Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seminyak "Eat Street"

When I’m in Bali, I avoid having western-style food. The variety of Balinese cuisine and the general Indonesian food in Bali is immense, it’s almost a shame to eat food I can readily access back in Australia.

The bargain-hunter part of me also feels it’s more economical to eat local food. When you think about it, for the same priced ingredients, western style cafés, bistros and restaurants charge double or more. But of course, included in that is the price we pay for the ambiance, the expat executive chef, the napery, etc.

The only western eatery we visited on our last holiday in Bali was The Bistrot. It's located in the so-called "Eat Street" in Seminyak due to the dense population of restaurants in the area. This is the premiere location for expat chefs who want to open their next hip restaurant in Bali.

The Bistrot excelled in terms of ambiance with its barn house feel, exposed brick wall and quirky décor. If I were to nitpick, the air-conditioning self-described on their website as “natural hewn stone air-conditioned”, whatever that means, was a bit lacking. Certainly inside the bistro was few degrees cooler than on the streets outside, but being a closed space, the humidity had nowhere to go. It was cool but slightly sticky. Though I’m pleased to say their service was not lacking, it was gracious and effective.

My dish of the day was seafood penne rigate, chock full of ingredients with hefty chunks of fish, king prawns, and plump clams and mussels. It vexes me whenever restaurants charge ridiculous prices only to serve a plateful of nothing. Fortunately, this was not one such case, we were starving and we were answered with a satisfying lunch. An ice-cold corona and refreshing watermelon juice completed the meal.

As with the burger, I only had a bite of it. Though the portion size for the burger was quite decent, to me it was a standard burger. I can’t even remember what protein was the patty made of, was it chicken or was it beef?

Seeing other reviews of this bistro, there’s a wide divide between the very good and the awful. Our experience was more on the positive end of the scale. We must’ve gone on a good day.

The Bistrot
Jalan Kayu Aya 117
Seminyak BALI
Open 7 days 7.30am-midnight

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Japanese Influenced Pottery in Kuta

Being a food blogger, joy fills my heart whenever I see beautiful tableware. The same feeling came over me when I spent an hour (or maybe two) browsing Jenggala Keramik’s website prior to my Bali vacation.

Their pieces are influenced mostly by traditional Indonesian and Balinese pattern and colours, but I can see some are influenced by Japanese pottery -- clean and simple lines with muted colours. These sexy Japanese inspired ones are ones that excites me the most. I’ve been seriously coveting some of their pieces, but their price tags have so far stopped me from purchasing them online.

Jenggala boasts that each piece of pottery is inspected for the highest quality, with normal variation due to its handmade nature. While this is certainly the case -- you won’t be able to buy one blemished piece from their showroom -- the slightly imperfect pieces are still available for purchase and can be found at Jenggala’s lesser known Factory Outlet.

Jenggala does very little by way of advertising their Factory Outlet for whatever reason, there isn’t even an official link to it on their website. Being the bargain hunter that I am, I managed to find it from the lovely people on the web.

There were pieces with undeliberate minor askew shapes, or the accidental colour stain here there. But those with obvious flaws were the minority. The imperfections on most of the pieces I’ve examined were imperceptible to the naked eye and these were the ones I picked to buy. With prices of up to 50% off, I went on a shopping spree.

One of my purchases was this teardrop white salad bowl with undulating rim seemingly to have been brushed with a muted teal paint. So beautiful. Pictured below is this bowl having the flaw of paint dots at its bottom. There was a stack of these bowls in the shop, I looked for two which didn't have such obvious flaws.

While the attendants wrapped up my pieces with some old newspaper, I noticed quite a few of the customers were Japanese. I guess even they love Jenggala’s interpretation of Japanese pottery. After they were wrapped up, the pieces were stacked into shopping bags. If you happened to ask for boxes, they will kindly let you know boxes are not provided in the factory outlet, only in the showrooms. One less perk I don't mind having without.

The piece I use most often at home is this ramen bowl. It has a distinct Japanese look, a deep bowl capable of holding a lot, with convenient indentations on its rim for placing a pair of chopsticks. I’ve used it for serving salmon phở with a bountiful salmon bone broth, for bibimbap with its vigorous mixing action, for simple chicken and noodle soup, and many many other delicious dishes.

