How are you on this fine (and cold!) Saturday evening? I am currently enjoying some quiet time at home, still unpacking and doing some work for school. As a bit of a break from that, I decided it might be fun to write about food (although I think it’s much more fun consuming it!). Many people have asked me, “What’s the food like in Bali?”, “What do you eat there?”, so I figure this will be a more elaborate description for those who have inquired (or others who are interested). And also, I didn’t really write much yet about the end of my trip.
I think I shall start there. Diving in…
The last part of my trip was great. I got the rest of my tasks and research done, did a bit of relaxing, saw a few new places in Bali, and as I previously mentioned, visited my favourite place, Candidasa, and went swimming. Candidasa is also my favourite place to eat, not only because of the wonderful nasi campur (literally, “mixed rice”) but because of the wonderful conversations that always take place when I eat there, and the relaxing sound of the waves landing on the shore beside me. Nasi campur is not a dish of rice mixed with things, but rather a dish of several things that you can mix with the rice. Generally, there is one or two types of chicken, a boiled egg, Balinese style vegetables (often mixed with coconut meat), often sweet and crispy tempe and/or peanuts. Always very spicy.
The first time I went to Bali this summer, I actually really disliked the food. So much of it was oily, fried and not fresh, it was too spicy, and the flavours were so foreign to me that I just couldn’t get used to it. The funny thing was after I got home I looked in my fridge and had no appeal for western food either. I realized that this was partially due to the fact that Ubud has some of the most awesome western food I have ever eaten, in some of the loveliest restaurants! This time in Bali, however, I really enjoyed the local (Balinese) food too. I was given a much more careful tour of the local warungs (small restaurants), roadside and market food and I must say, it is delicious! Plus, you get to eat with your (right) hand!! Tonight I was really trying to avoid my fork at dinner with my grandmother (a little bit challenging, however). Nothing really tasted the same when I tried to eat from a metal utensil. In fact, I have been having a really hard time with the food here on this return. The first night I got home I looked in the fridge and cupboard and saw nothing appealing. I ended up eating toast my first 24 hours back!
Regardless of my new discovery, (or viewpoint, as it may be), there are still foods in Bali I do not intend to miss… I have included a picture of a dish of nasi campur from the ceremony at Bli Komang Sudewa’s house (Ketut’s brother) during their “housewarming” ceremony (which was delicious). They had a basket of deep fried water snakes, however… (not really sure what they are, but they had little teeth and fangs!). I ate the one on my place all the way until the head and then tossed it over to Ketut 🙂 … They also eat a lot of pork there. Not so fond of that.
And then there is a ceremonial (or, special occasion) food called LAWAR. Yes, I will capitalize it because it is huge. There should be a “how many people does it take” joke for this cooking process. I (not once, but twice) had a lesson scheduled with Bu Candri who then called me the day before to say that she had to cancel because they were making lawar. The neighbours had come over and the maids were there, her brother and other family members. Same with Ketut, when he prepares for his ceremonies, he goes to his village a day early so he can help make it. It can be seriously SPICY and most foreigners avoid it. But it is truly a Bali specialty similar to no other food I know in the world. I do enjoy it sometimes but I avoid the versions with fresh blood poured overtop. They even make dragonfly lawar! For those of you interested in the ingredients, here is an additional link: http://www.baliadvertiser.biz/articles/kulturekid/2004/16lawar.html
I have had many Balinese food adventures (including contracting Typhoid Fever), and I may not be chomping at the bit to eat Lawar or fighting anyone over deep-fried water snakes, but thankfully this last trip showed me a new, positive side to a food that I wasn’t so sure of at first. I think that’s good… although I am really missing Balinese food right now! Onto a new adventure we go!
Christmas was definitely different in Bali. There are Christmas lights in many stores and restaurants but I don’t know that I’ve ever been somewhere through December that doesn’t celebrate Christmas on the actual day. I decided I wouldn’t let that stop me, although it’s by no means my favourite holiday. I thought I would get through scot-free but when I woke up, I imagined my family and felt a bit homesick, and missed my annual stocking very much. The only Christmas I had ever spent away was in Mexico (many years ago now). I had already been there for six months and they celebrate Christmas with serious flair! so I was quite absorbed on that occasion.
Thankfully (coming back to the present) I was able to send messages to all of my family and my sister had sent me with a present to open 🙂 (I have the best sister), and Ketut bought me the most beautiful cut flowers I have ever seen in Bali (I have the best… fill in the blank 😉 ). Then I went back to Rendang to cook (for the first time in Bali, a challenge on its own given the differences in kitchen life) a big dinner for Ketut’s family on Christmas day. That was nerve-racking! They asked me what style of cooking I was going to do… I said it was “alla Chelsea” style. Not Canadian, not Mexican, not Indonesian, but Chelsea.
