estimated 1,100 – 1,500 people.

‘On February 18, 1963, local residents heard loud explosions and saw clouds rising from the crater of Mount Agung. On February 24, lava began flowing down the northern slope of the mountain, eventually traveling 7 km in the next 20 days. On March 17, the volcano erupted, sending debris 8 to 10 km into the air and generating massive pyroclastic flows. Cold lahars caused by heavy rainfall after the eruption killed an additional 200. A second eruption on May 16 led to pyroclastic flows that killed another 200 inhabitants. Minor eruptions and flows followed and lasted almost a year.’¹

Witti remembers crowding with others on the beach in the pitch darkness, as Mt Agung, looming on the horizon, spewed lava and fire into the air. She recalls the the rain of ash falling around her for days. As she spoke, I could see the terror of that childhood memory in her eyes.

Another sad memory involved the loss of many of her siblings. She was one of 12 children, but due to poor sanitation and lack of doctors and medicine, five of her siblings died at a young age. Still, she followed this with a smile- imagine having Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut ( the four Balinese names used in order of birth) repeated three times over. We all laughed together: yes, things have changed for the better. We also met Los, her older brother, who works along Segara Ayu at a little booth next door to Witti, offering information and selling tickets for the large boat tours further north. I am keen to chat further with Los about the old days, to see if, as a teenager, he remembers the chaos and horror of the civil war period that followed the earthquake in the 1960s, though most Balinese don’t want to talk of those times.

Vibrant modern Balinese woman, Witti in her brand new warung.

After we finished our Tipat, a tasty and extremely filling vegetarian dish resembling, in some ways, a gado-gado, Witti brought out a little plate of crispy fried Jackfruit, an unusual sweet taste sensation. Sweet and crispy, the batter was as light as tempura but golden in colour. We promised to return for breakfast the next day to try her crispy fried sweet potato, pineapple and banana, washed down with Bali black coffee. On other occasions, we simply popped in for a cold beer and peanuts. Witti cooks peanuts and garlic together and serves them hot and fresh on a large saucer. One Bintang beer, some fresh nuts, a good sunset and a chat: life is sweet.

Jackfruit ( nangka ) fritters at Warung Kak Esa
These freshly fried nuts are cooked a little darker and will be used in the sauce

More about Tipat Cantok

A Balinese Tipat Tahu Cantok is a common traditional Balinese dish that can be found almost anywhere in Bali. It’s made of mixed steamed vegetables (water lily, long beans and bean sprout) which are mixed with steamed rice cake( tipat) and fried tofu mixed with peanut sauce.  The sauce is made from freshly fried whole un-skinned peanuts, garlic, white pepper, coriander, purple shallot, chili and fermented soy paste. Tipat Cantok can be found in local small Balinese warungs but is rarely found in big restaurants.

Warung Kak Esa
Los’ dog, Chocolate, knows his way home after work.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Agung

As a footnote to this post, Indonesians live with the fearful presence of volcanoes and earthquakes. With all that beauty and fertility comes disaster from time to time. Mt Agung continues to vent, there are still over 1,500 Balinese evacuees. Agung only tends to become news worthy in the Western press when it affects air traffic and the plight of the traveller. Meanwhile, we awake to the sad news of another earthquake, following one from 10 days ago, on the neighbouring island of Lombok. If you are looking for a reliable place to chip in a few dollars or euros for food and emergency supplies, follow the link below. If you have ever spent time in Lombok, or its Gili islands, you will appreciate how important this help is. Big or small, donations make a difference.

Update: Thousands (22,000) local residents of Lombok residents are homeless and without aid. If 1000 readers of this blog donated $10, $10,000 would be raised to provide immediate relief by those volunteers on the ground. If you can’t donate, please share the following link to your social media networks.

https://fundrazr.com/LombokEarthquake?ref=ab_3A65lLLlvoX3A65lLLlvoX

Designer Clothing Outlet in Sanur, Bali.

This post is about a special clothing designer store in Sanur Bali, but it is also my tribute to Sarina, a modern Balinese woman, who is full of beans. She is humourous, intelligent, worldly and an assertive feminist. The real Bali reveals itself through continued conversation and friendships made over the years and I enjoy re-visiting Sarina annually.

