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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The Australian media revels in stereotyping Australian tourism to Bali. It’s an annual event, always bound to get a heated reaction. Fake news and generalisation usually does. The story follows the same old path: find a group of poorly behaved Australian bogans ¹, make sure they are shirtless or dressed in gaping singlets; a few tattoos help magnify the picture. Film them at a bar or nightclub in Kuta or Legian, with sound grabs of their loud, appalling behaviour. Beer swilling scenes and expletives complete the picture. This minority group is an easy target for the media. It’s an historic one too, recalling in recent times, the singlet wearing, fag in mouth, ‘ocker’ of the 1980s, and before that, the yobbo, the larrikin and the ‘wild colonial boy’. Australians have a love -hate relationship with their own working class. Often despised, they become symbols of our national cultural cringe. At other times in history, they’ve been employed to boost patriotism ( Ned Kelly, WW1 diggers, Henry Lawson characters). We either love or despise our famous bogans. A few random modern examples include Dawn Fraser, Paul Hogan, Shane Warne, Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec ( Australia’s answer to the Beckams), Kath and Kim, and Pauline Hanson. I have included Pauline Hanson, the Kabuki masked racist, in this list as she might be considered the bogan queen.
‘It can be argued that the larrikin tradition of disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia, are two sides of a self-reinforcing dynamic; the social conservatism of the mainstream fuels the undercurrent of larrikinism and rebellion, which, in turn, is seen as demonstrating that a firm hand is needed. This is sometimes referred to as the “larriken- wowser nexus”, ‘wowser’ being an Australian colloquial term for a person of puritanical mores.’²
A few more Australian stereotypes might be added to this time-honoured clichéd portrait of the Australian tourist in Bali. Enter the CUB family (cashed up bogans). The media portrays this group as a wealthy but poorly educated sub- class of ‘tradies’³, who have no time for Balinese culture or culture in general. The successful ABC television drama UpperMiddle Bogan milks this stereotype to the hilt. Add to this the media’s obsession with the Corby family and the vacillating portrayal of Schapelle Corby as innocent victim or guilty bogan drug smuggler. The annual media focus on ‘Australian young lad caught with a stash of marijuana gets caught up in the Indonesian prison system’ amplifies this stereotype. The media’s dramatisation of these sad stories suggests a deep distrust of the Indonesian legal system, resulting in untold damage to Australian- Indonesian business and political relationships.
A quick look at the annual tourist arrivals to Bali is of interest here. The figures for 2016 reveal Australian visitors leading the way at 1.137 million visitors per annum. This year, 2017, the figure has been surpassed by the Chinese.
The Balinese will be the first to tell you about their impressions of tourists. They love Australian tourists because they spend money on local products and services and engage with the locals in an open and good-humoured way. They pump money into the local economy. The Chinese, according to the Balinese, don’t spend any money in the markets or on transport and don’t engage with the locals. Their tours are usually packaged; as a result, very little money flows directly to poorer Balinese people. My own observations of Malaysian and Japanese visitors, if I may generalise a little here, suggests they have a preference for large internationally owned hotels which effectively insulates them from Balinese people. European visitors prefer to eat in Western restaurants, and are far more hesitant with the locals. They do, however, spend money on transport, water sports, hired sun baking chairs, and tours.
The following is a summary of the makeup of Australian tourists in Bali based on my own observations over the last 39 years.
Younger tourists travelling overseas for the first time. Bali is an affordable destination for them. Some have studied Bahasa Indonesian at school and have a smattering of the language. This group spends money on sporting activities, transport, cheap clothing, sarongs and nicknacks. They tend to stay in budget or family run accomodation, and eat in cheaper, family run warungs.
The Bogan- Ocker tourist who usually base themselves around Kuta/Legian and Seminyak. They don’t take much interest in Hinduism or Balinese culture generally. They come to Bali to party. This is the group which gives Bali a bad name. They spend money on alcohol, transport and accommodation.
Family groups who travel to Bali during the Australian school holidays. They tend to stay in bungalows and small family run middle of the road Balinese owned hotels with swimming pools and proximity to the beach.
Older, retired couples or singles. This is a growing market and one that the Balinese are very happy to accommodate, by providing more flexible visa extensions, reliable health care and on site massage. The main attraction for this group is the climate and the affordability of food and services. Many in this group often stay in the same accommodation for a month or more at a time and are treated almost as family by the managers. This option is particularly appealing to older, single women, who feel much safer and more comfortable in Bali than in Queensland, for example. This group spends money on massage, pedicures, local warung food, drivers and accommodation.
Active travellers who enjoy watersports such as surfers, divers, snorkelers, wind surfers, bikers, cyclists, trekkers.
Cultural tourists interested in women’s’ textiles and ikat weaving, language, meditation and yoga, Hinduism, cooking, art, landscape design, and history.
Those travelling to Bali to attend the annual Jazz festival and Writers’ Festival, a growing market.
Business tourists who open franchises or restaurants. Whilst these operators are making big money in Bali, they do also provide hospitality training to the Balinese.
I’ve just spent two weeks with 15 members of my own family in Bali. In many ways we are a typical Australian family. We have different interests, different occupations, ages, educational levels and aspirations. I can happily say that we all have a high respect for the Balinese culture and people. I would also argue that most Australian visitors to Bali do.
¹”The term bogan is a derogatory Autralian and New Zealand slang word used to describe a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify values and behaviour considered unrefined or unsophisticated. Depending on the context, the term can be pejorative or self deprecating. Since the 1980s, the bogan has become a very well-recognised subculture, often as an example of bad taste. It has antecedents in the Australian larriken and ocker.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan