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May 31, 2012

Cooking in Bali

The mosquito bites and leech bites have healed, my tan lines have long since faded, and the sticky heat of Bali is but a distant memory, yet I'm still filtering through dozens of travel pictures. Damn you, cheap storage!

Anyways, keeping with travel tradition, I took a Balinese cooking class at Paon Bali in Ubud, Bali with my travel buddies, Lina and Mugdha. We started the day off with our teachers and the rest of our cooking class in the Ubud central market. Here, we got an overview of common spices, herbs, and vegetables that we'd later use cooking, tasted some of the local fruits (mangostein, duku, and salak!) and learned about the subtle, yet key distinction between a rice steamer and sun hat.

Seller in the produce area of the Ubud market.
The prices were a steal compared to U.S. prices, so I picked up a packet of fragrant vanilla beans to bring home. I passed on the pricy cat poo coffee.

Luwak coffee is made from beans left in the excrement of the luwak cat. It's believed that the cat only picks the best coffee beans from the crop to eat and because of limited crop (or crap?), it's one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Despite being sold in every tourist shop and pointed out by every tour guide, no Balinese person I asked has ever actually tried it because of how costly it is. Sounds like a brilliant business scam to me.
After making our rounds in the market, we headed off toward Wayan and Puspa's home, with a short (three "Bali minutes") pit stop en route to learn about rice production in Bali.

Wayan giving his three "Bali minutes" rice lecture.
At Puspa's home, we were greeted with a refreshing lemonade and warm welcome, and Wayan shared some background on traditional Balinese family structure and home layout. Then we put our glasses down and got to chopping! Chopping peppers, chopping onions, chopping garlic and ginger and carrots and beans and tumeric. Someone got so engrossed, she even chopped up some of her finger (hi Lina! :)

Limes, ginger, tumeric
Snake beans. Look how long these suckers are!
Garlic, shallots, peppers, onions, potatoes
Peanut sauce



Puspa and her assistants guided the rest of us through various cooking tasks: deep frying the tofu and tempe, making the base gede (a basic yellow sauce used in many dishes), stir frying and boiling vegetables, smashing peanuts, making the soup, preparing the steamed tuna (or tofu) packets, skewering and grilling the sate... all the while sprinkling in facts about Balinese people and culture. As I think back, we must have had our hands busy with various kitchen tasks for a few hours, but the details and order of things has completely blurred in my mind.

We each took a turn blending the ingredients for the base gede in the traditional Balinese lesung (mortar and pestle). I'll be using my traditional Kitchenaid blender if I repeat this recipe at home.
Sauteing with coconut oil and lemon grass.
If only you could smell this stuff...
We took a break at some point to learn about how to prepare coconut oil and got a tiny tour through Puspa's personal kitchen and garden. We also had a short soup break, and then it was back to the kitchen to finish the dishes!


Our cooking teacher and host, Puspa.
Thankfully, all of the food was ready just as everyone was starting to get crabby from all the self-restraint amid such delicious smells.

Jukut Urab (Coconut and Snake Bean Salad)
Tempe Me Goreng (Deep fried tempe in sweet soy sauce)
Wayan tending to the chicken and vegetarian sate.
Pepesan Be Pasih (Steamed tuna in banana leaves)
Lunch! The blob in front of the rice is Gado gado (vegetables in peanut sauce).
 After lunch, we made a simple dessert of boiled banana in palm sugar syrup, which was a nice way to cap off such an extensive lunch.

Kolak Biu (Boiled banana in palm sugar sauce)
I must admit, I had no idea what Balinese or Indonesian food was before this trip, so I had no expectations when booking the class, but I now consider it to be one of my favorite international cuisines. I loved the salads and mix of spicy, sweet, and fresh flavors, and a lot of the recipes are quite easy to make if you're willing to make due with some slight produce substitutes (e.g. garlic in Bali is less strong than garlic in the U.S.). I plan to try out some of these recipes soon and seek out Balinese restaurants in the Bay Area. And if those don't exist, maybe I'll just have to start my own!

(For anyone traveling to Ubud or Bali, Paon Bali cooking class comes with my full recommendation. Puspa and Wayan were totally welcoming, charming, and witty and have created a fun and informal cooking class that exposes you to much more Balinese culture than just common dishes.)
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