A trip to Sanur, Bali would not be complete without a few visits to Sarina’s shop. Sarina is a qualified dressmaker, producing designer clothes, mostly in classic styles in good quality fabric. She is an exporter, but also keeps a range in her little shop. Her stock comes in a vast size range from size 8 to 22. Over the last 7 years I’ve bought a variety of plain coloured tops from Sarina. They wash well a never pill or shrink and wear so well. I’m still have pieces from five years ago.

The beautiful Sarina, designer and tailor.

This is a most un-Balinese shop. Sarina doesn’t really stock typical Balinese holiday wear, her clothes are not tropical. She doesn’t negotiate on the price, but nor does she haggle or insist that you buy anything. Her display is not very appealing, with huge bags stacked around the room; her shop doubles as her warehouse. She specialises in heavier cotton fabrics more suitable for Melbourne or Paris, useful classic casual clothing, mostly tops and bottoms rather than dresses. There are a few frivolous, blingy multi- coloured pieces but most people who know about this secret designer store will be hunting down her plain coloured classic skirts and tops. She doesn’t need to spruke or promote her wares, relying on repeat customers and word of mouth. I was introduced to Sarina by a good friend: last year I introduced some friends and family. This is how it works.

The prices in Sarina’s store are fixed and a good deal more expensive than what she calls ‘Bali shit,’ the cheap mass- produced little dresses that are commonly seen throughout Bali. A good sleeveless top might cost around AU$13 or so, a little more for skirts and cardigans. You can also buy Sarina’s tops in Williamstown ( a suburb in Melbourne) for over $50, so her prices are comparatively very reasonable. It’s a good opportunity to stock up on some useful layers.

Popular combo. I bought the sleeveless top and tend to stick to her very good black range.

Once you decide to try a few things on, you must submit yourself to Sarina who will fit and dress you before you get a chance to look in the mirror. A good tailor knows how things should sit: she will adjust the shoulders, and has a distaste for clothes that pull and stretch over the body. She will assess your size the moment you walk in the door. I usually ask her what’s new for the year, and she will begin dragging tops from big bags for me to try on. The experience is delightful and funny: you simply tell her what colours and styles you like and out they come. Accompanying males can sit on a chair inside and watch the show, or are seated outside in the market lane under a tree.

Aladdin’s cave.

Once the commerce is over, I like to return to see Sarina for an occasional chat. As a feminist, she has very strong views about work, and raising daughters in Bali. She is independent, having worked to buy her own house. It is customary for young Balinese married women to live with their in-laws. Sarina travelled the world accompanied by her (then) young daughter, and through her hard work, has paid for her daughter’s university education. She cuts fabric from 6 am, then travels by motorbike to her Sindhu shop by 12 pm to open the shop, and returns home in the evening. After dinner at 9 pm, she still has more work to complete. Midst all this, Sarina, like all Balinese, attends to Hindu ceremony and ritual. Sometimes she arrives in her boyish loose jeans and checked shirts: at other times she is sarong clad, and ready for ceremony. Now at 58 years old, she is beginning to feel the strain of a hard working life and I can certainly relate to this. She is a human dynamo, agile, talkative, energetic and hilariously funny. I admire her greatly.

Sarina arranging her striped ‘tummy sucky’ skirt with a very handy classic sleeveless top.

If you’re in Sanur, brave the walk down the narrow gang full of shops that make up Sindhu market, politely ignoring the many touts along the way, until you find shop number 19. Tell her I sent you. Ask for the latest designer sleeveless tops which come in black, teal and dark red, her cotton cardigans, striped long line tops and her ‘sucky tummy range’ of skirts and leggings. The title says it all.

Also see my earlier post on Sarina’s shop, written in 2015.

  • Sarina’s shop, No 19, Sindhu Beach Market, Sanur, Bali
  • Prices are fixed and are very reasonable for such good quality.
  • Don’t go too early as Sarina works at home all morning. After 12 is best.

Balinese Cuisine at the Warung.

