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.

Indigo House, Ubud. Textile Lover’s Paradise

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.

Wall displays of Indigo cloth, Indigo House, Ubud
Indigo House, Ubud, Bali
Homewares in Indigo
Store display, Indigo House, Ubud

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.

More indigo heaven
All the photos here were taken in the distance. Kadek asked that I didn’t take any close up photographs to protect the design process.

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

 

In a Balinese Garden. Ubud

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.

Entrance to the pool in Honeymoon Two.

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.

Things become old very quickly in Ubud’s tropical environment.

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.

 

A New Peanut Sauce for Gado Gado

I’ve been on the lookout for some time now for a more authentic Indonesian peanut sauce to crown a gado gado salad or sate sticks. I’ve tried many recipes from my various Indonesian cookbooks and most seem to miss the mark. Indonesian sate sauce differs from island to island and each Indonesian home cook may highlight a distinctive spice in their sauce. I’ve tasted some dark, thick sauces in Java and Sumatra which are quite different from their Balinese counterparts. The same goes with the classic gado gado vegetable salad, a dish which depends on an excellent peanut sauce. I’ve eaten some completely green gado gado salads in Ubud, Bali and some made from only kangkung¬† (water-spinach) in Sumatra, as well as the old-fashioned mixed steamed vegetable gado gado that I learnt around 35 years ago in my early visits to Bali, which includes hard-boiled eggs.

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Basic ingredients for a good peanut sauce

The following recipe comes from Janet de Neefe’s Bali, The Food of My Island Home.¬†Janet runs a cooking school in Ubud, which I attended a few years ago, and also has three restaurants and a lovely guesthouse in Ubud. She has lived in Ubud for more than 30 years with her Balinese husband and family. Note that I often substitute brown sugar for palm sugar, a switch that makes very little difference to the outcome of the sauce. Balinese peanuts are always super fresh and freshly roasted: try to find a reliable source of freshly roasted nuts. Good Indonesian Krupuk Udung ( prawn crackers) are quite different from the ubiquitous supermarket variety. They are large and tastier and can be found in many Asian groceries.

Balinese Peanut Sauce
Balinese Peanut Sauce

Bumbu Kacang– Balinese Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

  • slice of shrimp paste/ Belachan/Terasi equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 long thin red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 small red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, rolled into a bundle and finely shredded
  • 2- 3 tablespoons fried shallots ( optional)
  • 1 tablespoon grated palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kecap Manis
  • 1/4 medium tomato
  • 150 gr peanuts, roasted
  • 3 + tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • sea salt
My gado gado- using vegetables mon hand
My gado gado- using vegetables on hand

Method.

Hold the piece of shrimp paste with tongs or pierce with a skewer and roast over a gas flame on both sides until the smell is strong.

Blitz the shrimp paste, garlic chillies, lime leaves, fried shallots, palm sugar, and kecap manis in a food processor until smooth. Add a splash of water to get the mixture moving. Add the tomato, peanuts, water, lime juice and salt to taste. ( For a sauce with deeper flavour, you can fry the garlic, chilli, untoasted shrimp paste and tomato in 2 tablespoons of neutral oil ( not Olive) until fragrant first)

Prepare your gado gado vegetables or sate. Pour over the peanut sauce and garnish with krupuk udang ( prawn crackers)

Krupuk Udang. Balinse Prawn crackers
Krupuk Udang. Balinese Prawn crackers

A simpler version of Peanut Sauce can be found here, the latter useful for camping.

Photo on header taken at Taman Sari in Pemuteran, Northern Bali, where they make an excellent Bumbu Kacang.

Optimism, Ubud, Bali

Central to most religions is a sense of optimism, that through ritual and prayer, one can realize a better life, either in this world or the next.  DSCF5376-001

The Balinese people are Hindu and believe that the ultimate goal in life is nirvana, moksha, or samadhi. Prayer and ritual include the belief that liberation from samsara will end the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. 

