Selamat Makan – Enjoy your meal

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Just the other day a friend called to ask me if I could write a short piece on Indonesian cuisine. I agreed little realising what I was getting myself into. The experience of discovering Bali and Indonesia as a whole was a daunting task. The thousands of islands spanning the archipelago are impossible to navigate and explore within the short time that I had. So to cut a long story short, here I am in Bali wandering the streets and visiting all the restaurants and hotels to partake of the delectable pleasures that this predominantly Hindu island has to offer.

This short sojourn through the culinary labyrinth of Indonesian cuisine is like a cursory glance through the kaleidoscope of mouth-watering delicacies.

It’s six o’clock in the morning. The light overnight drizzle has freshened the lush greenery at Amandari, which is awash in the soft golden rays of the morning sun. It a boutique hotel set within Ubud’s Kedewatan village, high above the River gorge. Amandari reflects Bali’s peaceful spirit and the cycles of its ritual expression. Liv Gussin, General Manager, and Gary Tyson, the Executive Chef greet me with warm scones and piping hot Bali coffee at the hotel’s café overlooking their famous infinity swimming pool. Liv is part Indian and Gary a whiz from Oz.

They take me to the local market in Ubud to educate me on the many exotic ingredients that are used in the variations Indonesian cooking. To understand the eating habits of the Balinese is quite an easy task. The daily food of a Balinese represents the simplicity of their way of life. Yet the drama of presentation and the permutations and combinations add spice to the monotony. Some of the dishes that I sampled are: Nasi Campur (mixed rice), Nasi Goreng (Fried rice), Mie Goreng(Fried noodles), Laksa Ayam (Chicken curry), Gado Gado (Vegetables with peanut sauce), Curry Yam (Chicken curry),Satay Ayam (Chicken satay), Satay Babi (Pork satay), Satay Paser (Fish satay), Babi Guling (Suckling pig), Betutu (Smoked Duck) the list is endless and for brevity and coherence I will stop here!

The daily meals are breakfast (Makan Pagi), lunch (Makan Siang) and dinner (Makan Malan).

The staple diet for Makan Pagi is Nasi Campur (Mixed Rice). This dish consists of rice, stir fried chicken, other meats, string beans in coconut or some vegetable with Sambal (sauce). Sambal is made from red chillies, shallots and garlic. But Nasi Campur differs from place to place and even restaurant-to-restaurant. This is what makes the Balinese cuisine so exciting.

For the diehard vegetarians there are numerous preparations of vegetables, Sagu (seaweed jelly), Tahu (tofu), Tempe (soya bean cake), rice in unimaginable colours, shapes, sizes and flavours, and some fruits like Avocadoes, Bananas, Mangoes, Papaya, Snake fruit, Oranges, Strawberries, Grapes, Nangka (jackfruit) and Durian.

Food is a religious obligation and social celebration that is a continuous affair. Balinese treat food with great respect. It is offered to the Gods prior to eating. During the festival of Kuningan, the Babi Guling has pride of place on the table. Babi Guling is stuffed suckling pig. And it has to be specially ordered a few days prior to the festival as demand exceeds supply. The feast commences with a traditional soup called Ares which has a base of young banana stems called Kepok. It is the Balinese version of something like French onion soup. This is followed up by smoked duck or as it is called Betutu. Smoked duck has an aroma that captures the senses and engulfs the diner with the fragrances of spices. The variety of dishes from prawns, fish, pork, chicken, lamb curry, Tempe, Tahu (tofu), salads could be sliced vegetables with Tahu or a fantastic mix of seafood, pork or chicken.

A short list of must eat delicacies from the island paradise.

Nasi Campur – Balinese chicken satay, corn fritters, coconut vegetables and steamed rice.

Nasi Goreng – Fried rice with seasonal vegetables with either chicken or pork.

Mie Goreng – Fried noodles with seasonal vegetables with either chicken or pork.

Laksa Ayam – With Indonesian spices, glass noodles, bean sprouts and fresh herbs.