Food, glorious food, glorious Balinese food. It’s one of the reasons I keep returning to this beautiful island. Good Balinese food is seductive yet quite subtle. Two famous Balinese sambals, sambal matah and sambal merah, add depth to a simple grilled fish or chicken, while the combination of white pepper and coriander seeds, turmeric and galangal, purple shallot, lemongrass, palm sugar, chilli, and terasi ( fish paste) are pounded together to make a rich tasting bumbu, or Balinese spice paste, the basis for a simple curry.

Warung in the Sindhu Night Market

There are many tiers of eating establishments, or rumah makan, in Bali: you can pay a fortune at an upmarket international hotel, continuing to eat the cuisine from your home country, or watered down versions of local cuisine in a Western style restaurant, or you can try a more authentic and economical meal at a simple warung. A warung is a small family owned eating place, often located on the street or beach. Some may look a little ramshackle and temporary, often with small benches and plastic stools, and will usually be patronised by locals.  Other modern warungs have sprung up in the beach suburbs around Sanur, but some bare no relationship to the real thing.

Many warungs are made from wooden, bamboo or thatched materials, perhaps with tin walls. In the past, the Warung tenda, a portable warung that looked like a tent, was more common, with roofing and walls made from Chinese blue and white plastic tarps. Other interesting warungs include kitchen carts on wheels, colourful bright blue Bakso stalls, motorbikes with gas cookers, and night market warungs set up with little tables and chairs. Warungs also tend to specialise in one or two dishes which are often based on a secret family recipe.

Morning bubur cart travels around the back suburban streets of Sanur, sounding a morning bell. Rice porridge comes with tasty toppings like ground peanuts.

I’ll admit It takes a brave heart to venture into the tasty world of the  street warung: you need to assess the cleanliness of these eateries and often that’s quite hard. Word of mouth, and popularity with locals- these are good indicators. Also check out the washing up facilities and water used. Good warungs are clean as hundreds of locals eat here every day. You may need to know a few food words, and simple phrases if you have special dietary preferences as often there’s no menu or price. Tanpa daging ( without meat) or tidak daging ( not meat) will suffice if you don’t eat meat. As food is often cooked to order, a warung cook is happy to adjust a recipe for you, leaving out ingredients that you don’t like.

Not all warungs are cheap: a few located around the Sanur beaches have become famous, rating highly on TA and frequented more by tourists than locals. One popular grilled fish restaurant, Amphibia, operates flat-out from midday till late. They work from a small tin shed, and grill the fish and seafood on a charcoal BBQ set up on raised platforms outside. Bench seating is nearby. You order your fish, lobster, prawns, octopus, squid and clams by weight, then they are barbecued and served with rice and vegetable urab and sambal. These boys never stop. They buy the fish early in the morning at Jimbaran, then store it under ice in large tanks: during lulls in business, you can watch them tenderising and peeling octopus, cleaning prawns and fish, running hoses around the place and stoking the BBQ with charcoal. A share plate of snapper, prawn, shrimp, a few calamari rings and razor clams is AU$20. Sit on a little stool on the beach and share the platter, washed down with a Bintang beer.

Hot work. Cooking at Amphibia. Sindhu Beach, Bali

Another Warung favoured by Westerners is Jackfish, a family run business right on the beach just past Semawang. Nyoman, the brains behind this warung, trained as a mechanical engineer but after working off shore for years, decided to open a fish themed Warung. His mother waits on tables and makes the Urab ( mild tasting Balinese salad made from bean shoots, green beans and coconut ). His father sorts cutlery and napkins and helps with the accounts. Nyoman does the grilling, waiting on tables and everything else. The family come from five generations of fishermen, and now source their daily deliveries from local sources. They often cater for large parties so check before hand as Jackfish closes when they do large groups. When I’m staying in the Semawang end of Sanur, I eat at Jackfish everyday, it’s that good.

