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?
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.

Balinese Memukur. Water Purification Ceremony by the Sea

The sound of gamelan moves closer, an exotic percussion that is repetitive and hypnotic, as we wake from our afternoon slumber and follow the procession down to the sea. Another Balinese ceremony is about to take place.

White dressing for the last funeral stage, Memukur. Sanur, Bali.

The Balinese will often tell you that they won’t be around for a few days as they have a ceremony to attend. Religious and family ceremonies are an important part of the fabric of Balinese life. Hindu ritual and observance is strictly upheld, despite the massive level of tourism in southern Bali. Balinese often return to their family village in the country for these events: they are always in touch with the ever shifting Hindu calendar. I’m forever asking questions, trying to fathom the significance of each new ceremony that I come across.

Gamelan orchestra, Sanur.

Memukur is a traditional Balinese ceremony for the passed away spirit. The purpose of this ceremony is to purify the spirit to send it off into reincarnation. It must be purified by water so it may return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation. According to tradition, the deceased returns to human life in the form of the next born family member after these rituals. White is the colour worn during Memukur, with bright sashes and golden sarongs for the women, and white shirts and traditional dark sarongs for the men. The carefully tied udeng is worn as a hat on these occasions.

Ceremonial dress, men wearing the udeng.

The assembled group wait patiently for the priest to arrive, who performs the water purification ceremony. This is not a sad occasion yet the gathered are quiet and respectful. Some of the younger boys in the gamelan band joke quietly together: young women occasionally glance at their mobile phones.

Waiting, waiting.

A collective sigh can be heard as the elderly priest arrives in a black car and slowly moves to the raised platform to perform the purification rites.

The purification ritual begins. Sanur beach, Bali

The gamelan orchestra begins again, with increasing percussion from gongs and hammered xylophones and background wind instruments.

Gamelan orchestra, Bali
Gamelan, sanur beach, memukur ceremony

The Balinese don’t mind foreigners witnessing these ceremonies. Some points of etiquette need to be observed.

  • Do not walk in front of people when they are praying.
  • Do not use flash or point your camera at the priest’s face.
  • Never sit higher than the priest, the offerings and/or people praying.
  • During cremation ceremonies, never get in the way of attendees. Stand at a respectable distance, somewhere along the sides or in the background.
  • The bikini clad and shirtless should stay well away.

    It’s not unusual for the assembled to be happy at this final stage of a funeral process.

Bali Sunrise. The Edge of the Day

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.

Boats at dawn. Sanur, Bali
Guning Agung at dawn. Very rarely seen at any other time of the day.
Guning Agung, Sanur, Bali. Very rarely seen at any other time of the day.

Balinese Ritual and Ceremony. Flowers and Farewell

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.

Canang Sari pile up on temple ledges

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.

Balinese woman making rirual cremeony at the local Puri ir temple.
Balinese women making ritual offerings at the local Pura or temple.

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.

Ritual offerings
Ritual offerings

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.

Warung Santai. Bali on a Plate

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.

nasi campur

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.

Nasi campur. Rice, fried tofu, beans and tempe curry, lawar, sweet tempe with nuts and kaffir lime, corn cake, Bali sambal on the side.

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.

corner table at Warung Santai
Corner table at Warung Santai

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.

Hard to choose your nasi campur sides.
Hard to choose your nasi campur sides.

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.

The Campur menu
The Nasi Campur menu at Warung Santai. The numbers have had their thousands removed, a growing trend in Balinese restaurants. 23 or 23,000 rupiah comes to about AU $2.30.
Look for this sign along Jalan Tandaken, Sanur
Look for this sign along Jalan Tandaken, Sanur

Warung Santai, 9 Jalan Tandaken, Sanur, Bali

Warung Kecil, Jalan Duyung No.1, Sanur, Bali

Nasi campur and iced lemon tea.
  • 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.

Characters of Sanur: Dr Pearl

Although never a pearl wearer in the past, having my fashion sense indelibly carved out during the height of the hippy era, I now don a set of these freshwater pearls, grey in colour and discreet in size,  grown somewhere in the waters of Lombok and sold to me by Dr Pearl.

Dr Pearl of Sanur via Lombok
Dr Pearl of Sanur via Lombok

Dr Pearl is one of those characters who wanders up and down the sandy beach of Sanur, Bali. Commerce is fairly low-key in Sanur and so a travelling beach salesman is not entirely unwelcome, even if the senses are more keenly fastened on a cold Bintang beer with a grilled Mahi Mahi fish steak or passing the time aimlessy gazing at the distant view of Nusa Penida across the water. Barefooted and small of stature, he appears out of the blue, double knotting as he talks, reaching into his small bags of freshwater pearls, strong cotton in hand, twisting, knotting, adding a pearl, and knotting anew. He is a keen salesman and negotiations might take place over a day or a week. He always knows your travel movements and so is not in a hurry to finalise the deal.