Gado Gado – Indonesian salad topped with a spicy peanut sauce and tempe.

Curry Yam – Balinese yellow rice with chicken curry.

Satay Ayam – Chicken satay served peanut sauce and sautéed beans in grated coconut.

Satay Babi – Pork satay with peanut sauce and sautéed beans in grated coconut.

Satay Paser – Fish satay with sambal sauce and sautéed beans in grated coconut.

Babi Guling – Suckling pig with sambal sauce and Lawar (sautéed beans and jackfruit with grated coconut).

Betutu – Smoked Duck with sambal and sautéed beans in grated coconut.

Ayam Kalasan – Grilled chicken, marinated in roasted tomato, sweet chilli and kaffir lime with fragrant rice and coconut vegetables.

There is an entire food range that I have not covered like Padang food from Sumatra, which I promise to cover in the next article and this time I will be escorted by the legend of Ubud, Janet de Neefe who runs the world famous Casa Luna Cooking School.

Before I sign off I want to share with you the concept of extreme eating. Probably you may have heard Antony Bourdain talking about or most likely demonstrating how to eat poisonous sea creatures! Anyways, a mate of mine down at Kuta beach went for one of these eating experiences. I will be going next week. Will catch up then with my satay sticks in hand ready to beat on the Warung tables to the tune of sizzling Babi Guling!

Enjoy the spread I have just laid out for you. Enjoy the wonder that is Indonesia.

Terima kasi telah menikmati makananya

(Thank you and hope you enjoyed your meal!)

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Jane the hairstylist and her yellow scrambler.

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Talking to Jane, a forty something, over dinner the other night, I couldn’t help wondering as to why she ended up as a hairstylist in Bali. Her face is creased. But her blue eyes and sudden gentleness of speech is comforting. Her unmistakable Australian drawl is soothing on the brain.

So what’s the story? I ask her.

She stretches her long legs, leans back and to my astonishment rests them on our dinner table. I look at her disapprovingly. Oh no one cares a xxxx here, the Balinese need the business and I need a break, she drawls. I came here with my Brazilian boyfriend who on arrival took to the streets photographing everything, including the aftermath of the first bomb blast at the Sari Club. He made a killing. Sold them pics to CNN for ten grand, US not Rupiah. After the money ran out his interest in our daily xxxx also ran out. He fancied the Balinese girls. You know, what’s it with these guys? All the men I have met here come for the girls. Some marry and settle down breeding they little off springs. Others just return to where they come from. Us (western women) rarely get lucky with these guys. Probably we are too xxxxx for them. They need that little woman on top them who wriggles and shakes like a fish out of water cooing sweet nothings in a foreign language.

I look embarrassed. What could I say? I didn’t utter a word.

Look at you, what the xxxx are you doing here? She waves to me.

Oh, I reply, just recovering from a twenty-year marriage. I came here from New York when I left Calcutta. What I am going to do here I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll travel across the island and meet some of the expats who have become more Balinese than the Balinese themselves.

Don’t tell me you are going to meet them? All I know is that they are a lotta hot air in sarongs, yap, yap, yap that’s all they do, people who are losers in their countries land up here, she says vehemently.

The lady in waiting in a sarong comes over to the table and points at the half eaten food in my plate. You like, yes? Yes I like, I said. Looking down at the chicken Satay I remember what Jane told me an hour ago. She said that imported dogs particularly retrievers were kidnapped and if the ransom was not paid the dog ended up as Satay. Very often the kidnappers didn’t wait for the ransom. They just sold the dog to people who made very nice Satay.

Satay is small-diced pieces of meat neatly skewered on what looks like large sized tooth picks, roasted and then smothered in peanut sauce. Luke warm or cold they are served with Balinese pink rice and sautéed vegetables. A large prawn cracker is used to decorate the dish. It is called Naser Champur and is the popular staple dish on the menu at all Warungs (local Bali restaurants that are clean and hygienic).