Grilled snapper, rice, urab, and two sambals. IDR 60,000/AU $6. Jackfish is located right on the sand at the southern end of Sanur.
Energetic Nyoman of Jackfish, Semawang Beach, Sanur, Bali

When in the mood for snacks, I head for warungs specialising in deep-fried foods, called  Gorengun. At these little carts you’ll find feep fried springrolls, deep-fried tofu or Tahu Isi ( Tofu stuffed with bean shoots) and battered gado-gado and other things with tofu, as well as an array of sweets such as Onde-Onde. A bag of 8 snacks will cost around AU$1 and will come with a few green chillies and chilli sauce.

Tasty deep-fried vegetarian snacks from a Gorengan cart at the Sindhu Nightmarket, where a $1 goes a long way.

The Warung situated right in front of the Bunjar Pantai Semawang, has great ocean views and is well sheltered from the wind. They do the best spring rolls in the district. Three large vegetable lumpia ( AU$1.50) make a tasty lunchtime snack. Try with a mug of hot lemon tea ( AU.65c) a fresh juice ( AU$1.50)  or cut straight to the chase with a chilled Bintang to wash them down.

Satu Bintang besar, dua gelas, Terima Kasih.

Guide to Balinese Cuisine here

Bali, Offerings and Squirrels

Canang Sari offerings are well-known symbols of Bali, but alongside these daily Hindu offerings to the Gods, other older traditions remain in place. Ancestor worship and animist beliefs are sometimes separate from the cosmos of Hinduism, or are incorporated into it. Offerings of cigarettes, biscuits, coffee and alcohol are commonly seen on these shrines, things you might need in the afterlife. These offerings may also be strategically placed under trees to appease the mischievous underground and evil tree spirits who may play havoc with your business and lives. I’ve also seen some Balinese sprinkle cheap alcohol around the base of large trees to keep these naughty spirits at bay.

Early morning offering under a shady Banyan tree

While capturing the above offering, a cute looking squirrel arrived to take a sip of coffee. Perhaps a re-incarnation of Kak or Nini (grandfather and grandmother in Balinese).

Later that morning, the little tray had been engulfed by canang sari, the floral offerings bought to this spot by the young women who work here or live nearby.

Canang Sari, Rosetta’s restaurant, Sindhu Beach, Bali
Canang sari- by the sea.

“The plantain squirreloriental squirrel or tricoloured squirrel, is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in a wide range of habitats: forests, mangroves, parks, gardens, and agricultural areas. Fruit farmers consider them to be pests. Its diet consists mostly of leaves and fruits, but it also eats insects and bird eggs. It is known to break open twigs that contain ant larvae to eat them. It can eat fruits much bigger than itself, such as mangoes, jackfruit or coconuts. It is very quick and agile in trees, able to jump a few metres between trees, and rarely wanders on the ground.”

Also partial to a sip of coffee.

 

Morning Street Food in Bali

I’ve really taken to Balinese street food lately, especially at breakfast time. At around 6 am, a few Balinese women arrive at the beach end of Jalan Pantai Sindhu and set up small stalls along the brick walls. They come laden with baskets on their heads, after cooking the morning snacks at home. They sell out quickly and are gone by 9.30 am. One young woman sells a fabulous array of Indonesian cakes, as well as tahu isi, and Balinese thick black coffee. The other older woman sells large wedges of cut fruit, rempeyek cacang (peanut krupuk) and triangular packets of rice with a little spicy condiment and a hard-boiled egg: open the package and it becomes your plate, then eat with your fingers Indonesian style.

Sweet cake lady

It’s an idyllic start to the day, slowly waking with the sun rising over the ocean. sitting in a traditional Balinese platform on the sand. Here’s my list of favourite kue ( snacks) from that shy vendor:

  • tahu isi- a large square of tofu stuffed with bean shoots then deep-fried in batter served with a small green chilli which you insert into the middle.
    Tahu isi. Stuffed and fried tofu.

    Inside the tahu isi
  •  dadar gulung – a green pandanus leaf  rice flour pancake rolled up and stuffed with grated coconut and palm sugar

    Dadar Gulung, rolled pandanus pancake stuffed with coconut and palm sugar.
  •  kue pisang, made from rice flour, coconut milk and sugar filled with slices of banana, the mixture is wrapped in banana leaf then steamed.
    Kue pisang for me.

