Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Balinese Culinary Adventures

I decided to write about the foodie adventures I had whilst on holiday in Bali this month. Mum and I went on a 'girls' trip, and I had to feel a little bit sorry for her as I dragged her from place to place checking out all of the restaurants I had read about on Tripadvisor etc. All in all though, we had a fabulous time eating and drinking our way around Bali, spending five days in Seminyak and five days in Ubud. Read on for more details and reviews on the restaurants and bars I loved whilst over there.

ULTIMO, Seminyak
This just has to come first! What an amazing place to eat! We ate here 3 times and could not get enough of the delicious Italian food eaten in a candlelit garden in the balmy heat. It was just magnificant. This is such a busy restaurant, and we were always asked to sit at the bar whilst we waited for a table to become free. However, the service is so impeccable at Ultimo that we were seated within 10-15 mins all three times. The service is attentive and polite without being overbearing, probably the best service I saw in the whole of Bali.

Now for the food...
Pizza- amazing! Thin, crispy bases with (minimal) toppings that were so fresh. I cannot stand a pizza that is 'over-topped' and this was just the right amount of topping and sauce to still be about to savour the doughy taste of the base.
Eggplant Stack- This does have an Italian name on the menu, but I can't remember it. Juicy eggplant slices stacked with melted, oozy mozzerella, basil and a tomato sauce. Just beautiful. I have managed to replicate it at home using lightly crumbed and fried slices of eggplant with a romano tomato sauce, tomato and mozzerella.
Gnocchi- There is only one gnocchi on the menu, and it is to die for. Large, soft pieces of gnocchi that have almost been char-grilled or fried, served on a bed of zucchini puree and topped with one juicy big prawn. We had this twice also. What a unique and scrumptious twist on a gnocchi dish!

Raspberry Panna Cotta- What more can I say? The sweetness of the panna cotta is balanced with the tartness of the raspberries. A perfect finish to the meal.
** I should probably mention that we ate 3 courses with drinks every time we ate at Ultimo, and did not pay more than $30 AU! Bargain.

SATE BALI, Seminyak
This was a gorgeous little restaurant that is hidden away in Seminyak on JL Laksmana or 'Eat Street', but towards the Ku De Ta end. I doubt it has any problems with its patronage though, as Lonely Planet gives it a good write-up and word of mouth would do it some big favours. We were flicking through the menu out the front when a young Australian family said to us, "You won't regret it!", and we were sold.
We ate the Seminyak set menu, which featured a range of traditional Balinese food. Now, Balinese food is actually harder for tourists to get their hands on than you would think in Seminyak. The restaurants are awesome, but many of them are Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican etc. There are plenty of little road-side Warungs that obviously feature traditional food, but it is questionable whether eating at one would have you on the toilet for the rest of your trip!! So, Sate Bali was an excellent way to try some traditional Balinese dishes.
The food was beautiful, very Thai-esque but with its own unique flavours. We had chicken satay (the peanut sauce kind), sate (the BBQ kind), sweet sticky pork, duck in banana leaf, chicken curry, beef rendang and some spicy vegetables... oh, and rice of course. The food was a great balance between sweet, salty and spicy and the serves very generous. The dessert platter was something else, featuring pandan pancakes, coconut banana, caramel banana, fruit kebabs and black rice pudding- what a feast! All for $18ish AU a head.

KU DE TA, SeminyakNow this isn't really a culinary adventure, more of a drinking adventure.
I think everyone who visits Seminyak will have been told by someone that they must go to Ku De Ta. I second that. Walking into the large, open air, beachside restaurant/bar, you feel as though you have all of a sudden gained celebrity status. It is the kind of place that in my normal life in Melbourne, I'd probably need my name on a guest list to visit ;) Imagine the waves crashing along a shore that is scattered with surfers, hawkers etc, chilled tunes playing, huge sun lounges, an amazing cocktail list... and, if you come at the right time, a sunset that is worth the hiked drink prices. We arrived at 4.30ish, and it was already too late to get a sunbed but the chair and table we spent the afternoon in was comfortable enough. By 5pm or so, even the grass was full of people ready to watch the sun go down in style.
Costly? Well, yes. We paid (I am ashamed to say) about $60 AU for a huge jug of sangria that included fresh fruit, white wine, apple liquor and actual frozen apples (awesome idea?!) It gave us four drinks each and lasted us the entire sunset, so was worthwhile, but expensive for Asia!