Satay served at the Warungs is not dog meat. Some locals at festivals who can’t afford the regular meat like chicken, beef or pork eat the dog meat Satay.

I was speaking to Made the other day. Quite a few men and women are called Made (pronounced as Maaday). This Made is a Man Friday at the Villa Sangah where I have hired a small bungalow in the villa complex. Made told me that the street dogs living in the Villa were not allowed to roam the streets outside prior to a big festival. Often if imported dogs were not available, the locals ones were slaughtered.

At the Villa Sangah there are two street dogs. Xena, a black and white obese xxxxx and the other xxxxx, Jassy, a black mix-Indonesian dog with a blue-black tongue. These two xxxxxxx of Bali keep me company.

Jane punches me playfully on the arm and points to my laptop. Show me what you’re up to, she says, and then starts picking her teeth with the Satay stick. Reluctantly I remove the laptop from its case, place it on the table and put it on. Suddenly, a few of the waitresses rush to our table to look see what’s being shown. One giggles and says, Shahrukh Khan? xxx, you can’t get away from those bloody Bollywood movies!

Glancing through the pics in Photoshop, Jane remarks, you did all this? She seems a bit incredulous. I keep quiet. I am too tired and desperately need another whisky to wash down any glimmer of the past that may suddenly arise and make me puke again.

I come from a very rich family, she says. Dad is an uncouth xxxxxx and has a very sharp tongue. I think he loves me, but he never seems to show it. He’s does import export.

Will you ever go back home to kangaroo land? I ask her, while taking a sip of my whisky on the rocks and scratching myself.

Naa, don’t think so, just want to save money and go to India to buy some jewellery to sell here. Will you help me with your contacts? She looks hesitantly at me.

Yes, of course, I say, and then launch into the whole drama that is India, the depths of despair with doing business in a country I had left months before. She looks at me and strokes my long white hair. Poor chap, she says tenderly, when was your last xxxx?

I am taken aback. I don’t answer. What could I tell her? The truth? That it was a few years back?

I want to have two boyfriends, she says, gazing into my eyes intently. Will you like to be the other one?

I nod my head. She laughs. What’s it with you Indians, you always shake your head in such a manner that no one knows whether you are saying yes or no.

I look past her towards the dark deserted beach and say to myself, I don’t know.

Jane tells me about her yellow scrambler bike and how she bikes around doing the society ladies’ hair: Cutting, curling, blow drying, colouring and sometimes shaving. She likes her job. Her flat with four bedrooms and four ACS are a luxury. She likes her little world. Everything is neat and tidy. But she is getting old and her trembling voice betrays her false bravado. I think the rumbling engine between her legs, warm, reassuring and where she is always in control, is really her comfort zone; the place she feels at peace is on her bike doing her rounds to all the Villas.

The bill arrives. It’s three hundred and fifty thousand Rupiah (US$ 38/-). I pay it and walk out with her.

She jumps into the cab I am sitting in and kisses me with her warm wet open mouth mumbling good-night and then she saunters to her yellow scrambler, puts on her yellow helmet and roars off into the night.

The cabbie asks me, where you go? You follow her?

No! I say, I go Oberoi.

Seminyak?

Yeah, I say, we are on a xxxxxxx island, how many oberois could there be? I say under my breath.

The evening ends with a displaced Indian and a tall Aussie, both marooned eight degrees south of the equator on an island called Bali. Both waiting for something to happen. Waiting.

End of story.

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Where does one begin to unravel the past? Do I speak of education in college. Or, of the professional work I have done? It’s confusing living life as it is to commence a story that most of us are not really interested in! Suffice to say I have been in the wilderness for many years spanning continents, friends and the odd lie. The buck stops here on this site. Today the truth begins, anthology of a life worn by the myriad faces of the past scurrying for an identity. Patience with me dear reader. Humour me. I need your attention and views. Write in when you have read what I have written and share the life within you and teach me how to be a better human being. 

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