    Mr T’s favourite green stuffed cake. I don’t yet know the name of this one, but it has a similar stuffing to Dadar Gulung.
  • klepon , green-coloured balls of rice cake filled with liquid palm sugar and coated in grated coconut. The liquid explodes when you bite into it. Made from rice flour, pandanus paste or powder, palm sugar or coconut sugar, grated coconut.
  • onde- onde. Round balls that look a bit like Moshi, but are completely different and taste rather healthy. Made from glutinous rice, mung bean (or lotus) paste, sugar, sesame seeds.

    round balls with sesame seeds are Onde- Onde
  • Kue Talam, a two layered steamed cake, usually in two colours, made from rice flour, steamed sweet potato, palm sugar, tapioca, and coconut milk.
Sindhu Beach, 6.30 am. Cake and Coffee vendor

The young woman, my new best friend, doesn’t speak English and I have just enough Bahasa Indonesia to get by. You’ll need to know your numbers, along with a few other words like gula (sugar) pisang (banana) kopi (coffee), tahu (tofu) and ketan ( sticky rice) or just wing it. Each cake and snack is a taste sensation and at dua ribu / IDR 2000/ AU 20 cents a piece, it’s hard to go wrong. Although there is a little palm sugar in each of these bites, they are not overly sweet, and go well with thick black coffee. Those containing sticky rice are rather filling too.

Which one today?

In the past, these Balinese cakes came wrapped in banana leaves, as did most street food items. You now notice that these tasty treasures from morning street vendors use plastic wrapping or sealed in cellophane. Some snacks, such as pisang goreng  (banana fritters) and kue pisang come plastic free. Of course, if I had eaten the huge banquet breakfast in my hotel, or opted for one seated at a little cafe nearby, I would be completely oblivious to the amount of plastic used along with the food waste that these places produce. The young woman photographed collects all the plastic waste she sells. It’s heartening to know that Bali is now addressing the plastic issue, with recycling bins prominently displayed.

Morning fruit with a squeeze of lime. Fallen Frangipani blossom.

Today’s breakfast of two coffees, two pieces of stuffed tofu, two little cakes, a wedge of watermelon and a wedge of papaya came to AU$2. I prefer this style of breakfast to the big banquet western style breakfast. It’s another chance to eat like a local, watching as they pull up on motorbikes to grab a coffee and a quick snack, and to catch a glimpse of Agung rising above the sea.

See list of popular Indonesian Kue here

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Portraits from the Other Bali. Priest.

My first Balinese portrait happened by accident. But then, that’s not unusual: you stumble upon someone quite by chance and strike up a conversation in the most unusual places, you catch someone’s eye and find intrigue. I was wandering down Jalan Pantai Sindhu, returning from the traditional pasar (market), aimlessly drifting along this familiar route to the beach. Jalan- Jalan, as the Indonesians call it, just walking. Sitting on a stool outside the doorway of a leather repair shop sat a man dressed in pure white: he was engrossed in conversation with a thin and rather oppressed looking younger man who was seated inside behind a sewing machine. I’m not sure why I stopped. Maybe I was drawn in by his striking appearance, his huge mass of jet black hair neatly arranged on the nape of his neck, or the many bracelets and heavy gem stone rings on his left hand. When closer I noticed the layer of old tattooing along his arms, thick indigo island tatts, barely visible under his long-sleeved crisp white shirt.

We chatted for some time about Bali in the past and then moved on to gemstones and bit into each other’s turquoise rings just to check that the stones were real. He was a Balinese priest, a Pemangku, and had just spent three days conducting ceremonies over at Kuta. After formal introductions, hand shaking and a photo, I went on my way, leaving him to further conduct his community duties. I could have happily stayed all day, there was so much more to learn. I doubt that I will run across him again.

Pemanku, Sindu, Bali

Priests and Prieshood

‘There are two kinds of priests in Bali, the Pedanda, or high priest, and the Pemangku, or temple priest. Only a Brahman can become a pedanda; pemangku are recruited from the lower castes. There are about 20 times more pemangku than pedanda. Priests don’t hold political office and their economic power is limited, yet they’re the most respected members of Balinese society, their place the highest a mortal can achieve.