Bali for Beginners or the Disenchanted, part 1.

My guide to Bali is based on 36 years of visiting this beautiful island. Naturally, it will reflect many prejudices that I hold. I feel compelled to put this list together to aid those who may be travelling to Bali for the first time, but also for those who may wish to return but feel ambivalent about the place based on a previous negative experience. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bali has many diverse districts and travel cultures. It is important to choose the district that suits your interests and lifestyle. If you get this wrong, your view of the island will be tainted and your holiday won’t be so pleasant. The main tourist areas can be grouped as follows:

  • The commercial district, hotel and nightclub area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak. These beaches suit surfers: they are broad but lack natural shade. Commerce is ever-present and you may find it difficult to politely shrug off unwanted sellers. At times this will become extremely annoying but you must remain polite. Prices for restaurant food, nic nacs, and other services ¬†including massage,¬†pedicures, transport and so on will be higher and the level of negotiation will be more intense. Night revellers and other travellers may enjoy this area: if you don’t like loud night life or intense commerce, you may find this area really annoying. The very young gravitate towards Kuta and Legian. It’s a party town so beware! Accommodation options are diverse, from the super cheap to very expensive. The restaurant scene is lively here: many Australian restaurants have set up branches in this district. You can still eat local food but the style will be more Western, catering for a foreign palate.¬†I stopped going to this district in the mid 1990s.
  • The beach area of Sanur. The oldest tourist district in Bali, Sanur still maintains a village feel in the back streets away from the beach. ¬†The beach area in Sanur has deep shade along the five kilometre tourist promenade. The beach is not a surf beach, although intrepid surfers go out on the reef. At low tide the reef can be exposed and there are some safe swimming spots here and there. There is plenty of commerce in Sanur but it isn’t so intrusive. A polite ‘no thank you’ or tidak usually works. The prices are generally cheaper for most goods and services. Accommodation ranges from the very cheap to the hideously expensive. The restaurant scene is diverse also.There is a large expat community living in this district – Australian, Dutch, Scandinavian. This area is often favoured by older people, people with young families and young Europeans who flock here for the water sports provided (diving, snorkelling, surfing lessons, trips to the island of Nusa Lembongan, kite surfing). The night life winds up early. There are down sides to every district. Some of the grand hotel development along the water front is obscene. The water use in five-star hotels is around five times that of a whole Balinese family’s average of 200 litres a day. More about this issue in another post. I go here to relax but intersperse my stays with trips to other islands in Indonesia.

    Waiting for Customers - fancy a beach massage? Sanur.
    Surf school sets up on Sanur Beach
  • Northern beaches of Pemuteran and Lovina.Pemuteran is very quiet and dryer than the south. The sand is black and not so suitable for sun baking. This is classic old Bali. Tourist commerce is minimal but there are about 10 or so small resorts offering beautiful accommodation and food, a few good restaurants along the main street, and many diving operators. There are also some fabulous large private villas available for rent facing the sea. The area is known for diving and snorkelling as the reefs are intact or being restored and the local turtles are protected. The car trip from Denpasar area orSanur may take 5 hours, crossing a steep mountain range with stunning views of rice terraces. During our last stay, the town celebrated a mass Balinese funeral to which the tourists were invited.¬†¬†Photos taken around¬†Pemuteran below. Eating is on the agenda!
  • East coast beaches of Amed¬†and Candidasa.¬†I have visited both these places but never stayed long. The east coast looks very dry. There are many small backpacker places as well as newer flash- packer accommodation. Amed is the newest development in Bali and is too cool for school. The swimming and snorkelling are good and it is also a jumping off point to go to the Gili islands off Lombok. Candidasa seems to be in decline due to¬†unscrupulous development. The once golden sandy beach (1980s) has been destroyed¬†and concrete groynes have¬†been installed in an attempt to reclaim some of the beach. The beach is impassable at high tide.
  • Ubud is¬†the artistic and cultural centre of Bali. Away from the busy commercial centre, long walks through verdant green rice terraces can be wonderful. The restaurant scene in Ubud is quite¬†innovative. It is also a place to see authentic versions of Balinese Dance and hear gamelan orchestras. The major art galleries in Ubud offer a good introduction to Balinese art through the ages. Again, the over development of this area is a worry and the commerce along Monkey Forest Road can be overwhelming. Each time I visit Jalan Bisma, I am shocked to see yet more rice paddies disappear.
  • Other areas. It is possible to rent a house in the middle of the rice paddies in central Bali. This is a great option if you enjoy isolation, speak a little Bahasa Indonesian and wish to learn more about Balinese life.

