Thursday, 29 November 2007
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!
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.
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 and banana smoothies at Ellie's on our first morning.
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! :)
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!
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 flag and Balinese men awaiting Indonesian Independence Day celebrations.
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!)... :)
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.
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!
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).
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.
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 to be burned in a cremation ceremony, and jukung fishing boats lined up on the shore at the village of Lehan.
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!
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.
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! :)
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... :)
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 Sanctuary, 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.
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.
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 canang sari offerings in the rain.
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! :)