My browser session with a million opened tabs including WordPress threatened to fall over last week when I tried to upload 60-odd photographs into a single blog post – and, I worry, so would readers’ interest in what I ate whilst in Indonesia. (Perhaps time to upgrade my ridiculously outdated version of Firefox? I stick with version 3 for its familiar buttons and the Half Dome skin, combining my love of rocks and resistance to technical change.) So, in the name of greater good I split my Indonesian adventures into two geographically defined chunks. Here is the second installment, should you be interested in what Expat Gourmet got up to in Bali.
After a week in Nusa Tenggara we flew back to spend a few days at Ubud, the arty heart of inland Bali. Thankfully Ubud is still today less busy and noisy than the seaside resorts, however my grandparents swear that it has changed beyond recognition over the last 10 years. Where there were a few art shops there are now hundreds, offering paintings in the traditional Balinese style as well as, unfortunately, dreadful Western-style portraiture (a 2x2m portrait of the Obamas to adorn your sitting room with, anyone?) and poster-style works. These workshops co-exist side by side with hundreds of shops selling batik and ikat fabrics – and thousands of people offering transport. I never want to hear ‘Transport?’ again in my life. Everybody rides a motorbike here so the idea of wanting to walk places must be so alien to the locals – that’s my only explanation for having to decline dozens of offers of ‘taksi’ just on the short walk to the market. When I did eventually need to jump onto a scooter to get back into town I caused minor scandal involving a pencil skirt and upper thighs. Those Europeans… Even in the bustling heart of Ubud we managed to find a peaceful haven away from the noise, surrounded with all kinds of greenery and flowers under a canopy of imposing trees.My first night and day in Ubud saw a trip to climb Bali’s highest peak, the volcano Gunung Agung (3031m) to watch sunrise over Lombok, Bali’s neighbour island. Gunung Rinjani (3726m) is only just discernible right of this claw feature of the volcano rim. Rinjani cannot be scaled overnight like Agung, five days are required to reach the summit and return safely back, so must remain a goal for a future trip to Lombok.This fella was grateful to get his paws on the chocolate bun given to us by our guides. I was disinclined to eat the bun being a Nutella hater – but the fact remains that South East Asia simply cannot do savoury pastry. They don’t add salt to dough when making bread etc., resulting in an unpleasantly sweet aftertaste.Having safely descended Agung we stopped at an organic coffee and tea farm, Pineh Colada. Agrotourism is a big deal in North Bali, with farms upon farms offering stays, tours and various produce including coffee, ginger coffee and tea and special, expensive civet coffee for sale.This little fella is a civet and by eating and pooping he produces the delectable luwak beans used for making civet coffee – or luwak as it’s locally known. He didn’t seem very happy in his tiny cage, pacing back and forth and back and forth behind the wires with a sad look on his face – but that might just be me.Here’s coffee being roasted here the traditional way.I’ve never had tomarillos before and was completely taken by their refreshing flavour – a mix between tomato and peach. Inside is a thin layer of flesh, shielding its centre of what looks like mini pomegranate seeds. These grew in a lush garden along with coffee bushes, cinnamon trees, pomelo trees, melons and cocoa (middle), and we walked on paths under a canopy of all of that greenness.Eventually our trip to the coffee farm turned into a classic holiday experience of being shown around a workshop/farm/resort and given snacks – and of course the expectation then is that you have been guilt tripped into making a purchase. However, unlike being coaxed into buying Turkish carpets, Nigerian futures or Majorcan villas (I still remember the look on my poor dad’s face when the penny finally dropped and he realised that no in fact doesn’t mean no to estate agents), perhaps because I was being sold products that I actually wanted I felt quite comfortable with this gentle cajoling and purchased some organic ginseng coffee (the one that looks like milky coffee), Bali coffee and ginger tea. Indonesians love to drink their coffee heart-stoppingly strong and sweet – those little beakers will have at least a tablespoon of sugar dissolved in them. Indonesian coffee is ground very finely and prepared as Turkish coffee – coffee powder is put directly into the mug and water poured over it, resulting in a muddy sediment at the bottom of your mug.My favourite place to eat in Ubud was Ibu Oka – a warung serving the traditional Balinese babi guling – roast suckling pig. Thankfuly the Hindu Bali is the only haven in Muslim Indonesia where I can get my swine fix (other than Chinese outlets – but why would you want to eat Chinese food in Indonesia?). My apologies for the blurry photo, but I absolutely had to share it since this was by far my favourite thing to eat in all of Indonesia – pitting banana fritters to the crown only closely. Babi guling at Ibu Oka warung comes as pork in many guises – there is tender pulled meat, sticky ribs, you can only just make out a slice of black pudding that looks like it came from Bury – until you taste it, with its fiery, gingery heat. There is lawar, the red lump in the photo – a mix of vegetables, spices and coconut held together with pigs blood and fried in patties. As with many things that doesn’t sound particularly appetising – until you try it of course. To top it all there was the crackling so crispy it puts the crispiest crackling there is in England to shame (crispiest crackling found in roast pork sandwiches at Made by Jonty in Sheffield – scientifically proven). The meat is accompanied, as always, with rice, a hot mixture of chilli, ginger and lemongrass and steamed green beans with lemongrass. I purchased some giant prawn crackers – krupuk – as well. Look at the size of it! I thoroughly enjoyed this different take on roast pig – so much so I came back the following day.