I must explain to you the kitchen differences, so you can fully understand the challenge. Western kitchens are seriously luxurious. In a typical Bali kitchen, you will find: two burners (without the stove), some pots and pans (although no typical western frying pans), a rice cooker (this should be first on the list), a knife or two, salt (no pepper) and a wooden block for cutting or grinding, and a couple big spoons/spatulas. Oh, also kecap manis (sweet ketchup), coffee, tea and sugar.
Given the lack of spices, I bought some whole black pepper that we ground with a rock, a garlic clove and some random Balinese spice-mixes to be even more improvisatory and insane. I bought a whole bunch of vegetables (mushrooms and zucchini to sautee with garlic, carrots, green-beans, red green and yellow peppers to julienne and flash-fry with a light peanut sauce, and tomatoes to roast with garlic, salt and pepper) and some chicken breast to cook with a random sauce to be created in the moment. (a meat they did not recognize later!)
Ketut, being his wonderful helpful self, asked how I would like the chicken cut. Being breasts, I said in half would be fine. He gave me a serious look. “REeally???” he asked. “Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” I replied, confused by his reaction. “Are you sure?” He asked, even more confused than me. It was then (or one round of “are you sure”, “yes I’m sure” later) that I remembered what utensils we would be using to eat… our hands! (or right hand, as it may be).
I suppose the cooking wasn’t that big of a challenge, but the idea of cooking in front of a Mom and Dad who had never tried this style of cooking before, and when I’d never cooked with this setup before was a little grating on the nerves. It was more difficult standing in the grocery store trying to imagine what I needed to get, or what they would like or what I could make that they would remember fondly. Luckily, everyone enjoyed it very much. Especially the mushroom-zucchini dish. Hooray! Unfortunately I forgot to include a sambal (hot sauce of some sort) and that was a bit embarrassing since they generally judge their food according to how spicy it is, but in some ways, that would have taken away from the Chelsea-ness of it all.
So there you have it.
After dinner, I had made up little stockings to give to the kids filled with Canadian paraphernalia and it was fun to see them enjoy their first “Christmas” traditions. Although I suppose it’s not very politically correct for me to call it that, is it. ??? Sigh. Oh, Canada.
The way home, was the perfect ending to a great day. I witnessed:
1. a brilliant sunset, along with a new naked boys bathing at the side of the road. Not so uncommon. But what was different was that I had yelped for stop on the motorbike so that I could take a picture of this sunset and as I got off the back, Ketut had a phone-call, so he stayed near the bike while I ventured off. With my camera in hand, I wandered past these two boys (in the ditch-river… don’t know how else to describe it), naked and looking straight at me. So I quickly turned my eyes as they tried getting my attention (did they want their picture taken???). I took a few pictures (OF THE SUNSET, come on!) pretending I couldn’t hear a thing, had a couple of cars honk (I’m sure they were wanting their picture taken also) and got back to the motorbike with a laugh.
2. Then, I attempted to eat a lot of bugs – or shall I say the wind-force on the bike attempted to feed them to me.
….and THEN, getting back into Ubud, we decided to venture out and eat again! Across the street from my Bali-home is a small vendor selling “pisang keju”. I asked the first time I saw it, “What on earth is pisang keju?” and my response was, “I’m not sure, I’ve never tried it”. Fair enough I suppose (even though I didn’t know how it could exist so close for so long and not be tried). Pisang means banana, but keju wasn’t in the dictionary, so I asked. “What is keju?” and the response was, “You don’t know keju? It’s really famous in Australia”. Thinking it’s some sort of style, I wait to see what it is. We bought some (picture attached below) and I must say it is the most delicious thing every. Keju is CHEESE! Why does my dictionary not have that entry!?!? I suppose it’s not a common thing in Bali. Ok, to explain fully, pisang keju is deep-fried, crispy bananas, drizzled with condensed milk, palm sugar and white cheese. I think we ate this every day after we discovered it.
I suppose I could make some of this stuff at home… but it’s always difficult when school comes. Everything else goes to the background. I won’t let that stop me completely though… I must make some of these things here! I am determined! I love food!!! 🙂
Well, thanks for coming out again to read my journal. I hoped you enjoyed these stories about eating, cooking and Christmas. I certainly enjoyed making the memories…
Hope to see you again soon!