Bali Hype: from Bruny to Bali (and back again…..)
On an impulse, and because we’d been working so hard on The Boathouse, and just for the hell of it, we decided to kick the Tasmanian winter blues to imbibe in some warmer climes. From one island to another, from Bruny to Bali and then onto Lombok, Indonesia – we headed off before things became too congested (with tourists) and thus too expensive. Brunyfire also had an ulterior motive for going to Lombok – it is one of the few places that handmade cooking pots are still being made using traditional forming and firing methods, and so I was keen to purchase some traditional cooking pots that I knew were still being produced.
But first, to Bali – we’d never been and decided on Ubud as our first destination – away from the Kuta bound bikini clad, booze swilling party goers. Extensive on-line research, advice from friends and family and the use of Lonely Planet’s guidebook on Bali and Lombok, we found our hotel of choice, the Okawati Hotel……………..off Monkey Forest Road and down a quaint alleyway………. ……..the delightful Okawati hotel is set in the heart of Ubud, amidst the bustle but secluded within its own little oasis. Our front door……….…….and indeed, the whole of our room was in the style of old Bali – huge four poster bed – cool tile floor – lots of carved stone and carved and painted wood details, like the door from our personal balcony back into the bedroomTucked away as it was, Hotel Okawati proved a wise choice, away from the constant hassle of taxis, cafes, restaurants, shops and the odd beggar, all touting for business. Despite this, the Balinese are a gentle and courteous race, and we never minded, and Mrs Oka Wati, the owner and proprietor, is a delightful and charming hostess.On our first morning, we were awoken early by the constant chorus of cocks crowing, doves cooing and the croaks of frogs from the small paddy field that our balcony overlooked. Thankfully, the day had started dry but hot and humid after the previous days torrential downpour – everything feels slightly damp, and buildings are clothed in coverings of moss and and mould – a combination of mildew and the exotic which does nothing to detract from the charm of the place.We’d booked an early breakfast at the Okawati for 7.30 which our sari clad house boys duly delivered on time – comprising of home made yoghurt and local honey, a couple of pineapple pancakes and strong Balinese coffee – no milk. Sitting on the balcony, we could see the next door paddy field and enjoyed our breakfast whilst being entertained by a crew of white ducks going through their morning ablutions and a local farmer working his small holding. Whilst it was hard to get away from the tourists and the touting, it was relatively easy to ignore as the culture and the cuisine is so rich. Going to the local market at 6am in the morning for example, the town was gloriously empty of tourists, and the shops that served them, still closed. Local people were busy with getting on with their daily lives………
Some 80+% of the population are Hindu and as part of the daily prayer rituals, there are always offerings of food everywhere which are refreshed daily……. …………creating quite an industry for the production of woven baskets, flowers and incense.Before departing for the day’s sightseeing, we book our evening meal for one of Bali’s best known traditional dishes – Bebek Betutu, or Dirty Duck. The Balinese have great admiration for the duck and consider it to be a particularly strong animal as, like the turtle, it is able to survive on land as well as water. Waiting in the hotel lobby I get chatting to Mrs Okawati who explains the technique behind the preparation of Bebek Betutu, a highly spiced, smoked duck dish. Apparently, her father used to prepare this when she was a girl, and she now does it at her home, bringing it to the hotel when required. She maintains the secret is to massage the bird thoroughly (after it’s been butchered – no such luxury whilst it’s alive) to tenderise it, with a spice paste – then to stuff the cavity with herbs and spices, and wrap it up in betel nut tree bark or betel leaves. The wrapped duck is placed on a bed of rice husks on the ground and an earthenware pot placed on top. Rice husks are piled up against the pot, covering it in a thick layer. Coconut shells doused in kerosene are placed on top of the husk pile and lit on fire. The heat from the slow burn of the coconut shells is conducted through the rice husks and over the ensuing eight hours, the duck slowly cooks until it is tender. The above photo comes from Michelle Rosenthall’s site, palatable reviews. Mrs Okawati also asked me if I knew about Babi Guling or slow roasted suckling pig. You bet! I explained that I was a keen to go to Ibu Oka’s warung, just off Ubud’s main road the place that is known internationally as THE place to go for Babi Guling (featured in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). Wishing wistfully that I could see the process in action, Mrs O surprised and delighted me when she told me that the site of her old home, now belonging to her sister in law, was where they cooked the young porkers.
So we ventured out into a bright mid-morning sun to find the place, just off Ubud’s main street onto Jalan Suweta, which ended up as a narrow lane…… …….that stepped down into a cavernous roofed cafe, open on all sides, with a delightful garden on one side, a bunch of laying chickens housed in cages with the odd rooster scratching around……..……. and a ravine that separated the restaurant from the jungle.
