Thursday, 29 November 2007

Bali Gastronome

Canang (offerings) and pavillion, Kertha Gosa

In March this year, my best friend K and I saw Toute la Beauté du Monde, which was filmed almost entirely on location in Bali, at the French Film Festival. We both agreed that as films go it was a rather tepid, boring romance - but hot damn, Bali sure did look fantastic! The following day at work I checked online to see if Jetstar flights to Bali were as cheap as my tram stop billboard hinted they were, and before we knew it, K and I had booked a ten day trip to Bali for late August!

Surfer at Balangan beach

Although it was some months ago that we went, I'm posting about it now because only yesterday did I find the little notebook I'd taken with me on my travels, then mislaid upon my return to Melbourne. Sadly, the contents are mainly unfocused ramblings rather than succinct gastronomic notes... so please forgive the lack of research and detail. What follows is a potted summary of the sights and food highlights we enjoyed on the Island of the Gods.

Temple statue in Monkey Forest Sanctuary

We stayed in three places, all of which I found through a combination of research on the Lonley Planet Thorn Tree forum and Trip Advisor, and all three of which I would highly recommend.

First up was four nights at Ellie's, a wonderful little boutique hotel in a quiet residential area near Nusa Dua, away from all the resort ghettos. The rooms were chic and the prices extremely reasonable (our sea view room was only 450,000IDR (AUS$55) per night). Van, the personable British hotel manager, really helped to make our time at Ellie's special - he was like our personal concierge, helping us plan day trips, mixing wicked gin and tonics and telling us about all the best restaurants and white sand beaches that aren't in the Lonely Planet. Stay there!!

French toast at Ellie's

French toast and banana smoothies at Ellie's on our first morning.

Rooftop terrace at sunset at Ellie's

The rooftop terrace at Ellie's - site of much holiday reading and G&T drinking at sunset. If you do stay at Ellie's, you MUST get a massage on the rooftop terrace from Wayan, the local masseur. It was my first deep tissue massage, and the knots I've been carrying in my shoulders for the last decade were all worked out of me - Wayan is a true artist! :)

Selecting fish at Ayodya Cafe, JimbaranDinner on the beach!
Cooking fresh seafood at Cafe Ayodya, Jimbaran
Selecting seafood at Cafe Ayodya, JimbaranFresh fish at Jimbaran (we chose the snapper on the left)

One evening we went to Jimbaran, a town by the bay famous for seafood restaurants on the beach. We went to Cafe Ayodya, selected the seafood we wanted (the snapper on the left and some squid) and sat at a table on the sand under the stars. The fish was scaled, split and roasted over a bed of coconut shells with garlic, lime, oil, tomato, candlenut, chilli and palm sugar. It was delicious and the setting was great - even the Indonesian mariachi band that roamed the length of the beach serenading diners with Beatles songs was kinda fun!

Kids playing soccer on Seminyak beach
Soft shell crab tempura, Gado Gado restaurant in SeminyakBresaola with caper berries and vegetable mille-feuille

The only time we went to a really "posh" restaurant was in Seminyak. We'd strolled the beach at sunset watching kids playing football on the sand, then wandered over to Gado Gado, where we dined on dishes such as soft shell crab tempura, vegetarian millefeuille and bresaola with caper berries, washed down with a crisp Australian Sauvignon Blanc. The food was extremely good mod international fare, but K & I decided afterwards that we'd prefer to stick to more local cuisine - we could get enough of that sort of "posh" food in Australia.

Schoolchildren riding bicycles in colours of Indonesian flagBalinese men awaiting Indonesian Independence Day celebrations

Schoolchildren riding bicycles in colours of Indonesian flag and Balinese men awaiting Indonesian Independence Day celebrations.

