Food is a constant theme in my life – my husband is a chef, my daughter is a chef, my other kids love to cook, my grand-daughter is a complete fan – and my life has been spent around food and restaurants.
But nothing really prepares you for the food experiences of Bali.
As I observed before – There is a ripeness, a lushness, a over-whelming abundance of growing things in Bali that both bemuses, amuses, and fascinates one. It’s easy to understand why visitors to this island became residents. I suppose that growing up here would almost ruin it – how can you be surprised when it has always been like this?
So – Outstanding food experiences…
We took a Jungle Trek – really more like a farm explore if the farm was up and down crazy ravines, mad paths, and had little apparent organization. The Lady in Pink observed that in Bali one doesn’t have to encourage growth – the rain takes care of that – one has to prune and control. Which explains Avocado trees that tower above you, coffee trees that are 6 foot high – and thats with constant pruning, and the wealth of fruits that quite literally grow wild everywhere.
Bananas, jack fruit, Durian, Pineapples, Coffee, Cocoa, Vanalia, Tumeric, Clove, Mangos, Mangosteens (in season now and a wonderful discovery), Papya, ferns, long beans, edible vines, Coconut trees (providing leaves, coconuts, coconut milk, and even coconut oil), Palm trees (for Palm oil and Palm Sugar), the list is endless. And we saw and tasted everything we could.
It’s truly overwhelming, surprising, astonishing, wonderful, and joyously edible.
Our Jungle Trek starts and ends in Stoned Goat Village – a village so small – it doesn’t even have a repair shop for motor scooters. And trust me – that’s small. Our host tells us that the village official population is 300 – but lots of people are actually living in Ubud or Denpassar in order to go to school, get a good paying job, or just get away from village life.
Our pair of fearless leaders – for our group of 4 senior ladies ranging from 60 to 80 years of age – guided us and helped us up and down and around – pointing out all the edible things, and giving us tastes of those that were ripe. Land in Bali is deeded to individuals, and recently the government has been sending survey teams out to provide land owners with proper paper work, so it is clear when you move from one family’s land to the land belonging to a local Temple, to the land of another family. But the food that grows on the land – except the cash crops like Coffee – appear to be ‘open season’. If it’s ripe – and you see it first – it’s yours!
So we munch our way around the forest, eventually getting back to the family compound of one of our guides. It’s not much – the toilet is a stand-upon, the shower is a hand wand serving multiple duty as toilet paper and body wash, but it’s warm, it’s friendly – and they have spent hours cooking us a huge lunch.
There are at least 8 serving bowls – each containing a uniquely flavored dish – one has tempe – a soy bean option – that has been fried. Yum. Another contains fried eels from the river that runs behind the compound. There are 2 omlet like dishes – maybe a bit more like highly seasoned crepes than our fluffy omlets. There’s pieces of tofu that have been cooked, 2 long bean dishes – one so heavily garliced that I tell everyone to eat it – we’ve got to sit in a car for hours – and we might as all have bad breathe.
And of course there is rice.
Yummy – spicy – not spicy – crispy – soft – sweet and sour – The meal manages to hit all the taste buds and all the texture points.
For desert they are making Palm Sugar – it’s been boiling over a wood fire stove since last night – and they’ve carefully timed things so that the sugar firms up just as we finish our lunch. It’s a sugar high – super hot – and tasting vaguely of caremel.
After the meal – the wife and 14 year old daughter of the host puts on a Balinese traditional dance performance for us – and I even get rolling eye lessons. Such fun. Such Food. Like being on Food Network without the camera issues!
But that’s not the top food experience I had. The absolute best experience was at the home of Diana – our driver extraordinaire. He invited us to lunch at his compound on my last day in Bali – and he and his wife started preparing the day before.
I arrived at their place about 30 minutes early (I’d walked back from downtown Ubud – it’s hard to judge how long the walk will take) – and I’m relaxing in the shade when I realize that men are delivering a huge wooden table and 6 simple but elegant wooden chairs to Diana’s house. He bought a table and chairs so that they could serve us lunch.
Think about it – he went out and bought a table – he didn’t have one when he invited us over for lunch – and then figured he’d need something to feed us on. Later I asked about it – and he said he’d decided that it would be easier on us – and besides he didn’t have one. He and his wife rarely get the luxury of eating together – they work crazy hours – so you eat when you are personally hungry.
The meal they served us – while less variety then the Jungle Feast – was positively delicous. A whole roasted chicken – Diana said it was boiled – but the skin was a bit crispy – so maybe boiled then roasted? Yummy in any case. There was Rice – of course. There were the traditional long bean vegetable dish – which was delightful. They served Chicken Satay – which put me into the mind set of Kebbe – it was seasoned ground chicken wrapped around a bamboo stick and then grilled. I ate 5. There was roasted pork – full fat of course – and wonderful.
After the meal they served us leaf wrapped sticky rice – one set had bananas in the rice, the other had coconut. Diana refered to these as snack food – you can put a bunch into a backpack – and pull one out when you feel a bit needy.
The meal ended with ice cream – in celebration of me – the Lady who stops for Ice Cream.
My description simply can’t do justice to the depth of flavors there were in these dishes – again – salty, sweet, bitter, sour – all the taste buds rejoyed with every bite.
After lunch, and a tour of the compound, Diana took us to meet one of his uncles – who has 5 fighting cocks. The old man gladly showed me how to hold the bird and massage him – something that all the cock fighter owners do on a daily basis to keep the birds in perfect shape. Easy once you learned the trick – hold both wings down – or the bird will start flapping and things get seriously out of control from there!
During another trip around the island, we stop at a coffee roaster to see how they make Litwak coffee – that’s the one where the Civet cat eats the coffee beans, and then the cat shit is roasted. They also had ginger tea, lemon grass tea, coffee with ginger, and even plain coffee. It was all delicious, but horribly expensive – so while I tasted – I didn’t buy.
So – while in Bali – I’ve had Crispy Duck, Chicken Curry, Fried Pork, Beef Rendang, more rice that I ever thought I’d eat, at least a dozen different flavors of ice pops, long beans, tempe and soy beans prepared in many different ways, fried chicken, fried eels, Banana Pancakes, fried rice with vegges, fried noodles with veggies, and enough Mangosteens to sink a battle ship.
I didn’t try Dragon Fly – apparently a staple of Diana’s diet when he was growing up, the only fish I had was Tuna – although I saw tons of fish at the daily morning fish market – ranging from all kids of groupers, to cuttle fish, shrimp, small sliver fish (herring?), octopus, shark fins, and a host of fish that I didn’t quite for sure recognize out of the ocean. We ate at a wide range of restaurant types – some more touristy then other – prices ranging from $2.50 per person to $25 per person. We generally avoided alcohol – although the local beer – Bintang – is supposed to be quite good. And we never ever ate at a buffet.
And yes – I did 3 different grocery stores – just to see what purchased foods look like here.
Overall Food in Bali – a super easy 5 stars!
Signing off to consider her next meal in Bali – The Soup Lady