Balinese priests don’t stand between a worshipper and god; he’s there to make sure a person’s prayers are properly directed so the desired results may be achieved. Before a family moves into a new house or opens a losmen, a priest is asked to give god’s blessing. Priests purify people after an accident or illness, avert curses, and bring people out of spells and trances.

Every temple has its own pemangku, a lay priest who maintains the temple and officiates at everyday rituals. Even the most indigent Balinese will make a great effort to hire the services of a pemangku, especially when it comes to making sure dead loved ones are properly ushered into the spiritual world.’¹

 Extracts on Balinese Priesthood taken from  

http://www.balix.com/travel/guide/chapters/religion/religion_priest.html

 

The Other Bali

It’s almost as if there are two Balis living side by side: sometimes they collide and intertwine, but most of the time, they exist in different time zones and spiritual planes. I’m always searching for the old Bali, or the other Bali, once the allure of warm swimming pools, unlimited breakfast banqueting and cheap trinkets begins to pale. The other Bali is always there: you can enter at any time just by going in the opposite direction, walking away from the tourist enclaves with their playgrounds full of bling and beer. Walk in the opposite direction, down concrete lanes and into local suburbs or onto the beach before the sun worshippers arrive, or into a hidden Pura ( Hindu temple)  or an unassuming warung,  a simple tin shed right on the sand for a coffee and a chat. Walking away might take you into the local Pasar (market) to buy a hand of bananas, or past a dozing grandmother, ancient, honey skinned and worn out, dressed in faded kabaya and brown ikat sarong, long silver hair wrapped turban style, curled up in sleep on the front porch, or past younger women, balancing enamel trays full of Canang Sari, flowers arranged in little palm leaf baskets, thoughtfully engrossed in prayer as they make their daily offerings to the gods and their ancestors. If you head to the beach at dawn in the hope of catching a glimpse of the holy mountain, Gunung Agung,  on the horizon, you’ll find the dawn brigade, a busy uniformed crew of sweepers and cleaners, slowly but methodically removing leaves and rubbish, all signs of yesterday bagged up and taken away, the sand raked then watered down.

Boats at dawn, Sanur, Bali. 2018

This year marks an anniversary for me. I first came to Bali in 1978. Over the last forty years, Bali has changed enormously, and like all change, the blessings are mixed but much of it has been beneficial to the Balinese. During the next fortnight, I hope to relate some stories in the words of the locals, mostly on the theme of tradition and change, a topic close to my heart. Chatting to the locals comes easily: I’ll need a bit more bravado to seek permission for some portraits to accompany the stories.

Morning offering, canang sari, by the sea. Soon to be washed away.

Dawn, Sanur, Bali 2018

Balinese Serenity and Mt Agung

Yesterday I was listening to Raf Epstein on ABC’s afternoon drive time radio. He was interviewing a tourist who was stuck in Bali due to the closure of Ngurah Rai airport in Bali as ash continues to pour from the erupting Mount Agung, Bali’s most prominent active volcano. Like many other tourists whose flights have been cancelled, this chap wasn’t too perturbed. He sounded jolly, amused even and serene. He was sitting by the pool eating chicken. A few more weeks in Bali with glorious weather and tasty Balinese food- what’s not to like. Raf made no mention, in this instance, of the significance of Mt Agung’s eruption to the lives of the Balinese people. It was all a bit of a joke really, ‘enjoy your chicken by the pool’ was Raf’s closing comment. It’s a similar story in the Australian press. Pictures of closed airports, or tourists milling about as airports open once again with only occasional glimpses into the lives of those hugely affected- the Balinese people.

Serene under the water.

While Mt Agung makes up its mind, 44,000 people have left the danger zone and are waiting. Many more thousands have returned to the exclusion zone to tend their cattle and farms. The Balinese economy is fragile: despite the lush fertility of the country, farmers live a very simple subsistence lifestyle. Those who have returned have had to weigh up the cost of continuing with their farms, crops and cattle with the threat of a possible disaster. What a choice!

