Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bali: Cuisine

Not that there was ever one single Balinese cuisine, but today's best restaurants are those in Denpasar and Ubud that we dub as "fusion", meaning really that they don't limit their flavor palate according to tradition. However, before I mention the fusions, it's best to talk about what it's being fused with.
The traditions here have been about fresh, local ingredients--something we can say about good food anywhere. Tropical fruits, seafood, locally grown meats (Balinese are proud of the quality of their beef, even if it is a Hindu culture), and spices. The key flavor unit in traditional cooking is garam masala, a mixture of about a dozen spices virtually identical to what we find in Thai, Indian and other South Asian cuisines.


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I took the cooking class at Bumi Bali Restaurant on Monkey Forest Rd on a Sunday morning with 17 other acolytes, to find myself already familiar with many techniques and ingredients. If life gives you coconuts, make dishes with palm sugar and coconut cream. We did six recipes, all of them really delicious. The booklet has about twenty others, as well.

Ketut, our instructor, led us about a block to the market where he showed us various ingredients, but we did not actually select produce to cook with, as the cooking gnomes already had them sliced and cello-wrapped when we got back.


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Ketut, arranging satays for presentation

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Giant prawn salad

During the cooking lesson, we were offered opportunities to assist in preparation, but did not get to perform each technique--massive points off, in my ledger. Ketut was friendly and could answer questions, but he wasn't garrulous in the way one expects of an instructor in these circumstances. More points off.


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Babi guleng--whole!

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If there is one iconic Balinese food, it is a dish called Babi Guleng--roast suckling pig with certain trimmings. On my arrival in Ubud I was disappointed to learn that the best--nay, the only--Babi Guleng restaurant only went from 11 to 5.

Surely, I said to myself, and eventually to a handy taxi driver, this popular dish must be available somewhere tonight? Ketut understood, and showed me the way--it doubled or tripled the price of the meal, paying for a driver and all, but it was equal to the version I had later at the famous place.


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The dish (get the "special" at Bu Oka for the best cuts) consists of rice, green vegetables, white meat, dark meat, hard cracklins, fried "sweetmeats", and a one-inch slice of blood sausage. Koreans would love this dish! Hell, vegetarians would love this dish!

Ubud has a number of famous eateries, but I took my first meal at Cafe Dian, mainly because I wanted to sit next to the water fountain and watch the passersby while eating Balinese style:


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Siap base kalas - grilled chicken w/ Balinese spices


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Cafe Dian is not currently in the Lonely Planet guide, which means it can't jack up their prices by 200%, as I found Lamak and Cafe Lotus have done. And I won't deny these were both outstanding eating experiences, but the smoked duck linguini at Lotus isn't twice as good as the Balinese Crispy Duck at Restaurant Joni just outside of town.


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Lamak was also overpriced, but had an amazing atmosphere including a central courtyard where one could dine under forty-foot palms. My soup course was a tea-infused duck broth with duck meat raviolis; it was delicious snd ducky, followed by a flavorful beef carpaccio:


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Three Monkeys is well-known for its pastries and desserts, I heard, as well as the view of a rice paddy from your table. Chocolate mud cake with raspberry sauce, delectable!


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There are not a lot of choices when it comes to restaurants at Jungutbatu, the village on the north end of Nusa Lembongan--mostly the restaurant at your bungalows, or the restaurants at the bungalows all up and down the shore. Puri Nusa was adequate,with a nice grilled tuna:


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But the best place I ate was called Agus Shipwreck, about two doors down, where I can recommend the beef stew and the grilled baby snapper. But really, what all the restaurants specialize in is sunset:

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