The biggest thrill for me was to be able to watch the pigs on the spits. Quoting Mrs Okiwati’s instruction to let the staff know she had sent me, we headed down a narrow concrete stair well, to be greeted by an intense heat and the smell of smoke. This being the result of half a dozen concrete bays containing the fires of coffee wood (coffee arabica) and each manned by guys slowly hand turning the spits over the hot coals, which sputter and spit whenever the skin is basted with coconut oil.
On each spit, the pig is impaled from nose to tail……….. and is the sole responsibility of the individual doing the turning with another fellow supplying each bay with more fuel when needed. Controlling the fire’s temperature to the evenness required to ensure thorough cooking, the spit turner sprinkles water to cool his coals or fans them to attain more heat. Each animal requires at least 4-6 hours of constant cooking – poor spit turners!
The secret to the crispy skin and the tender meat that makes this dish such a universal favourite is due to the pig’s preparation and the exact control and style of its cooking. In its preliminary preparation, the skin of the animal is rubbed all over with a mixture of tumeric, salt and water. The pig’s cavity is filled with a stuffing made from a combination of shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, pepper, coriander, candlenuts, chillies, lemon grass, and whole cassava leaves. The intestines of the pig is also used to make the traditional Balinese blood sausage, or Urutan…………..made up as coils on a bamboo pole that I assumed had just been grilled over the coals, having been boiled first, I think. Urutan are made up of a blend of Balinese potato (sela) flour, pigs blood and the ingredients of the basa gede, or basic spice paste that is made from shallots, garlic, galangal, ginger, galanga, kaempferia galanga (or as it is more commonly known – kencur – an aromatic ginger), turmeric, black and white peppercorns, toasted coriander seeds, cloves, nutmeg, bay leaves, chilli and shrimp paste – all of which is ground up into a paste and fried in coconut oil.
Once the pork is cooked, it is delivered to the women in the restaurant to cut up and serve, and each serving, for the price of a few dollars, consists of a piece of crackling, hard, crispy pork bits (not sure where these came from !), pieces of blood sausage, steamed white rice, and lawar (a mixture of shredded vegetables, coconut, chillies, spices, and congealed pig’s blood to impart a red-brown colour – this latter often omitted for the sensitive palate of the tourist).Below the barbecue area, and down another flight of concrete steps, I came across the pigs themselves and realized this was probably where they were most likely dispatched!
My suspicions were later confirmed by meeting the resident white cockatoo in the upper garden who did a great imitation of the drawn out squeal of a what can only amount to the sound of a stuck pig!On our last evening in Ubud, we attended a Legong and Barong Dance performance by the Sadha Budaya Troupe at the Ubud Palace. Classical dance and story telling routines where performed to the accompaniment of an Indonesian orchestra, or gamelan, composed mainly of percussion instruments such as bamboo xylophones, wooden or metal chimes, and gongs. The program boasted that the Sadha Budaya troupe, founded back in 1980 and comprising of the locals of Ubud, had toured in Tokyo during 1986 and in West Germany, Switzerland and Finland in 1989 – some of the musicians looked like they’d been with the troupe since before that time, and lacked a certain youthful vigour in their demeanour! Despite the somewhat tired appearance of some of the older players, the girls were gorgeous, and the slow, highly stylised movements of the Legong Kraton dance showed off their fabulous costumes. Just as intriguing was the Telek dancers – wooden masked dancers…….…….reflecting the typical Balinese belief in the two sided nature of life – that is the knitting together of two opposing elements – the dancers moved with sedately caution as it was obvious that their line of vision was severely restricted.After the dance routines, the show became even more stylised with the emergence of Barong. A gorgeously attired two man outfit – Barong is a lion-like creature from Balinese mythology – and as the king of the spirits, his role is to protect and defend the good from all other demon spirits. In this instance, Barong, looking more like an overgrown Pekinese, was accompanied by a monkey, and the performance from then on entered the realm of pantomime. After what seemed like an eternity of Barong clacking his wooden jaws, shaking his bejeweled whiskers and having his nits inspected closely by the monkey, we’d had enough and slipped out quietly – but the little kid opposite thought the whole thing was magic!! And so it was!
On our last day, we packed our bags, and left them in the lobby at the Okawati Hotel, guarded over by the portrait of Barong and his Monkey Mate.One last meal in downtown Ubud before we left the island, and the chicken sate that Brunyfire ordered came on a little pig shaped table barbecue with coconut husk coals……… …….sadly, I’d run out of time and was unable to locate one for my collection – a sure-fire reason to return to beautiful Bali.