Gastronomic Adventures in Bali

Monday, September 5, 2011

It was a pretty amazing time, our week in Bali. I had been talking up Bali for the past year because I had grand plans of buying lots of furniture to bring back home. Well that did not happen instead we spent our days exploring, relaxing, and eating. In March this year, I read an article on Bali’s food scene in the Gourmet Traveller magazine that piqued by interest. Okay I was already planning a visit this summer but after reading the opening paragraph that quoted someone as eating better than she ever did in Paris I was intrigued and anxious to see what the fuss was. Now post Bali I have to agree that the food is amazing, not sure about Paris as I don’t think I ever did have a great meal there. This was years ago and I remember searching for vegetarian grub felt near impossible.

We based ourselves in Seminyak as I had previously stayed in both Kuta (back in those wild uni days) and in Nusa Dua. I thought Seminyak might be a good choice as I remember Kuta being a party haven and Nusa Dua a little too quiet for my liking. I stand corrected though as on our last night in Bali there was a dance party not far from our resort that ran from 10.30pm till 3am complete with the loudest fireworks at midnight. It seems big themed party nights are not restricted to Kuta! Nonetheless, we have vowed to return. I have long held the belief that it is easy to maintain a veggie (and healthy) diet in Asia and this trip only reinforced this for me. In Bali, they use very little wheat flour; rice is the preferred grain, also glycemic friendly palm sugar (otherwise called coconut sugar) and my personal favourite tempeh. In fact, tempeh (fermented soybeans) originated in Indonesia; it has a higher retention of the protein, dietary fibre and vitamins due to the use of the whole bean. I had a memorable meal in the local market of crunchy veggies, sautéed tempeh and chilli sauce with rice, see below. It was so tasty and cost less than $1. I love checking out the markets as it brings you up close to what the locals cook and eat at home. I love seeing the fruit with names such as snake fruit, mangosteen, longans and lychees; these always seem exotic to me.

I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class at Casa Luna Cooking School in lovely Ubud. This was a fantastic experience, I got to try Balinese sake, picture below, tasty rice flour pancakes, fern coconut salad, roasted eggplant and tempeh curry to name a few of the numerous dishes. Set in peaceful surrounds the school serves as a good introduction to Balinese cooking. The essence of which, I was told, is a fine balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours. Although I’m not sure about their “food processors” I think I will just stick to the electric variety rather than the time consuming mortar and pestle.

I would highly recommend these restaurants for Balinese fare;

Batan Waru (locations in Kuta and Ubud) they even make a note on menus which dishes can be prepared as a vegetarian option amidst the vegetarian items.

Made’s Warung (Seminyak) we had the Nasi Campur, flat rice noodles with vegetables and Bali’s famous black sticky rice all of which were equally delicious.

Bumbu Bali (Nusa Dua) has a lovely garden like setting and the food was very tasty, my husband kept on raving about it throughout the meal.

Other notable restaurants that we enjoyed meals at were;

Sarong (Seminyak), the first thing you notice about this place is the tastefully opulent décor. They have a small vegetarian menu but they certainly make these dishes count, as they are big on flavours! They will be opening another restaurant, Mamasan this year in Kerobokan. Service is exceptional.

Café Zucchini (Jalan Laksmana, Seminyak), pictured below, this quaint café cum retail shop does homestyle cooking to perfection. They have a few vegetarian options but you can always ask them to veganise some of the selections ie minus the cheese etc. They are happy to accommodate.

There are numerous cafes, restaurants and retail spaces, artfully decorated, painstakingly so that at times it is hard to imagine you are on a tiny tropical island. Despite all the development, Bali still maintains its strong hindu customs and traditions with the offerings and ceremonies. This is probably another reason I am drawn to this tiny island as it is very close to my Buddhist beliefs.