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?
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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.

Spice and the Time Traveller

On Boxing Day, food and eating are the last things on my mind. As the excess and consumer frenzy of ChristmA$ begin to fade, the thought of an indolent summer lying about, drinking tea and reading new books on a shady verandah, becomes an appealing prospect.  Or a gin and tonic under a slow-moving fan.  And in my lazy dreaming, I am perched on a stool in an Indonesian Warung, eating gently spiced vegetables and fish, a gado gado with peanut sauce, or a grilled fish that has been massaged with a spicy sambal, soft tofu in a turmeric laced curry, or a pyramid of greens gently poached in a spicy coconut milk.

Thanks to Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack, where spices may provide warmth to a cold Irish Christmas.

 

 

In My Kitchen, Java, May 2015

I’m back in the small town of Cipanas, perched high in the mountains of West Java, a long way from the tourist trail. ¬†I’m in the kitchen often, but it’s not my kitchen and I’m not doing the cooking. I’m watching, learning and asking questions as chef Banardi glides barefoot around his kitchen. It is a culinary ballet and a delight to watch. Years of Chinese and Indonesian traditions, the food of old Jakarta, is conjured and recalled, sometimes retaining it’s authenticity, at other times drawing on modern influences from Melbourne, Australia or Bath, United Kingdom. Like all great cooking, there are no recipes, no choreographer of the dance; the ingredients provide the inspiration.

Kitchen Ballet

Banardi, mentioned in a previous post, was chef and owner of the famous restaurant, Djakarta, in Richmond, Melbourne from 1995 to 2001. Growing up in Angke, a poor suburb in north Jakarta, he learnt to cook by shopping for his mother and observing her techniques. His mother was Javanese, his father Chinese: his cooking reflects these influences. In his twenties, he moved to Melbourne to study hospitality then opened the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, based as it was, on Ibu Bakhar’s¬†authentic recipes as well as Jakartan street food.

In his kitchen, the equipment is minimal: a huge wok and rice cooker, a two burner gas stove with amazing power, a few pots for soup, metal spatulas and bamboo strainer spiders.¬†As this is a holiday house, the kitchen is simple and austere but the food certainly isn’t.

A simple kitchen
A simple kitchen

My contribution to the kitchen is to go shopping at the local market or at Ibu Atit’s wonderful little store down a dark alley behind a mosque. Although we have a fridge, shopping for ingredients is a daily adventure. In Barny’s kitchen the following edible jewels are always present.

a variety of chilli with different levels of heat, garlic, shallot, lemongrass.
A variety of chilli with different levels of heat, garlic, shallot, lemongrass.
galangal, tumeric, ginger, palm sugar and nutmeg.
galangal, tumeric, ginger, palm sugar and nutmeg.
tofu, tempe bosok ( rotten tempeh) and today's tempeh.
tofu, tempe bosok (rotten tempeh) and today’s tempeh.

Tempe and tofu are added to most dishes and are never boring. We buy freshly made spring roll wrappers, so easy to use with no wetting required, and fill them with leftover noodle stir fry, tofu or tempe, and bean shoots. Tofu also lands in curries or is coated with tapioca flour and fried as a side dish or snack.

spring rolls, old fashioned  Chinese corn soup, and fritters. Homemade chilli sambal.
Afternoon Tea. Spring rolls, old-fashioned Chinese corn soup, and corn fritters. Homemade chilli sambal.
Fried rice, vegetable stir fry, soup of tofu and greens.
Fried rice, vegetable and tempe stir fry, soup of tofu and greens.

Every meal is a feast. The herbs, spices and alum and rhizome members form the base of each dish, taking simple dishes to another level. Sometimes we grind these in the Uleg, sometimes they are torn or roughly chopped. Along with these and fresh vegetables, rice or noodles add the basic carbohydrates and salty fish, coconut and eggs add more protein.

Pepes tofu on charoal BBQ
Pepes tofu on charcoal BBQ

On Tuesday night, Barny decided to make Pepes Tahu. (spicy tofu stuffing wrapped in banana leaves). I have often eaten Pepes Ikan in Bali, a mixture of fish mashed into a paste, spiced and then rolled in banana leaf and barbecued on hot coals. This tofu version was heavenly. The filling made from tofu, tiny salty fish, fresh coconut flesh, chilli, shallot and other spices, is mashed, placed into the centre of a large banana leaf and then rolled into a neat package, and secured with toothpicks. Coconut shells provided the charcoal for the barbecue:¬†I love the way every part of the coconut is used. The little metal BBQ cost around $4.00 AU. I know what’s going back in my hand luggage.

Pepes Tahu, bean and egg curry in coconut milk, nasi putih, salty fish.
Pepes Tahu, bean and egg curry in coconut milk, nasi putih, salty fish.

I think the Pepes Tahu stole the show, but then the Lumpia Manis, sweet spring rolls based on an old Balinese recipe, Dadar, pancakes stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, were ambrosial. As you can see, Barny turned very Melbournian with the presentation of this sweet. The Lumpia Manis deserve a separate post.

Lumpia Manis- sweet spring rolls stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, sweet and salty coconut sand, and palm sugar syrup.
Lumpia Manis- sweet spring rolls stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, sweet and salty coconut sand, palm sugar syrup.

Thanks Celia, for hosting all of us again. Why not check out other kitchen inspirations at  Fig Jam and Lime Cordial?