Mt Agung in a serene mood

Meanwhile, the Balinese economy is completely dependent on tourism. For months now, many sectors have been affected. Those working directly in tourist industries, such as hotels, hospitality, transport, mountain climbing and adventure, have been without wages for some months.

rare glimpse of Agung in the morning.

Gunung Agung, a sacred mountain, is revered by the Balinese. When Agung is active and threatens to erupt, it indicates that the Gods are displeased and something in the world is awry. The Balinese have been praying, or counting their losses, or worrying about their homes and livelihood: meanwhile tourists will either kick back by the pool and rejoice in their lengthened holiday, will be checking their travel insurance policies to see how much they might be financially inconvenienced, or travelling by ferry to Lombok for another flight home. Life’s tough.

 

 

In My Kitchen, August 2017

I’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, the start of a long journey, and can happily say that I don’t miss my kitchen at all. Yesterday Mr T commented on the length of his fingernails, believing that they grow faster in the tropics. Mine are also long and white, but I suspect they’re flourishing due to the absence of work: my fingers and hands no longer plant, prune, dig, sow, pick, cut, peel, chop, grate, gather, sort, cook, stir, pour, knead, shape, or roll. My cooking and gardening hands are on holiday. Some one else is in the kitchen. This month’s post takes a look inside some Balinese kitchens and the food we have enjoyed along the way.

The staff at Tirta Sari, Pemuteran, are multi skilled. One minute a waitress, next a basket maker. These little banana leaf baskets are used for sauce containers and rice.

One of my favourite kitchens is Tirta Sari Bungalows, in Pemuteran, situated in the far north-west of Bali. I’ve stayed here before and I’m bound to return, just to relax and eat well. The food is traditional, Balinese, well priced and some of the best I’ve eaten in this tropical paradise. Each dish is beautifully presented on wooden plates, covered with banana leaves cut to size. The freshly made sauces, such as Sambal Matah, are served in small hand-made banana leaf baskets. The plates are embellished with flowers and dried ceremonial palm leaves and basket lids. These artistic flourishes connect the traveller to the role played by flowers in Balinese ritual and ceremony. Dining here comes with heightened sense of anticipation: guests are made to feel special.

Staff peeling Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih ( shallots and garlic) for the evening’s fresh sambals. Do you know the legend of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih?
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Preparing freshly caught Marlin for the grill. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran.

You can tell a good Balinese restaurant by the authenticity of its sauces. Pungent and spicy traditional sauces and sambals are served in more modest warungs, while western styled restaurants serve industrial ketchup, believing that the Western palate cannot handle spiciness.

Preparing the little banana leaf baskets for rice and sauce. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran. Bali

Balinese classic favourites include Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado, Urab, Pepes Ikan, and Sate. The best Gado Gado I tasted this year came from the kitchens of Lila Pantai. It disappeared before I snapped a photo. The Balinese version of this dish tends to be deconstructed and is often served with a little jug of peanut sauce on the side. A reliable source of Balinese recipes can be found in Janet DeNeefe’s Bali. The Food of My Island Home, a book that I refer to often when back in my own kitchen.

Deconstructed Gado- Gado. The new shop right on the sea near the Banjar at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari.Sanur, Ubud.
Classic Nasi Goreng with grilled tempe sate sticks on side. Tasty version from Savannah Moon, Jalan Kajeng, Ubud.

I am often amazed by the simplicity of Balinese kitchens. Many a meal is served from a mobile kitchen on the back of a motorbike, or from little yellow and green painted stalls, such as the popular Bakso stands, now seen only in the countryside.

Classic sate with sides for a son-in-law.

Many working Balinese grab some nasi campur for breakfast. Nasi campur is a serve of rice, often in the shape of a cone, surrounded by little portions of other dishes, perhaps some chicken, or tofu, some soupy, bland vegetable curry, a boiled egg or perhaps a corn fritter, all topped with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and a serve of home-made sambal. Heavenly food. I love the vegetarian version of this dish. In the pasar, or fresh market, this meal is packed up for a traveller for around $1 or so, depending on how many sides you add.