Jenggala Factory Outlet
Jalan Sunset Road No. 1
Kuta BALI
location on google maps

Friday, July 11, 2014

Subak: Rice Farming in Bali

A lot of Asians -- myself included -- won’t feel full without eating rice thanks to being brought up with the typical Asian diet of eating rice at least twice a day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted, but I certainly can’t picture my life without it. Last year in an effort to better my nutrition value, I’ve started adding grains, seeds and beans such as chia seeds, barley, soaked mung beans, etc. to make multi-grain rice. While I’m pretty much used to eating it without noticeable difference, once in a while I like to cook the pure unadulterated stuff. There’s this inexplicably satisfying feeling I get digging into a steaming bowl of fluffy white rice that multi-grain rice simply can’t give.

Indonesia is white rice country, and Bali is no exception. One of tourist favourite photo-op locations in Bali is at Tegalalang's multi-tiered rice terraces. The terraces were constructed as such due to the unique Balinese irrigation system called subak whereby water is distributed over a series of canals employing an egalitarian practice based on the Balinese Hinduism concept of Tri hita Karana. Sadly subak is slowly disappearing. One effort to slow down this rate was the Indonesian government's request and subsequently UNESCO’s award of the world heritage listing for the subak system. The listing allows the Balinese to obtain advice and financial assistance from UNESCO.

The Balinese farmers themselves are conflicted about the heritage listing. Having subak recognised brings in more tourists and money to the island, but rarely does that cash benefit the farmers. It mostly goes to the tour operators, hotels, villas, etc. The other effect of tourism is real estate development. With more and more tourists arriving, the rice fields are rapidly in danger of being converted to hotels and villas to service said tourists.

While we vacationed in Ubud, we stayed in a private villa overlooking lush green rice paddies filled with pregnant rice plants, some are ready for harvest. Its location at the edge of working rice paddies was the top feature of this villa. The villa encouraged tourists to talk to the farmers and it also delivered small tours for patrons not comfortable approaching the farmers themselves. Although I do like the fact it’s promoting a conversation with the farmers, the fees gained for the tours are not exactly going to the farmers.

The rice fields outside our villa didn’t have the distinct subak look, there are layers of terraces though not as many as ones you see in postcards. But it is a working rice fields, not there merely for the sake of tourists. The first morning of our stay, we were hanging out by our private pool and whiled away our time observing a group of (female) farmers harvesting rice plants with a sickle. The next morning the newly harvested rice were fed into a threshing machine. Meanwhile a flock of ducks had been let loose in the now empty rice paddy.

Ketut (from the cooking class) explained to me during our rice paddy visit that ducks are taken to the harvested field to feed on the padi (unmilled rice) that has fallen on the ground during the harvest. Back in the rice field near the villa, I talked to a farmer with a white shirt and a huge smile. He explained that not only do they rear ducks for their eggs, but also for their meat. He waits for them to lay 60 eggs before the ducks are sold in the market. I spent many mornings and afternoons watching those ducks roamed about freely, quacking away, diving into the mud and carrying on. There's no wonder the bebek betutu I have had in Bali are so delicious, lean but flavourful.

As with subak, it’s a complex problem with no easy solution. I can’t honestly say I didn’t contribute to the problem by vacationing there. Fortunately the tide is slowly turning, in an attempt to slow this suburbanisation at least one Ubud community has agreed to enrol in a program -- founded by a New Yorker -- to conserve the use of their land for agricultural purposes despite pressures from real estate development.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Klungkung, One Salt Farmer Prevails

Artisanal salt farming is a dying trade in Bali. The Indonesian government has an incentive program to subsidise local salt farming in an effort to attract and retain this trade. Is it working? Is this primitive and labour intensive method of producing salt worth saving?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Ubud, Cooking with New Friends

Bali can be many things for many different people. For the aussie school leavers looking for some fun, Kuta is party central. For the honeymooners, there's Seminyak. For the executives and families with slightly deeper pockets, Nusa Dua has its posh resorts. But Ubud, it always bill itself as the cultural epicentre of the island, where the yoga freaks congregate, where struggling balinese artists sell their work, where the Balinese organic and raw movements started.

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