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

Indian Waves. Varkala Beach, Kerala

At Varkala in Kerala, India, the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea, bringing sweet, fresh air from distant lands. No land lies between this beach and the east coast of Africa.

The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India
The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India

Indian families come to Varkala’s Papanasam beach on the weekends and tentatively tip toe into the water’s edge: youths play ball games on the sand, as they do all over the world.

Sunset at Varkala beach.
Sunset at Varkala beach.

We retreat to the shade of a nearby restaurant and consider the menu. Perhaps a Kingfisher beer or a large pot of tea, or, depending on their licence, a beer served in a large teapot!

Old Hippy by the arabian Sea.
Mr Tranquillo by the Arabian Sea.

On a nominated day in the month of Karkidakam (mid July to August), thousands of people gather at the beach to make ritual offerings to the departed. These offerings are placed on banana leaves and carried out to sea by the waves. It is believed that the souls of dead ancestors attain ‘moksha’ or eternal release when ‘Vavu Bali’ offerings are made.

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Sunset over the Arabian Sea at Varkala, Kerala, India

A psychedelic Ganesha enjoys a day at the beach, pumping out Indian sound waves at a deafening volume, and providing that festive Indian touch.

Ganesha by the sea
Ganesha by the sea

Beautiful girls enjoy the waves, but rarely enter the sea.

Varkala girls by the sea
Varkala girls by the sea

Waves is the topic set by Ailsa this week at Where’s My Backpack.  Ailsa goes for a traditional New Year’s Day swim in the ice-cold waters of the Irish Sea. I’m staying on the edge, here with these Indian girls, and may take up wearing a silk sari too.

Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India
Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India

Travelling Cattle Class on a Budget Airline

The best laid plans often go awry, especially when travelling economy class on a budget airline. Just go with the awful flow is my advice. This was aptly demonstrated recently when Mr Tranquillo studied the seating layout of the plane a day before departure and re- assigned our seats, so that we would be surrounded by fields of empty space, rows to colonise, restful rows on which to loll and spread. Foolish man. He hadn’t factored in those travellers who had left their seat allocation to chance at check in. I am now left wondering how peaceful our original chosen seats might have been.

The Melbourne to Thailand flight, on a good day, takes just over 8 hours, not exactly a short trip.  Behind us we have a mother with two small children who enjoy the healthy pastime of kicking of the seat in front of them – ours. In front we have three women who enjoy a few cans of Bourbon and Coke, their seats fully reclined by 3.30 pm, shortly after take off, and who are partial to random bursts of shrillness. Their partners have taken up the standing room between the toilet and the plane door exit: they are enjoying their own beer festival for four hours. I am so pleased we not sitting in that leg spacious area.

Being prepared, we look forward to our longish flight with one pre-ordered meal. It arrives 40 minutes after take off, at 3.45 pm. I ask politely if it could stay warm somewhere until a more reasonable eating hour, such as, say 6 pm. No, that was not possible. OK, could the meal be kept somewhere until we are ready to eat it, warm or cold. No, he couldn’t do that either. I then suggested curtly that he could stick the meal in the rubbish bin (I promise I did not preface the word ‘bin’ with any expletive beginning with the letter F ). Mr Tranquillo, known for his inner calm and reasonable approach in the most annoying situations, intervened and told the young male attendant that the food would stay warm, and that we would like it in two hours. End of story. How did he do that? Flight attendant whisperer?

The kicking from the rear continues with a persistent rhythm, thumpthumpthumpety thump_thumpthump_THUMP, directed at my lower back. I ask the father could he tell ‘the child’ to stop. Not long after, Mr Tranquillo, who is being kicked constantly by the other little darling, half stands, turns and firmly addresses the mother with the same request, a distinct edge to his voice. I smile inwardly. Not so tranquillo after all! The kids finally stop. They take up singing and loud games with their Mother, which is lovely, really, except that the din drowns out all sound from our earphones.

We finally ask for our meal at 6 pm: the packet is still super hot, and the ice cream melted. I don’t mind melted ice cream, although the exploding affect, when removing the puffed up foil lid, produced a sticky foamy spray over me, my clothes and the back of the seat- but not on the kids behind, who by this stage, had found a way to pull my hair as they climb the back of the seat.

Note. If you don’t pay $24 for a pre-ordered meal, you can eat a $10 meal any time at all: just press the button and along comes a bit of industrial fodder from the Pie Face company, a slab of ham and pineapple thing vaguely resembling a pizza, or a vacuum packed salad that purports to have health properties.

We resort to wine, a saviour in situations like these. There is an attractive picture of a barrique on the back of the food brochure where the words ‘cellar selection’ are mentioned. The choices are- Sauvignon blanc or Shiraz. Hmm great, how much do I dislike Sauvignon blanc, let me count the ways. The cheap red slides down well enough although the desired effect, relaxation, is replaced by headache. No water bottle is delivered at any stage throughout the flight: a purchased meal is accompanied by a miniature foil topped container of water, such fun to open. I notice that the Bourbon women are now drinking water from tiny paper cups from the toilet and I consider doing the same.

I try to meditate, to think more calmly, to recall a few Dalai Lama quotes of the day. “The ultimate source of comfort is within ourselves”, he advises on his Facebook page, but it’s not working and besides, I am sure HH travels business class. I watch ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ or rather, I see it mimed: fortunately Hardy’s story hasn’t changed in all those years of remakes, the cad is deliciously rakish and the good guy, in the end, wins.

Me doing my Munch Scream Face again.
Me doing my Edvard Munch Scream Face again.

My advice for travelling on budget airlines?

  • Don’t plan anything and consider taking calming or sleep-producing substances.
  • Buy noise reducing headphones which won’t work in the Jetstar sockets unless you get a double pronged plug attachment that happens to match.
  • Have your own media loaded onto your own device using your top quality earphones.
  • Take an empty large plastic bottle in your hand luggage. Filtered water bottle filling stations can be found in various spots throughout Melbourne’s international airport.
  • Prior to departure buy your own food for the flight, such as packed sushi, mixed nuts, biscuits and cheese, or home made slices and sandwiches.
  • If travelling as a couple, choose an aisle seat and a window seat. Very rarely is the centre seat filled.
  • If you have paid for Jetstar’s media ($10), note that this prepayment will be loaded into your allocated seat. If you move, you may lose your media.