Dr Pearl, grey or white?
Dr Pearl, grey or white?

He remembers you from year to year, and greets you like an old friend. I always buy exactly the same necklace, in the same colour, each time. His recollection of the price I paid last time, however, is always much higher than mine. His wife and four children live in Lombok, which is not so far by hydrofoil for the average cashed up tourist, but far enough by the old slow boat for the locals. Dr Pearl returns home only a few times a year: his life is firmly entrenched in this small strip of Sanur Beach. If you see Doctor Pearl, give him a chance. He knows when you aren’t interested but always recognises the glint of desire in a woman’s eye.

Dr Pearls table of treasure
Dr Pearl’s table of treasure

For Rosalie and Helen, accomplice and witmess to pearl purchasing.

Beneath My Feet

Morning offerings, Canang Sari, are made with such devotion. A silent and personal ceremony, the Balinese make daily offerings to Hindu Gods, but often include a few extras for their departed relatives.

Kanang sari, Bali
Canang Sari, Bali

As you walk along, they turn up beneath your feet in the most surprising places. I try not to disturb them as I walk along, but soon enough the traffic, tourists, birds or dogs will destroy these artistic creations, the debris swept up in the early morning. New canang sari appear each day, some more elaborate than others.

See also my other posts on Canang Sari:

Lilla Pantai. Top New Restaurant by the Sea, Sanur

Lilla Pantai is the fabulous new beach front restaurant owned by the same family who run the popular Lilla Warung in Jalan Bumi. It opened quietly about four weeks ago and is now in full swing, with all decor completed, staff fully trained and glitches ironed out. The son of the owners, a Swedish- Balinese couple who own the successful Lilla Warung, trained as an architect in Sweden and returned to supervise the renovation of the new seafront property. Bali called him home. He has done an excellent job, incorporating many traditional Balinese features such as palm tree woven walls ( over concrete I imagine), curved thatching at the entrance, old Balinese black and white photos, lamps and a happy Ganesha at the entrance. The rest is sleek and modern: the interplay between old and new works remarkably well. The internal space is tiered: everyone has a sea view, with hardwood decks at the lower level and softly lit beach front tables on the sand.

During these early weeks, this hospitable young man and his father have been present to iron out teething problems. One night, the restaurant’s large gas bottle ran out at around 8.30 PM as they were in full service swing of the second sitting for the evening. Desperate calls were made, solutions were found. This is professional place with high standards, years of restaurant experience, and an eagerness to get things right.

The service is efficient and friendly. They remember you and greet you warmly, not so hard since I have visited six times. The kitchen is open planned, with modern sleek stainless steel appliances providing a full view of the chefs at work. Food presentation is impressive. Modern Suar and Jati wood boards and irregular shaped bowls are used for breads and salads. Tables are adorned with oil candles and terrarium plants.

Now let’s consider the food, since we are here to eat. Serves are generous and the food is an absolute bargain. Many dishes are priced between 25 IDR nd 59 IDR ( AU $2.50 – $5.90) . There is a great range of appetizers which are mostly Western in style.  A bowl of calamari fritti, some garlic bread and a guacamole to share with one other is an excellent evening treat. The mains are a mixture of traditional and authentic Balinese with a  few pasta dishes added.  A bottle of Two Islands Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio which, at 215,000IDR ( $21.00), is a local bargain. Large Bintang beers are the usual $3.00.

I have been slowly working my way through the menu here and have enjoyed every dish. Pasta with prawn and chilli, seafood curry, Gado- Gado (the best in Sanur), calamari fritti with garlic aioli- excellent, garlic bread, nasi campur ( served at lunchtime) and more. All sensational, cheap, authentic and generous.  My photos do not do justice to the food here: as, most of the time I have found the need to eat before even considering the camera! If you are in Sanur or Denpasar, go now! This place is the best restaurant along the beach strip.

Lilla Pantai

Jl. Duyung (Sanur Beach Street Walk), Sanur, Bali

Turn left at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari, pass the Fairmont Sanur Hotel, then pass four shops and you’re there! Or enter from the end of Jalan Duyong and turn right: easy to find, just look for the sign.

Open for lunch and dinner. Nasi campur is included at lunchtime from 11AM to 3 PM as well as the regular alla carte menu.

I’m heading back there right now!


Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part 2

By popular demand, here’s Part 2 of my  Guide to Bali. Thanks Mick for reminding me.

