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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Thanks Eha for alerting me to this latest nonsense about Australian tourism in Bali.
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
At the end of a busy day in Bali, often involving far more walking in the heat than one initially intended, returning to a peaceful, quiet and well maintained garden is a godsend. A beautiful garden has become a prerequisite when choosing accommodation in Bali, especially when visiting Ubud.
Unfortunately, Ubud has been loved to death. A private courtyard garden blocks out the pandemonium, the snarl of traffic, the fumes of motor bikes and the endless stream of slow walking tourists hunting for gewgaws, monkeys and food. This is my farewell tribute to one of Ubud’s most delightful gardens. Aging and velvet mossed Buddhist and Hindu statues, inviting seating platforms, beautifully carved and painted doors, screening plants and tropical flowers, archways and entrances and stands of bamboo, evoke a traditional Bali midst a heavily urbanised town. The daily noiseless tending of tropical plants by gardeners and the morning placement of fresh hibiscus flowers and canang sari on all the statues and family temple have called me back to the charming Honeymoon Guesthouse year after year. Situated in Jalan Bisma, development and congested traffic has finally overwhelmed this once tranquil street. I cannot return. My love of Ubud now dwells in the past. I can revisit her there.
A big suksma ( Balinese for thankyou, best said with hands in prayer position) to all the gardeners of Bali. Without these steady, quiet and humble workers, Bali would not be so inviting.
The following collage is a media file. Tour the garden by opening the first photo and following the arrows.
Lush plants, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lush planting and screening
Mossed statues, Ubud
Pool area. Honeymoorn guesthouse, Ubud
My friend Ganesha
Statues and tropical plants.
Lotus position. Honeymoon 1. Ubud
Another inviting doorway
Pool. Honeymoon 1.
Carefully positioned seating areas
Mr T. Honemoorn guesthouse 1.
Fresh Hibiscus flowers are replaced daily at Honeymoon.
Do you enjoy snorkeling and diving? Bali has some delightful areas to explore underwater and as the temperature is always warm in this tropical zone, there’s no need to don a wetsuit.
This year’s Balinese underwater adventure was enjoyed by Mr T and our daughter: the trip was a birthday gift from daughter to father, and will be another diving adventure they will recall forever. Due to my increasing lack of confidence on the open sea, especially in an area known for some ‘interesting’ currents, I remained behind and enjoyed another massage. These photos were taken mostly by Mr T, with his cheap underwater camera.
One of the best diving spots in Bali is in the north-west of the island at Pemuteran. The village, at present, is delightfully calm and traditional: the tourist trade here centers around diving tour operators and small, discreet guesthouses. There are a few warungs along the main road and very little shopping.
Many diving boats operate tours each day, especially in July and August, the main European tourist season. A day trip costs between AU$45 and AU$55 per person. This includes snorkeling gear, lunch, drinking water, driver and underwater guide.
It was Mt T’s second trip to the reefs off Pemuteran. He also enjoys snorkeling off Lembongan Island and near Amed. Although no turtles were spotted this time, plenty of colourful fish passed by.
Giant clam, Pemuteran
Tropical fish, Pemuteran
Coral conservation and and a turtle breeding programme are two postive outcomes of tourism in this area. “A community-driven reef restoration and conservation project started in 2000 that has changed not only the reef itself, but also the attitudes, livelihoods and economy of the entire region. Bio-Rock is a technology that uses low voltage electrical current on artificial underwater structures to encourage growth of corals and other reef life. Experiments with the technology worldwide have shown that it can help counteract some of the difficult environmental factors affecting coral growth.”¹
“The Turtle Hatchery of Pemuteran in the utmost west of Bali started in 1994 after Australian Chris Brown, the owner of a diving company in the area, bought a sea turtle from a local fisherman who caught the animal in one of his nets by accident, to save its life; the turtle was tied to a rope and let out to graze in the sea during the day, and at night brought into a small pond. A second turtle soon joined the first and thus the Turtle Hatchery Project became a fact. The Turtle Hatchery project’s mission is to promote the protection of the wild turtle population and to stop, or at least diminish the worthless slaughtering of turtles. Up to 2001, more than 3000 juvenile turtles have been released into the ocean as well as many larger adults.”²
It’s a frenzied scene down along the shore in front of the Pasar Ikan (fish market) in Jimbaran. The confusion builds as more Jukung arrive at the water’s edge, like a maddening jigsaw puzzle or an animated Where’s Wally. It’s 7 am, the best time for fish markets. The morning glows with colour. The crowds are on a quest to buy the best catch of the day
Outside the market, brick paved walkways are crowded and awash with melting ice and hoses dousing down the day’s slippery catch. The hard bargains take place here as buyers from restaurants all over southern Bali arrive to haggle over the catch of the day. The fish that make it inside the building probably go to late comers or those too timid to strike a deal on the shore.
It is always worth getting up early in Bali to sense what Nehru meant when he called Bali ‘The Morning of the World.” The warm air feels tender at 5.30 am. The scene is still: there is no noise, no gamelan or motorbike sound. Perhaps a rooster crows somewhere in the distance. No one speaks. A few souls gather along the edge of the water, to meditate and reflect, or to wake slowly, to witness. The joggers and bike riders have not emerged yet. On good mornings, Mt Agung peeps out from the veil of clouds to the west.
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.
unusual floral offering
religious items for family temples
smokes and sweets for the afterlife
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.
There are really good ones, meaty ones, vegetarian ones and ones that have sat around a little too long. I’m talking about that Balinese classic combination dish, Nasi Campur ( pronounced champur). The dish consists of a central serve of rice, which is then surrounded by small scoops of other delicious morsels, along with two spicy sambals. To me, it’s Bali on a plate.
Some of the side dishes are spiced with basa genep, a paste unique to Bali. They may include long beans cooked with strips of tempe, curried tofu, grilled tuna, cucumber, stir fried spinach, lawar, tempe in chilli, beef cubes, chicken, sate lilit, pepes ikan, and more.
Two new warungs have popped up in the last two years in Sanur. Run by young staff, both are doing a roaring trade in day time nasi campur, catering to travellers who are keen to eat well on a budget, with their modern take on Balinese traditional classics. Warung Santai is now rivalling the very popular Warung Kecil. Both are tiny, though at Warung Kecil- kecil means small- with its tiny communal tables and benches, it is often too crowded at lunch time.
Warung Santai also offers a few western dishes as well as juices and coffee and does a separate Balinese dinner menu after 5.30 pm. They stock raw organic cacao and nut brownies from Ubud, as well as a few Western cakes.
We stuck to nasi campur and iced lemon tea, which comes in a tall glass with lots of ice and a side serve of palm sugar syrup. Our meal with drink came to around AU $4. This is not just cheap food, it is delicious, clean and filling and ideal for those missing their vegetables.
Warung Santai, 9 Jalan Tandaken, Sanur, Bali
Warung Kecil, Jalan Duyung No.1, Sanur, Bali
A warung is small family-owned business, often a modest small restaurant. A warung is an essential part of daily life in Indonesia. In Bali, a warung will serve authentic Balinese food, usually at lower prices. Warungs used to look more funky and were often thatched huts along the road. These days, they are small modern shops that rely on fast turnover.