Mie goreng for lunch at Wayan's warung, Balangan beachThe lovely Wayan and her warung, Balangan beach

At Balangan beach I got peckish after a morning of swimming and reading, so sat at a nearby warung run by a gorgeous little lady called Wayan wearing a Winnie the Pooh tee-shirt. The Mie Goreng she whipped up for me in her rudimentary kitchen cost a minuscule fraction of what the Gado Gado meal had cost us, but was simple and really tasty. Wayan laughed and gave me a hug when I told her that her noodles were "delicious" in Indonesian and in Balinese (a most important word to learn in any language!)... :)

Long Island Iced Teas at the Bulgari resort

The other sliver of opulence we treated ourselves to was drinks at the swanky new Bulgari resort. The fabulous Van at Ellie's had informed us that you didn't need to be a guest at the resort to go to the cocktail bar - so we just rocked up and were whisked in a little golf buggy from the impressive lobby past all the resort villas and down to the edge of the cliff to the even more impressive cocktail bar. We ordered long island iced teas, looked out over the infinity edge pool and briefly fantasised about being ludicrously rich.

Tourists at Geger beach (temple in background)Monkey eating plastic hair clip

Two tourists (not K & me!) seemingly oblivious to the charms of Geger beach, and a monkey at Uluwatu temple eating a plastic hair clip it had snatched from a tourist's hair - watch out for these vicious little buggers!

Pepes Ikan and Plecing Kangkung at Marina Warung

Our last night in the Nusa Dua area we dined at a great little local warung called Marina, where we dined on Pepes Ikan (spiced fish baked in banana leaves), Plecing Kankung (water spinach with sambal) and Sate Lilit (the Balinese version of sate which consists of spiced minced meat pressed on to skewers).

Banana pancake with palm sugar syrup and lime, and guava juice

Next we traveled to Amed, a series of remote fishing villages on the east coast. We stayed at Blue Moon Villas, which was very pleasant and comfortable. Above is a breakfast of banana pancake with palm sugar syrup and lime, accompanied by guava juice. K & I, in between devouring novels and lazing in the sun, went swimming each day in the lovely warm ocean and enjoyed snorkeling over the Japanese shipwreck at Banyuning, looking at all the brightly-coloured tropical fish.

Amazing tempura at Komang John Cafe (with cute curly lime in vodka tonic)Nasi campur at Komang John Cafe
Soto ayam at Komang John CafeSate Ayam (with delicious grilled vegetables) at Komang John Cafe

The food at Komang John Cafe, the restaurant adjoining Blue Moon, was consistently excellent. Starting top left up above and going clockwise, their vegetarian tempura was some of the freshed, tastiest veggie tempura I've ever tasted! We also enjoyed the Nasi Campur (literally "mixed rice" - rice served with a variety of meats, veggies and tempe), the Westernised Sate Ayam (chicken satay skewers) and Soto Ayam (chicken soup).

Effigy for cremation ceremony, AmedJukung fishing boats at Lehan

Effigy to be burned in a cremation ceremony, and jukung fishing boats lined up on the shore at the village of Lehan.

Balinese boys in Lipah fishing village
Pepes ikan and jukut urab at Warung MakanCoconut barracuda and jukut urab at Warung Makan

Probably our favourite meal in Bali. In the poor fishing village of Lipah, two little boys across the dirt road from us were having enormous fun running along with an old plastic bag as though it were a kite. We stopped at Warung Makan, a modest little warung where we ended up having some fantastically fresh fish, caught mere hours ago. K had the Pepes Ikan which arrived still wrapped in banana leaves accompanied by some Jukut Urab (a salad of mixed vegetables with grated coconut), and I had Jukut Urab with Coconut Barracuda. We both couldn't get over how good the food was at Warung Makan. Sublime!

Rice paddies on the Amed - Amlapura road

In between reading and lounging by the pool and on the beach, we took a day trip to the Tirta Ganga water palace and the Bale Kambang (Floating Pavilion) at Amlapura. From the Amed - Amlapura road once can see some of the prettiest rice terraces Bali has to offer. I like this shot of a family working the rice paddy together.

