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.

39 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, August 2017”

  1. Absolute magic to an ignoramus like me! Remember being in my 20s and taking my firstborn to Ascham kindy to find a delightful Dutch-Indonesian mom willing to teach the ‘grateful us’ to make something called ‘Nasi Goreng’ . . . . yes, well, now my kids have their kids . . . and I have well learnt to make ‘the Gorengs’ . Fran – this is a delightful reprise . . . . do not think I would venture outside the true Balinese . . . hope you are having ‘happy time’ in Chieng Mai . . . .

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    1. I remember that the Dutch were quite masterful at versions of Indo cooking and always carried a bottle of Sambal Oelek with them. The Balinese food has now been happily replace by the Thai-Mie goreng is now Pad See Ewe.

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  2. Francesca, how you brighten our days with your travels and all that goes with them. What delicious images replete with the permanent smiles so indicative of SE Asia and reminders of travels past. My kangkong in the fish pond is now truly abundant and ready for our laksa and seafood rendang tonight. Being amid banana country, I went to a banana leaf wrapping workshop held recently in town for the annual local Asian food fare – what a difference it makes to have a continual fresh supply in our garden (I use small heliconia leaves as they are more supple). Our B&B guests are now subject to their tropical breakfasts adorned with what I can only describe as banana leaf origami gone wrong – no one to date has guest what the leaf should represent: my monkey looks like a starving three-legged tapir. Perhaps I’ll take up crochet and croquet!!

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    1. I wish I had a ready supply of supple banana leaves at home- I probably wouldn’t use dishes at all- no washing up. Banana leaf origami gone wrong- Peter, you crack me up. The guests would probably adore your mad creations knowing they match your prsonality. Can’t wait to visit one day. Crochet and Croquet? No darling, just not you.
      Do you have a frangipani tree in your B& B? If so, I’m coming.

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      1. You’re right about the crochet and croquet – so far removed from my mind that I had to google the correct spelling. Two years ago a B&B guest from Townsville sent me 6 frangipani cuttings of 3 varieties. One is quite rare in that it is blood red and has a very strong aroma. We’ve planted them all and the coming wet season will see them all bloom. Only about a metre high at the mo so you may have to lay on the ground underneath them with a straw in your Mai Tai. Can’t wait to share that moment with you and Mr T – just so us!! Our Asian dinner was a huge hit last night finished with fresh chilled strawberries from Atherton dipped in local warmed chocolate and Baileys. – Tropical Bliss. Also, the beauty of serving on banana leaves is that the “dishes” are done simply by tossing them into the jungle over the edge of our suspending decking, they disappear over night as the wild and insect life make good use of them – simpatico! If I could adopt Quentin Crisp’s philosophy on cleaning, without the guilt factor – this would give me another 15 hours a week in the garden & kitchen to play. This morning the sun was shining down on the river so we served our guests down there with papaya, bananas, tropical passionfruit, cassowary plums, quandongs a squirt of lime, hand-picked mint and natural yogurt. Thank Buddha for the tropics and your blog.

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  3. Another delightful tour through the back lane and rice paddies of Bali. I did a cooking class with friends at Janet’s cooking school. I loved using the uleg – pity they are so heavy to cart back. Do you have one? I know you are an old hand at Bali and Ubud but there is a great new app called Eatworthy that covers off on all the hidden warungs, spas and even a Japanese soap factory. It’s been created by a local Aussie who took her whole family to Ubud for 6 months. You might get some use out of it. I think it’s only $2 or $3. Happy travels.

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    1. Thanks Fiona, ahh, we’ve both done Janet’s course. I did it 2010, I think, though I always lose track of my Bali experiences. I have two ulegs- one from java and one from a lady in the Sindhu market. The latter is black, volcanic and really old. I do like them. Thanks for that app Fi- I’m now in Chiang Mai- and would have enjoyed it immensely when I was back there as I found the town a bit too congested this time. Will use it when I go back. Cheap apps can be so useful. Hope to see you posting again soon.

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  4. Such beautiful colours. The food looks really so enticing and healthy too and I would try, by hook or by crook, to get one of those lovely mortar and pestles home. I love the fairy stories around onion and garlic. It’s interesting to see how the fairy stories have travelled and adapted to their host countries. I loved the fabrics in the store in your previous post – beautiful colours. Hey, ho, back to work.