  • Don’t buy package deals from the internet. These deals are often deceptive. They may seem cheap but they are cheap for a reason. It is important to actively choose where you want to stay and not be swayed by some cheap deal or package. I pay around AU $55.00 a night a double for a small quiet hotel with glorious gardens and large swimming pool. Importantly, the hotel is close to the beach, restaurants and other facilities. The room is large and air-conditioned and the included breakfast is substantial. You can pay a little less, or a lot more!
  • Don’t bring too much luggage. Everything can be purchased here. There are many supermarkets selling all the usual brands and products you would expect to find at home, modern chemists, shops to tempt you with summer clothing, and so on. If you fill your suitcase at home, there’ll be little room to add anything. If you need another bag to bring items home, soft fabric Bali bags cost around AU $6.
  • Commerce helps the Balinese people. They often make only a small cut on each item and depend on tourists buying a few trinkets from their stores. When bargaining, remain cheerful and smile.  Don’t start negotiating unless you intend to buy something. When bargaining, I usually halve the quoted price and negotiate from there ( if I don’t already have an established price in mind).

  • Fixed price shopping. There are some very cheap fixed price stores in Sanur and it is a good place to start so you can get a sense of prices. Jenny’s shop in Sindu Beach market (opposite Sarina’s designer store) is one of these. Flashy, glass fronted shops along the main street are also fixed in price, but may offer discounts for multiple purchasing. It’s always worth asking. Also be aware that some fixed price shops may be simply overpriced shops.
  • Transport. Around Sanur, a short trip in a bemo (green truck with bench seats and usually an open door) will cost 5000 rupiah (50 cents) per person. Using bemos keeps this form of transport functioning for the locals. Take taxis or private cars on day trips – usually a good price can be negotiated for a long distance trip.  A trip one way to Denpasar market is around 50,000 (AU$5.00), the trip to the airport is 125,000 – 150,000 IDR (AU $ 12-15.00) Blue Bird taxis have meters if you prefer. A car and driver may be employed to tour various parts of the island. We usually pay a driver around AU$50.00 – $75.00 a day but prices have increased in 2015.
  • When staying for a month, it is more economical to stock your own beverages. Assuming your room has a fridge, stock up on beer, lemonade or other things you may need for the duration. Cask wine (Balinese Hatten or Plaga brand) can bought at Hardy’s supermarket for around $30.00 for 2 litres. It isn’t the best wine in the world but it grows on you. Bottled wine is expensive by Australian and European standards. Beer Bintang (a big bottle)  is a tasty drop and retails at AU$2.70 in a small store. Spirits (one litre per person ) may be brought into Bali duty-free. Mixers at supermarkets cost around AU60 cents per can.
  •  Smile and talk to the locals. Learn some of the language: even though most Balinese converse well enough in English, they do appreciate you having a go. Most Balinese speak three languages or more- Balinese (their own dialect), Bahasa Indonesian, and English. Learn about local customs and culture. It is amazing what you can glean from the locals as many of them are under employed and enjoy a good chat. This makes the holiday far more interesting.

    A funeral march along Jalan Danau Tamblingan, Sanur
    A funeral march along Jalan Danau Tamblingan, Sanur
  • Some European women dress in skimpy clothing when away from the beach. This only demonstrates cultural insensitivity and ignorance. Sleeveless shirts and dresses are fine in Sanur and other tourist/beach resorts. If visiting a temple, wear a shirt which covers shoulders, cover legs at least to the knees and take a sarong along. Of course, different dress codes apply in other parts of Indonesia.
  • Speaking of sarongs, invest in a few. Male and female patterns abound. These beautifully printed fabrics become sheets, cover ups, leisure wear, scarves and skirts and cost somewhere between AU $3.00 and $7.00  Mr T has always enjoyed wearing a traditional patterned cotton number around the hotel room- and it suits him.
  • Bali is a wonderful place to wind down and relax. Indulge in a pedicure, manicure or massage, another way to support the local women. One little shop I can highly  recommend for massage is Suar, Jalan Tamblingan, near the corner of Jalan Kesuma Sari,Sanur. A one hour back, neck and shoulder massage costs AU $6.00, and a pedicure with nail polish $4.50 (nail art extra). Bliss!!!
  • Daily offerings of kanang sari, Sanur
    Daily offerings of kanang sari, Sanur

Finally, to the question that many ponder. Is Bali over-touristed, and therefore not worthy of visiting? Some comparisons are interesting. Bali’s population is 4.25 million and 3.2 million tourists visit per annum.

Cities such as Paris, with 15.6 million visitors per annum, Venice’s historic centre with 25 million (where residents number 60,000) and London, with 16.8 million yearly visitors,and even greater totals for their respective countries, tourism in Bali is relatively quiet.

The pool calls daily.
The pool calls daily.

Next episode. Top 5 restaurants in Sanur.