Below. the photos were taken in outer Ubud on walks around that district.

Have you been to Bali? What was your experience like? Do you plan to return? Join the discussion, your comments are valued.  Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part Two will deal with food, restaurants, transport, culture, problems and more so stay tuned.

Did the Earth Move for You Too? Transformation.

It was a lazy afternoon on October 13, 2011. A cup of tea had just been poured, as we sat on the porch of our guesthouse in Ubud, Bali. The teenager was fast asleep inside.

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Our teacups gave us the first hint that this moment in time would be transformed by an earthquake.  We were bemused by the behaviour of our tea as it began to convulse onto the saucer. Then we noticed a few other odd things; the walls seemed to be moving and small chunks of concrete debris fell from the ornate Balinese walls. Time stood still as seconds stretched into minutes. Wake up Mischa, we have to get out, now!  The teenager would not budge, adding an extra dimension to our adrenalin. As we bolted down the outside stairs, the concrete steps swayed in time to the movement of the gusting palm trees and the metal hand rails shuddered.

At 6.2, it was a big one by Balinese standards and was followed by a few aftershocks. The locals were really afraid, although had been trained from childhood to evacuate buildings quickly. In true Balinese style, they were genuinely concerned for their foreign guests. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Thanks Ailsa for the travel prompt this week.

Tradition and Change in Ubud, Bali. Canang Sari.

Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guesthouse, ubud.

Morning Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guest house, Ubud.

Ubud,¬†nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. ¬†Ubud is pronounced¬†‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip. ¬†It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.

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Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud.  The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.

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Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).

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Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:

Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:

  • White-coloured flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
  • Red-coloured flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
  • Yellow-coloured flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Blue or green coloured flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu.

1-IMG_6086Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.

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On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting?  Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.

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Travel Theme: Laughter

The theme, laughter, has been chosen this week in response to the tragic and barbaric acts in France.  Ailsa, in her excellent post,  Laughter as a Political Act, sums it up this way,

If you can hold a harbinger of terror up to ridicule, if you can mock those who seek to oppress, if you can laugh at the ugliest of human behaviours, conventions, beliefs and traits, you diminish their power to terrorize, control and censor.

The little stone carvings below can be found in Bali, especially around remote villages near Ubud, and are used to scare away demons. While not images of hilarity, they are quite funny. I include them here in response to Ailsa’s chosen theme, the embracing of laughter.

Je Suis Charlie


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Travel Theme: Round

As part of Ailsa’s round theme this week on Where’s My Backpack, I am heading to Ubud, Bali.

Lotus pads in front of the Royal Palace. Last time I was there I also noticed that one of the abutting stone buildings had become a Starbucks coffee outlet. Shock, Horror. Is Ubud losing its soul?Image

The gardens of Ubud are luxuriant and adorned with beautiful stone statues and pots. The road from Denpasar to Ubud is home to thousands of stone masons and the drive is always so exciting. I would like to fit these rounded pots in my hand luggage!

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Round eggplants in the Ubud Market.

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And the beautiful round Ulegs in the Casa Luna Cooking School, Jalan Bisma, Ubud. I do have a fascination for these giant mortar and pestles.

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