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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