I'll wrap up my Bali posts with my favorite subject...food. Over the course of 3 weeks, I ingested mass quantities of rice for lunch, dinner and dessert and sambal, sambal, sambal! Heavily influenced from Asia and other islands throughout Indonesia, a typical lunch in Bali would be a rice or noodle dish served with the freshest fish possible. While most things I ate were delicious, the stand out meal of the trip was shown above. Babi guling or baby suckling pig, is Bali's most notable meal. Served in modest warungs (family owned, roadside restaurants), the pig is butchered and seasoned and is laid to begin a slow roast in the wee hours of the morning. By lunchtime, the pig is picked apart and set into individual bowls, each section prepared in different ways to give the diner an array of textures and flavors from various parts of the pig. My plate above included: crispy fried pork skin, lean loin, shredded pork tossed with sambal (a spicy condiment made of chilis, garlic, onion and lime) and sweetened pork kebab, plated over rice of course. This babi guling was so incredibly tender and packed with unrecognizable spices that intensified with each bite. We had all of this at lunch along with a bowl of pork soup (shown below) for about $3.00US. I will forever dream of this pork and I'm saddened that my chances of having it again likely won't be until my next trip to Bali.
While we were in Singapore, there were numerous signs on the MRT and in other public areas noting "NO DURIANS". I knew that when we got to Bali I'd have to try one and the opportunity presented itself on our second day.
This "forbidden fruit" is known for curdling the stomachs of the most adventurous eaters, even those that have eaten, in my opinion, far worse. So how is it that this spiked fruit that grows harmlessly on a tree can carry such a vile reputation? Pulling up to the truck I had already planned on catching whiffs from the moment I opened the car door, but nothing. Our driver and friend Roger, who is a self proclaimed durian lover, hand picked the fruit from the batch and began to hack away at it to reveal those fleshy innards.
Holding my nose in anticipation, when I didn't smell anything I dropped my hand in both relief and confusion. Studying the inside of this fruit, I wasn't sure how to attack it. Noticing four nuggets on either side of the fruit, you're intended to suck on them until you get to the seed. I tried to be as careful as I could in avoiding any juices landing on my shirt or shorts for fear the subtle smell would permeate on my clothes and worsen in the heat. This is not an easy fruit to delicately eat and when you are at roadside cart, don't expect napkins. Fortunately, I was still carrying around those tissue packets from our Singapore hawker meals. We braced ourselves and took the first bite...
I have no idea why this fruit is described as hideous to some. While I'd probably never find myself craving it, like a sweet summertime peach or a piece of watermelon, I really didn't find it that offensive. My best summary...it was reminiscent of an over-ripened cantaloupe. I love cantaloupe but you know when you get one that is way past its prime? It tends to have a sort of rotten smell and taste to it, this was the same way for me. The texture is entirely different though, it's almost like a soft melty cheese that has been warmed in the sun. Bottom line, I survived my durian experience and didn't entirely hate it.
Our next meal was a finger licking good one, we fell in love with the duck at the Dirty Duck Diner in Ubud.
Their specialty is the Bebak Bengil (also the name of the restaurant in Balinese), crispy fried duck goodness!
The duck is served with rice and I opted in favor of the coconut curry string beans instead of the potatoes. Along with that, a bowl of extra spicy sambal to liven things up!
I couldn't imagine a duck more succulent and moist than this one. Picture the best fried chicken you've ever had, only the duck version of that! I found no flaws with the meal and even the garden setting of the restaurant was lovely. A good stop indeed and a bit more upscale if you are looking for a break from the typical warungs.
The next delight, not native to Bali but to another Indonesian island, Sumatra.
Our friend Michael, who has lived in Bali for over 10 years and has traveled most islands throughout Indonesia, raved about his favorite place to get beef rendang. Throughout my time in Bali, I spotted many restaurants along the way all with a similar set up, bowls upon bowls of food sitting in the window. Most Indonesian foods, like babi guling, need to be started very early in the morning, once the food is ready, the process is to set it in bowls and serve all day until it is gone. A scary thought for most Americans, no doubt. You won't find any gradings on these eateries and a surprise visit from the Department of Health is definitely out of the question. But when in Rome, one must trust, right?
It was slightly passed the lunch rush and the restaurant was quiet but I was dazzled by the varieties of their offerings.
With so many options I wanted to try them all. The perfume of spices and interesting looking dishes were blowing my mind but after some expert coaching from Michael I went with: beef rendang, tuna, eggplant and spicy greens. All of this food was a first for me, since you don't tend to come across Indonesian restaurants in the United States. I had very kid in a candy store kind of excitement running through my veins. We found a table under the ceiling fan and dug in. Wow, the beef!! Much like the babi guling, this beef is slowly simmering for hours and hours before it's ready to be served. The beef is rubbed with an abundant amount of dried spices before it's cooked with lots of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillis, galangal and coconut. It's fork tender and every single element sings from bite to bite between spicy, sweet and savory, incredible. Along with the beef, the tuna on my plate was a close second on the delicious meter. I was concerned with the bowls sitting out that the fish might have been a risky choice and might also be really, really fishy. I could not have been more wrong. There was barely a trace of fish flavor but what I could both see and taste, was the turmeric on my tongue and a sweet and sour note of coconut and lime not far behind. It was cooked to perfection and fell away flake by flake as I ate it. The sauteed eggplant and greens were a light match to compliment the richness of the beef and a healthy helping of my new favorite condiment, sambal, tied it all together. For a first sampling of Sumatran cooking, I was hooked.
With our meals, bottled water was a must but when that got a bit boring, we imbibed on the national beer of Bali, Bintang. Similar in look and taste to Heineken, it is also subsidized by the company. Pale, crisp and ice cold, it is exactly what one needs to wash down the heat of the cuisine.
My husband and I are cocktail fanatics and when at home in the summer, gin and tonics are flowing pretty regularly. Although we love trying floral gins to mix with Fever Tree or Fentimen's, selection in Bali is minimal and cost is high (although nothing like the prices in Singapore). The few times we ordered a gin and tonic, we'd get a pretty small glass of gin with a can of Schwepp's. We quickly realized it might be more budget conscious of us to just purchase a bottle of gin and some cans of tonic. Curious by the Indonesian distributed gin, we gave Mansion House a try. A far cry from the Hendrick's that sits on our bar at home and a tad on the rubbing alcohol side, but did the trick and allowed us to enjoy at our leisure on the porch of our villa.
We had so many memorable meals at prices that often felt like robbery. Eating fresh fish and produce set amongst the most beautiful natural surroundings, served to us by warm and friendly people. As I mentioned earlier, the unfortunate part of enjoying all of these wonderful meals, is that it will be next to impossible to have again. Real Indonesian cuisine is rare and hard to come by. I'll do my best to track down the spices and ingredients used in times I want to recall those meals in my kitchen, but it won't be easy.
Our visit to the Island of the Gods is one that won't soon be forgotten and one that I encourage all to experience. It's a completely foreign culture that's far from home, but that's the point. Escape from your routine and immerse yourself in something other than your familiarities, this is a rural paradise worth every minute of exploring.