SARONG, Seminyak
I was insistent upon going to Sarong when I discovered that one of the chef's used to be involved with one of my favourite Melbourne Asian-fusion restaurants, Longrain. We had to try four days before we got a booking, which just shows how popular it is!
This restaurant is really beautiful, but quite expensive by Bali standards. The prices are probably similar to a mid-range restaurant in Melbourne, which is top range for Bali. The gold decor is just beautiful, and we sat in a cute little garden area with the gorgeous backdrop of the main restaurant behind us. The food here was good, but a lot of it I felt I could find at my local Thai restaurant- the curry and stir-fry we had for main especially. The entree of sticky pork belly however was AMAZING (and if you know me, you will know my obsession with pork belly... I know it is so so so bad for me, but it is such a decadent dish and I can't get enough of it). Generous chunks of pork with an even balance of soft meat and crunchy crackling in a gorgeous caramalised sauce.

We loved the day spent with this gorgeous little cooking school in Lobong. Named after the host family compound, you spend the day cooking and socialising in an open air kitchen in a beautiful family home. We learnt so much about the Balinese culture at this cooking school, not just the food. We even visited a local market with a guide, and also had the opportunity to witness a traditional religious offering to the Gods for the food we have cooked. The food itself was awesome and so fresh and vibrant- saute'd tempeh, BBQ'd marinated chicken, sate pork, vegetable salad, rice with sweet potato, tomato sambal. I am getting hungry just reminiscing about it ;)
The class size is small also, with a max of 12. We were lucky enough to be in a class of four, which was a great way to really interact with the hosts and the chef. The boy & I did a cooking class in Chiang Mai along with 23 other people, and it was not all that enjoyable competing with all of those other tourists for help and interaction. This was much more personal and intimate.
BU OKA, Ubud
This is the Bali most tourists are too scared to try- although, not too many considering the huge crowds this place draws every day for lunch. Bu Oka is famous for one dish- Suckling Pig or 'Babi Guling'. We were game enough to eat in this restaurant complete with the paper plates and roaming stray dogs begging for a feed. This is the kind of meal where a traveller may think "Hmm, there are a lot of people here, but am I going to get sick?", but then upon seeing and tasting the food think, "Meh! Who cares?!"
The Balinese style of Babi Guling involves roasting a whole pig with spices over a fire for about  4-6 hours. The end product? Soft, tender, melt in the mouth meat with a crackly, spicy crust. It is served 'easy up' (dumped on a plate with a side of rice), but tastes sooooo good.
And... we didn't get sick!

So, as you can see my adventures in Bali were filled with amazing foods. I should probably mention that I did do things other than eat and drink- such as snorkelling, lots of shopping, white water rafting and elephant riding, as well as many hours spent lying by the pool reading my book and trying (unsuccessfully) to get a tan!
I did also want to add to this post my personal views on Bali following some of the recent 'scandals' that have taken place there. I have heard a lot of people saying they would never go there after what has gone on. I spent a month in Vietnam and Thailand last year, and like in those places, I never once felt unsafe in Bali. Yes, it is very different to Australia. Yes, you will be hassled as you walk down the street. Yes, the laws are different. Yes, the police are known for being corrupt. BUT, why do you go on holiday to somewhere if you do not expect it to be different? If you are looking for a cosy, Australian holiday- go to QLD! Asia is a different country, we need to understand that and follow their rules, cultures and customs. There are way too many people who use Bali as a schoolies style stomping ground, and it is the Balinese people that suffer when these people are caught and reprimanded according the law of the country they ARE IN!!!

We stayed away from Kuta and Legian for the majority of our trip, apart from a few quick shopping trips. In Seminyak, we felt safe and secure and met some really lovely people. In Ubud, we felt even more safe and comfortable as its a beautiful country/rural town with some of the most helpful and friendly locals. I did not go 'clubbing' or got drunk in the clubs, or put myself into any kind of situation where i could be in danger or where I could accused of doing something wrong.

My advice would be to do your research before you go there (or to any part of Asia). My best friend was my Lonely Planet on all of my Asian adventures, so I was well aware of the laws, the dangers, the annoyances and the risks. And by following the advice of seasoned travellers, I managed to stay out of trouble and have a wonderful trip in a lovely (if commercialized) slice of Asian paradise that is only a frogs leap away from Australia.

Until next time...
L x

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