The day after my Agung trek I was almost completely immobilised, however this didn’t stop me from going to see a traditional legong dance performance. I saw Ramayana, a Hindu classic of true love and obstacles. Before the performance we stopped at Sjaki Warung, where I ate some delicious fired tofu capcay (steamed vegetables), washed down with freshly made watermelon juice (and most of grandad’s passionfruit juice as well).
I then went and finished the evening off with an amazing ice cream from the gelato place I went to every day whilst in Ubud. I tried rosewater, lemongrass, dragonfruit and pumpkin and hazelnut flavours, and the scoops were more than generous.The place we stayed at was a bit on the pricy side for our pensioners&backpackers budget, but it was well worth it. Where else in central Ubud would we have found such a green sanctuary complete with our own bungalow and a lovely swimming pool? Every morning we ate breakfast of traditional black rice pudding (sadly the photo turned out not that appetising but imagine a runny rice pudding made of black rice and bananas) and fruit out on the porch. This sure is a life style I could get used to – and I’m not alone. The bungalow next to ours was occupied by an Australian man who rents it long term with a view to eventually rent land in Ubud to build a house. That’s right, rent! You’d be hard pressed to find land for sale around here, only long term lets or 15 years or so. Why you’d want to build a house on land you eventually lose and your property is then pocketed by your landlord is anyone’s guess; still the construction business for foreign customers in and around Ubud is flourishing.
On my last day in Ubud I visited the Neka art gallery which has its ups and downs – Balinese art really only appeals when it shakes off its heavy Western influence. As we were just emerging out of the other end of monsoon at the end of March we’d still get caught in the occasional downpour – I was trapped in one of the gallery pavilions for half an hour. In the evening we went for another walk around Ubud and wandered to the Water Palace which now serves as one of Ubud’s many dance theatres. There I took my beautiful photos of lotuses and jewel-like water drops.
In the name of adventure we decided to try the infamous durian. The lovely man who was selling them from his moped-based makeshift stall opened its hard, spiky skin with a machete – and wrapped it tightly in a plastic bag. Despite the precautions the smell of it followed us wherever we went. I’m not convinced I am a fan. When it comes to eating the fruit you strip it of its shell and separate the segments as you would an orange. The segments have an unfortunate sticky, muddy texture – like a banana that’s been sat on the shelf for a few weeks too long. The stench is overpowering, imagine something between vomit and rotting fruit (or flesh, depending on how queasy you are). Every time I took a bit it took a lot of deliberation – as the immediate flavour is, frankly, disgusting and tastes just as it smells, is it worth biting into that? Yes it is. Durian has a subtly nutty aftertaste which only develops after a few seconds in your mouth. Not exactly everybody’s cup of tea I understand, but everything ought to be tried at least once.
And so we came to the end of our stay in Ubud. There was still time in the morning for a walk around the rice fields, stop at Sari Organik cafe (bellow) where I sampled some coconut water, and a quick trip to the marketplace. I purchased some mango and passionfruit jam at the pretentious, upmarket Kou Cuisine shop, which sells tiny jars of jam and salt to wealthy tourists at jaw dropping prices – with every intention to copy their recipes at home.
In the afternoon I made my way back to Kuta, as I needed to be close to the airport to catch my first-thing-in-the-morning flight. I spent the afternoon lying on the beach, quite literally sat on top of my handbag and DSLR, since my cheapo accommodation didn’t offer safe lockers. In the evening I popped to Warung Indonesia, where I made my second culinary blunder of the day and ordered a la carte, not noticing the amazing buffet offering a cornucopia of Indonesian fare – anything from fried squid through curried quails eggs and steamed veg. Ah well, at least I got to eat this preposterously shaped nasi goreng (fried rice) and chicken sate, washed down with some tomarillo juice.
In the morning I boarded my Singapore-bound flight to board an Airbus A380 there – this is the world’s largest passenger aircraft, and the most fuel efficient. I have never seen a machine that big. As far as airplane food goes the food on board of Singapore airlines was one of the best I’ve had. Here’s a picture of Hindukush range, taken as we flew over Afghanistan.
And that was my Indonesian holiday. I managed to get a bit of a tan, bought two pairs of fake Ray Bans (one of which broke promptly), ate everything on Lonely Planet’s challenge list except B2 (dog) and still avoided Delhi belly. Food wise, my only regret is that I didn’t get to try much of the Dutch-influenced cuisine here – the rijstaffel (rice and nibbles platter) tend to cost a fortune. I’ll miss banana fritters, avocado juice (and indeed all the other outlandish fruit juices) and that roast pig and rice at breakfast, lunch and tea. On the other hand I will not miss all that rice, amazing as it was I did end up eating my weight in carbs several times over. Neither will I miss the heat and the locals’ friendliness, very frequently only exhibitied in anticipation of a monetary return. As much as I was shocked at first at the local poverty I came to appreciate the wealth that Western tourists undoubtedly bring to the area – and, unfortunately, its side effects, too. It’s all good though, I did enjoy my first venture to the Southern hemisphere thoroughly and would love to be back one day, perhaps as a volunteer on one of the numerous development projects in the area.