Stall holder makes Nasi Campur. Pasar Sindhu, near Jalan  Pantai Sindhu, Sanur, Bali
Nasi Goreng Seafood.

Every now and then, a traveller needs to lash out and eat Western food. In the past, eating Western cuisine in a Western looking place translated to high prices, bland food, poor quality and slow service. Things have improved, though it’s still much safer to eat in Balinese warungs and restaurants. Modern western cooking relies more on refrigeration, freezing and the pre-preparation of soups, sauces and various components. These ideas are quite foreign to Balinese chefs who prefer to make everything to order. The fish will be freshly caught, or purchased that morning from the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran: the vegetables will not be pre-chopped, the stocks will be made on the spot. Unless a Western restaurant has an impeccable reputation for cooking and serving foreign food, they are best avoided. The Three Monkeys restaurant in Ubud is one place that gets it right. Mr T ordered a remarkable Italian/Balinese/Melbourne fusion dish- Saffron Tagliatelle with prawns, lemon, chilli and sambal matah. I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two. The tagliatelle was house made, the service was prompt, the level of spice just right. I had snapper and prawn spring rolls which were also sensational.

Heavenly fusion food at Three Monkeys, Ubud.
A new take on Spring rolls. Prawn and Snapper. The Three Monkeys, Ubud. 59K IDR

Another very reliable western style restaurant in Sanur is Massimo’s Ristorante. This year, guests may watch the girls making fresh pasta down the back of the shop. Massimo has also introduced fresh buffalo mozzarella and burrata to the menu, which is now made on the island.

Making green pasta, Massimo’s, Sanur, Bali
Vanilla Stick Lady in The Pasar Sindhu Market.

Many thanks to Sherry for hosting this monthly series. My kitchen posts will be on tour for four months and one of these days, I might get my hands dirty again.

A collection of well used Ulegs outside Janet de Neefe’s cooking school, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.

Next post. Return to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Indigo House, Ubud. Textile Lover’s Paradise

Travelling from south Bali to Ubud, some routes pass through the juncture of the Monkey Forest and its famous shopping strip, Monkey Forest Road. If you arrive by car in that stretch of urban Ubud in the afternoon, you will join a notorious traffic jam that threatens to choke that town to death. The street travels one way, yet the traffic often grinds to a standstill. Even the pedestrians, all tourists, appear to be walking in slow motion, the footpaths on both sides congested with shoppers, walkers, diners and those just trying to get from A to B. Many are looking for that elusive gift among the colourful tourist jumble of goods on display in these tiny shop windows. Others, like me, are wondering why they have returned to Ubud at all. And then, while stuck in that motionless car, trying to curb my impatience, I spotted it, the shop of my dreams, a store devoted to hand dyed indigo, Ikat, and Batik. Like a pharos, its blue and white window display would lure me back.

Wall displays of Indigo cloth, Indigo House, Ubud
Indigo House, Ubud, Bali
Homewares in Indigo
Store display, Indigo House, Ubud

In order to take these photos, which are prohibited, I met with the owner, Kadek Wira. The shop has been open for three years now and things were slow at first. Kadek explained that the business provides valuable work for women, especially those who need part-time work or home based work, due to family commitments. The business also helps revive the traditional Balinese arts of weaving, dying, Ikat and batik- fine arts that are becoming lost as cheap, manufactured versions take over. In a sea of mass-produced baubles and trinkets, it’s wonderful to find someone ready to invest in and promote Balinese artisanal skills.

More indigo heaven
All the photos here were taken in the distance. Kadek asked that I didn’t take any close up photographs to protect the design process.

If you visit just one shop in Monkey Forest Road, let it be this one. One lovely indigo item will last you a lifetime, growing more beautiful with age. The antithesis of the throw away society, these textiles can be treasured now, then passed down for generations to come.

For lovers of textiles and indigo, including Maxine, Rachael, Sandra, Diane, and Jan Alice, and other secret admirers.

IKATBATIK, art  for nature. Jl Monkey Forest. Ubud, 80571, Bali, Indonesia. phone+62 361 975 622. www.ikatbatik.com