Friday, June 22, 2007

A Peek Inside a Balinese Kitchen

The one "new" thing we did was sign up for a cooking class at Casa Luna, one of Ubud's oldest restaurants. For 250000 Rp (SGD $44.60) each, we could expect a five hour programme.

our tour guide and classmates

Our day started with a tour with the local market where our guide showed us some of the local delicacies and produce being sold, before bringing us over to the Honeymoon Guesthouse (also owned by the Casa Luna people) where the class would be held. The market visit was educational, even for those of us born and bred in Southeast Asia. As kids growing up, the last thing we liked was being dragged to the wet market by our mothers; we were probably too young to appreciate it back then. Now that we actually like to eat and to cook, learning more about "the making of" puts a whole new spin on things. HM ended up buying an assortment of spices and our very own Balinese mortar and pestle. (see other entry for more on the market.)

Yude, our instructor for the day

Over at Honeymoon Guesthouse, Yude took over as we sipped on iced hibiscus tea. She explained that Janet De Neefe, the Australian expatriate owner of Casa Luna, would not be conducting the lesson that day. Janet and Casa Luna are institutions in the Ubudian culinary scene. Anticipating disappointment on the part of the largely Australian class for whom her presence must have been a bonus, Yude apologised. HM and I were rather more thrilled that the instructor would actually be Balinese!

Anyway, the next part of the morning involved a second breakfast. With Yude explaining what each snack was made of, we sampled some of the local foods we had seen in the market that morning. We tried Balinese bubur or porridge, and three Balinese sweets, the equivalent of our kueh kueh. Our favorite was the lak lak, which were rice flour cakes with shredded coconut and palm sugar, like inside-out ondeh ondeh. And the porridge was interesting - it was spicy! Too bad we were too busy eating to take any photos...

Finally it was time for the main event. We were told that our class that day would be preparing nasi campur or rice with, literally, a mixture of dishes, and a dessert, sago pudding. Then, armed with small photocopied booklets of the recipes, we watched Yude and her team prepare a variety of dishes.

Balinese kare ayam or curry chicken

bergedel tauhu or tofu fritters

urap buncis or bean and coconut salad in the making

To be honest, we would have preferred that the lesson was more hands-on. Other than inviting some of us to try our hand at grinding the rempah or spice blends and stir-frying some of the dishes, most of the lesson was us standing around and watching which, believe me, got rather tiring after a while. Of course, not everyone in the class would have appreciated being put to work nor do we think that our Balinese teachers would have been able to bear it, watching us mangle their food. As it was, we were left to marvel at how much of the blending is done by hand. Like many old school culinary traditions, the magic is in the hands.

our lunch!

close up

Finally, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of, uh, someone else's labour. In addition to the curry, urap and tofu fritters, we also had tuwung goreng (wok-fried eggplant) and sager gerang (spicy anchovy and coconut sambal). I couldn't resist helping myself to seconds, despite a slightly dicey tummy from overindulging the previous few days.

Sated, we sat back and chatted until Yude enthusiastically ordered all of us up and over to the stove again, to watch how sago pudding Balinese style is made.

bubur sagu or sago pudding

This was our dessert, a concession to Western dining habits, because the Balinese themselves never eat dessert. Their sweets are eaten as snacks or breakfast foods. Anyway, with that, the morning drew to a close.

Although we were a little disappointed that we didn't get to do any real cooking, it had been an instructive and enjoyable morning. Yude especially kept us entertained with many a nugget of information presented with much humour.

Three things we learnt that day:

  1. The "saffron" sold in Balinese markets and stalls is not saffron at all. That's why it's so cheap. (I'm quite sure I bought some on a previous trip. Got conned! Must remember - if something is too good to be true, it is probably the case.)
  2. McDonald's apple pies might be made with the fruit, choko (also known as chayote), rather than with real apples. That's why the fruit bits inside feel like apples but don't taste like apples! (I googled this and found out this is most probably an Australian urban legend, but hey, I can understand how that one got started. Try an apple pie from Mac's sometime and see if you don't feel the same about the filling - all the apple taste is in the sauce, not the bits.)
  3. Ang mo people can't eat. That was HM's observation as well when she was in NY on a food tour. What evidence did we have for saying so? Those of us who went for second helpings at lunch were Asian. And, later that day, at about five thirty or so, one of our classmates chanced on us as we were seated in the cafe, Batan Waru, about to have dinner. She blithely chirped, "Oh I couldn't have another thing to eat today..." More's the pity, I say.

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