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    1. I do have two Ulegs Jan. One I got in Java, a small one, but I suspect it wasn’t made from volcanic rock and so now it’s a garden ornament. The other one, bigger and blacker, came from a woman in the Sindhu market. We were chatting and she told me she had two old ones and didn’t need one of them. So the next day she brought it in- I paid around $10 for it and it made a handsome parcel in my hand luggage! Those ones at Janet deNeefe’s are huge.
      Glad you read about bawang merai and putih. When I smash up shallots and garlic now in my uleg, I’ll be thinking of the two beautiful sisiters.
      Yes, those indigo cloths caused some serious consumer lust in me which I’m trying to curb. Thanks for popping in Jan.x

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  5. how wonderful to go travelling for 4 months. all that balinese food looks so tasty! thanks so much for joining in this month. i’m not sure if Bali follows any fishing rules, but it is sad to see marlin being used as it is an endangered species. have a fabulous trip! x

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    1. The blue marlin is a vulnerable species, but not as endangered as tuna for example, though the latter depends on the species. Mahi Mahi is another large fish caught in this area. The rather graphic photo of the dead Marlin is quite deliberate- it brings home a touch of reality regarding the food and animals we eat. I’ts hard applying the same rules to poorer Balinese fishermen as those we might follow in a country like Australia where fish are plentiful and protein sources are readily available. These fish are caught to feed whole villages, ( not just tourists ) and the portions are small- around 100 grs or less in a curry, unlike the serving sizes of the average Western diet. I don’t eat meat, though I enjoy an occasional splurge on fish. One of the many dilemmas facing the traveller I guess.

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  6. Francesca, I enjoyed your IMK travelogue tremendously — your thoughts, writing, photography, everything! This is the kind of post that expands my world. I also loved the legend you shared (via link) of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih. Food for thought, especially the references to greed. 🙂 Joking aside, I happen to agree with you on Western food and portions. (TMOFW & I call it “the land of excess”.) Sadly, my recent photos promulgated that truth, even though we only eat what we need and I re-purpose what’s left until it’s gone. (We don’t waste anything!) You’ve made me more mindful, and for that I’m so grateful. Love you and IMK! Enjoy your travels and clean hands. 🙂 xo

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    1. Ah Kim, I was only joking. I know, just by looking at pics of you, that you are very mindful of what you eat. I’m hanging for a slice of your cake right now though. I’m now in Thailand and am having a little sweet craving.

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      1. Francesca, I totally took it in jest! That’s one o’ the things I love about you, and one of the things that’s been lacking in my life lately: humor. I’m slowly, but surely regaining mine. (It’s been a long couple o’ years dealing with life’s unexpected tumult.) On a humorous note :), after I make one of those chocolate cakes — despite the “wedges” in the photo — I cut it into “inch-size bites” and freeze it for future chocolate fixes. (After devouring a wedge. LOL!) Sometimes it only takes a “taste” to satisfy. I’ll save you a slice! xoxo

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  7. I’ve actually know what Nasi Goreng and Sambal are. My dad’s Dutch and I’ve eaten it in Holland. The food looks absolutely delicious and obviously fresh. I laughed when you wrote, “I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two.” Great post.

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  8. Hey Francesca .. I bet your nails are fab! So are mine! One of the benefits of travel. 😃 great images Miss. And I love the take on the Spring rolls. I think cooking to order is the only way .. Mr T did well with that pasta, it looks fab

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  9. The only time I have nails too… on holiday. We loved our time when we visited Bali some years back. We loved the Balinese food especially at Bumbu Bali where I took some cooking classes. Thank you for all the lovely memories through your lovely photographs Francesca 🙂

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  10. Hair grows faster in warm weather – or so I am convinced! Glad you are enjoying the beginning of your journey and exploring the foods along the way. The sound of that fusion food at Three Monkeys sounds really interesting. Enjoy the time away from your kitchen.

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  11. What a fun and delicious looking holiday. You make me wish I was there eating with you. Plus I wouldn’t mind a short break from the cooking, cleaning, gardening etc.

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