Bebek Betutu at Komang John Cafe - not on the menu!Rice cones and Wayan carving up the Bebek Betutu
Farewell dinner - Bebek Betutu

Bajing, one of the guys running Blue Moon, had remarked upon my interest in Balinese cuisine. He offered to prepare a traditional Balinese meal for us for our final night in Amed. We agreed, and so one day in advance one of the boys went down to the market to buy a duck which could undergo 24 hour preparation for the main dish, Bebek Betutu (a whole duck stuffed with herbs, ginger, lemongrass, chilli etc and roasted in banana leaves - a sample recipe is here). The delicate flavours and texture of the meat were wonderful - and look how cute the little leaf cones over the rice were! :)

View of the rice paddies from our room at Tegal Sari

Our third and final destination (following a quick visit to Kertha Gosa, the ancient Balinese Hall of Justice) was Ubud. I'd remembered Ubud (from the other time I'd visited Bali 11 years ago on an art and cultural trip in high school) as a tranquil hideaway in the hills. Well actually, it's a hell of a lot more touristy than the other places where we'd been, but K & I still had a great time staying at the wonderful wonderful Tegal Sari.

Tegal Sari has been voted #1 of 80 Ubud hotels in the Trip Advisor popularity index, and with good reason - prices are extremely reasonable given the quality of the rooms and the stunning aspect, set in the middle of lush rice paddies. The hotel is outside of the main centre of Ubud, but the complimentary hotel shuttle can drop you off and pick you up from wherever you want to go whenever you want - plus we rather liked a bit of a walk after so much lying around and reading... :)

Breakfast on our terrace at Tegal Sari

If you're thinking of staying at Tegal Sari, BOOK WELL IN ADVANCE - their rooms fill up quickly. We can highly recommend staying in one of the Wooden Rooms (incredibly, only 400,000IDR (AUS$48) per night) - ours was up on stilts, with a gorgeous carved wooden four poster bed. Having breakfast each morning on our private balcony overlooking the rice paddies was a real treat.

Monkeys in Pura Dalem Agung, Monkey Forest SanctuaryBaby monkey outside Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Monkeys in Pura Dalem Agung, Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud.

Excellent Pad Thai at The Waroeng, Ubud

When we felt like a break from Indonesian/Balinese food, we had Thai food instead... this Pad Thai at The Waroeng, a little jazz cafe off the Ubud main drag, was particularly good.

Cremation ceremony procession, Ubud

A cremation ceremony procession heading down the Ubud main drag, sheets of plastic and umbrellas keeping the offerings (and people!) dry. An excellent description of what a Balinese cremation ceremony entails can be found here.

Balinese 'tapas' at Nomad, UbudBalinese 'tapas' at Nomad, Ubud

One night we went for Balinese 'tapas' at Nomad, a restaurant that has become something of an Ubud institution. It was good to taste a variety of dishes all at once (the tastes included Sate Lilit, Jukut Urab, Ayam Betutu and Tempe Kering), but we couldn't help feeling it was all rather bland and Westernised. We liked their lemongrass tea though. :)

Balinese woman setting out cadang sari offerings in rain

Balinese woman setting out canang sari offerings in the rain.

Padang food on display in UbudFinal lunch in Bali

My final lunch in Bali was at a Padang restaurant in Ubud. Padang restaurants specialise in Minangkabau cuisine from West Sumatra, noted for its strong flavours and spiciness, and being the birthplace of rendang. In a Padang restaurant all the dishes sit on display, but they're cooked to withstand refrigeratorless environments, and are served cold over warm rice. The serve I had was full of fiery goodness...

Sorry for such a long post! If you're thinking of a tropical holiday, please consider going to Bali. At no time during our trip did we feel unsafe - not that we'd want to go hang out in crowded souvenir markets or Kuta nightclubs, anyway - I urge you to support the Bali tourism industry (steering well clear of the bogan rat race, of course!) that so many of the friendly and peaceful Balinese are reliant on.

