Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, that offering of love, of the pure heart I accept.
Krishna tells Arjuna what God expects and requires of an offering in the most famous passage from the Bhagavad Gita, (ix:26)
This passage lies at the heart of the Balinese tradition of preparing offerings : leaves, flowers, fruit and holy water are presented with devotion. Today’s offerings for Galungan, featured in the images below, however, differ in the sense that they are made to the returning spirits of ancestors and are placed in front of family homes in small enclosed palm leaf or bamboo cages.
Wandering the suburban back streets today,I was rather taken with these elaborately decorated cages at the base of each penjor, filled this morning with special banten or offerings. These offerings are more family based and idiosyncratic, with each basket protected from marauding birds and squirrels, so that the little rice cakes and other treats for the dead might survive for the whole of this auspicious day.
Today’s religious ceremonies start at the home temple: each family compound will have one small temple, usually found in the kaja-kangin corner of the compound.¹ Offerings are made here first, before travelling, on foot or by motorbike, to the larger community temples located in each banjar or district.
Dressed in their finest ceremonial clothes, the Balinese are enjoying their holiday. For the modern Sanur based family, this means a cone or cup of Massimo’s gelato after the family prayers: the queues outside Massimo’s gelateria are long, as men in ceremonial white udeng and finely woven sarongs, and women in white lacy kabaya and coloured sarongs queue for a sweet treat.
¹ Kaja-Kangin, two aspects of Balinese orientation, will be discussed fully in a later post.
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.
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.
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.
Tasty selection for nasi campur
Nasi campur at Warung Santai
nasi campur, around $2.30 for rice and three selections. Warung Santai, a ‘westernised’ warung.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
dadar gulung – a green pandanus leaf rice flour pancake rolled up and stuffed with grated 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.
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.
Kue Talam, a two layered steamed cake, usually in two colours, made fromrice flour, steamed sweet potato, palm sugar, tapioca, and coconut milk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frangipani blossoms drop, perfumed molting from gnarled old trees, delicate offspring in contrast to their parent. I can’t pass by without scooping one or two from the ground. Their perfume is strong but fleeting.
Bali is awash with other more colourful flowers as the daily ritual of canang sari (pronounced chanang) forms the central practice of Hinduism here. The practice is simultaneously private and public, a gracious display of personal spirituality taking place in open aired temples, at large intricately carved district Pura or smaller roadside temples along the way. Canang Sari, hand-made baskets filled with flowers and other oddities, are also offered at the entrances to homes and shops, at the edge of the tide, on the rails of a boat, at the base of large trees, at significant intersections along roads, at compass points in a house, at the highest point on ledges of temples as well as the eastern and western ledges. I feel compelled to photograph them all. Talk to the Balinese and they will be happy to explain the significance of each offering as well as the highlights of their temple calendar. Ritual is all-encompassing and omnipresent.
Last week, the Balinese spent two days preparing for Galungan,¹ the celebration of good over evil, which is the highlight of the Hindu Calendar. This involved one day of spiritual cleansing at the local temple- again, awash with more flowers, followed by a day of personal cleansing. The streets and temples around Sanur are spotless in preparation for Galungan which takes place on September 7 and 8 this year. Many local women are busy plaiting and constructing elaborate decorations made from bleached coconut palm leaves for the coming days. Sadly I will miss it all- it’s time to say Selamat Tinggal to my other island home. Farewell once again to the beautiful Balinese people and their inviting spirituality: farewell to the gnarled old frangipani trees and their daily blessings.
smokes and sweets for the afterlife
religious items for family temples
unusual floral offering
Each photo above can be viewed separately. Click and open.
¹ Galungan is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma over adharma.It marks the time when the ancestral spirits visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they return. The date is calculated according to the 210 day Balinese calendar.
Many of you will know that I am enamoured with Balinese culture and its people. This love affair grows stronger with each visit, despite the fact that, like many others, I find some aspects of foreign tourism in Bali very disturbing. The best way to avoid seeing the ugly side of tourism is to by- pass particular districts, as well as becoming more receptive to the local culture, religion, ritual, history and the country’s social economic issues.
Here’s my current list of gripes:
the prevalence of plastic in a country that lacks regular rubbish collection and where, traditionally, rubbish is burnt. And, the holier- than -thou tourist attack on Bali’s plastic problem while continuing to shop, collecting plastic bags along the way, and drinking water from plastic bottles.
large foreign-owned resorts built along the shores of major tourist areas effectively blocking local access to their own beach. These resorts are favoured by tourists who have little interaction with the Balinese people or culture, beyond the obvious daily contact where Balinese serve their needs as waiters, cleaners, door openers, masseurs and drivers. Fake palaces dedicated to water wastage and energy consumption, built by cheap Javanese labour, charging a daily rate that would feed a Balinese family for years.
overrated districts devoted to consumerism, in particular the area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak/ Kerobokan – now one continuous strip of consumer ugliness- with streets choked with traffic, offering tourists a Disneyland version of Bali, where foreign fashion designers and celebrity chefs (often Australian) open branches enabling foreigners to eat the same food that they might when visiting Melbourne or Sydney.
the barbarian dress code of some young Europeans, and others not so young, who turn up in restaurants or holy shrines wearing very little, displaying a cultural arrogance and ignorance beyond belief.
Don’t get me wrong. Tourism, on the whole, has been good for the Balinese. Over the 37 years or so of visiting Bali, I’ve noticed huge improvements, with access to electricity, education and clean water providing the Balinese with a much improved lifestyle. In my chats with some of the locals recently, they have told me that they have more skills now and no longer want to work in industries such as fishing and building, these jobs being carried out by low paid migrants from Java and Madura. The tourist industry is now central to the Balinese economy ( 3.7 million visitors in 2014) as it is to other countries such as Italy ( 48.6 million in 2014 ) and Greece ( 22 million in 2014). Take tourism away and the Balinese economy would collapse.
After a twenty-one year absence from the commercial and congested strip of tourism that gives Bali a bad name, with Seminyak at its epicentre, I visited the area two days ago, in the interests of research and in the hope that things may have improved in that district. My notes from that journey are not worth repeating and no photos were taken. Enough said.
The Early bird in Sanur witnesses graceful sarong clad women perform the Balinese daily Hindu ritual of Canang Sari. A delicate hand places the remaining frangipani blossom on the woven offering and the incense stick is lit.
Daily Press photographic challenge this week is Early Bird.
Morning Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guest house, Ubud.
Ubud, nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. Ubud is pronounced ‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip. It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.
Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud. The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.
Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).
Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:
Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:
White-coloured flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
Red-coloured flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
Yellow-coloured flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva
Blue or green coloured flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu.
Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.
On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting? Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.