Oh, and the food's great, too! :)


Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Dinner at (the new, much bigger) Hako

310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
9620 1881

Hako exterior

In 2005-2006, the adorably yet ludicrously tiny (seriously: there was only seating for about 12-15 people, tops) Hako became my new favourite Japanese restaurant in Melbourne. Located in Degraves St near Flinders St station, it proved to be a handy pre-Hamer Hall/Arts Centre restaurant (for all those times I was sick of the blandness of Southgate and Chocolate Buddha), and when I was studying Portuguese at the CAE I'd often pop in for a cup of sake and a snack while hurriedly finishing off my homework for that night's class.

The Hako in Degraves St closed a few months ago, but happily it recently reopened in its new, much bigger incarnation in Flinders Lane around the back of 333 Collins. I went there the other night with F and new foodie buddy O, mainly because O and I had been salivating together at a friend's birthday over memories of Hako's ebi tempura, and wanted to make sure they were still on the menu! We got there at 7pm midweek and the place was almost empty, but filled up a bit more as we dined. Compared to the cosy shoebox apartment feel of the old Hako, the interior of the new one feels positively cavernous...

Hako interior

We sat at the table in the front window (good lighting for my digicam, heh heh) and started off with a bottle of warm sake and a serve of edamame ($5.80). The edamame-eating process of popping the juicy soybeans out of the salt-sprinkled pods with your teeth is fun.

Beans at Hako

We decided to share a bunch of lightish dishes. The first of these was the daikon salad with sesame dressing ($10). It was fresh and crisp, and I really liked the dressing and the mandarin segments.

White radish salad at Hako

Next was the nasudengaku - fried eggplant with sweet simmered miso sauce ($9.80). Although I'd seen it on a ton of menus, I hadn't had this dish before and was expecting the eggplant to have been cooked in slices. So I was a little surprised when a perfect half eggplant came out intact with a layer of thick miso sauce spread along the flat upper surface. With just spoons and chopsticks it was a little tricky to divvy up between three, but it was well worth the effort.

On an academic sidenote, the excellent Japanese cultural website The Black Moon informs me that "Dengaku is one of Japan's oldest types of miso cuisine. It consists of grilling various types of skewered foods, then coating the food with a thin layer of sweetened miso and grilling again." The name dengaku comes from the music played centuries ago at Japanese rice harvest festivals - the dengaku dancers used to perform with long sticks that represent the skewers.

Eggplant at Hako

F likes sushi nori rolls whereas I prefer nigiri zushi and sashimi, so we decided to get the moriawase, a mixed platter of all three. It cost a hefty $35.80, but was soooo good. These weren't your typical depressed limp wafers of has-been salmon and tuna: the slices of fish were firm and plump and fresh. I'm kicking myself that I didn't ask about which fish were included, but there were at least five varieties, possibly two kinds of tuna.

Moriawase at Hako

And finally, the dish we were most looking forward to: the ebi tempura ($13.80 for two; we got three). At most Japanese restaurants I've been to, the tempura coating the prawns doesn't look that dissimilar to beer batter on a fillet of flake down at the local fish 'n chipper. But Hako chef Masahiro Horie has created a signature dish that looks like something from another (delicious) planet - juicy prawns covered with hundreds of wispy filaments of tempura batter - the taste explosion in your mouth as you take a big bite must be experienced to be believed! Matt Preston also waxed lyrical in his Epicure review of the old Hako about these little babies - "looking like a pair of fat hairy caterpillars in the throes of passion". :)

Ebi tempura at Hako

Finishing our meal, F wanted a cigarette but we weren't ready to abandon our Japanese theme just yet. Happily, the new Hako is about twenty metres away from Robot, so we wandered down Bligh Place and sat at an outside table having drinks until far too late for a schoolnight. Best of all, the sweet Japanese girl behind the bar totally indulged my dorky attempts to order more beer in her native language ("Beeru mou ippai kudasai!") and would count out my change aloud in Japanese... :)

The Deanery and Robot