Bali has some of the best local cuisine we’ve found since Peru. Granted, we mostly eat at home, but we’ve been to a handful of great restaurants and found Balinese food to be quite flavorful and vegetarian friendly. So of course we couldn’t wait to take a cooking class here and start making some of our local favorites at home.
Like all good cooking classes should, we started at the local market. Every day of the week, it opens at 4am. We didn’t get there until about 8:30am, and because of this our guides said we would not be actually purchasing any ingredients. It was too late in the day, and in their opinion, everything had already been picked over and handled by that point. I guess you have to get up early.The market kind of reminded me of the one in San Pedro, both in it’s size and density, and because they both featured these same huge umbrellas. We saw water spinach, many types of eggplants and peppers, jackfruit, stacks of dried fish and bags of spices.This fruit is called snake fruit. John had purchased some snake fruit just the day before our class, and we tried it out. It looks kinda like a lychee, but the skin peels off easily and reveals a fruit with the consistency of an apple, segments that look like garlic cloves, and a pit that looks like a very smooth river rock. They taste mostly like strawberries. Before we knew what they were really called, we dubbed them ‘garlic strawberries.’ I like that name better than snake fruit, so I’m sticking with it.After our visit to the market, we drove out into the countryside to view the rice fields, and learn about about how they grow and harvest rice.I honestly don’t remember much of what he taught us here. I was too busy looking at the gorgeous views.
A nice welcome tea (made from cinnamon and lemongrass) and some fried jackfruit with honey awaited us at the house of our hosts. So good.Before we started cooking, we learned how to make offerings. All over the temples, streets and houses in Ubud you will see offerings. They get trampled a bit, then swept up to make space for the next one. One per person is placed out at least three times per day (before each meal.) One of our neighbors often places one in front of our house.Most of the ones we see involve intricate folds and often include a bit of sticky rice. We started with the simple stuff – folding a banana leaf properly and stuffing it with flowers was crafty enough for me.
The second type of offering is made in a cone shape, which you hold between your hands while praying. Then you put the cone of flowers in your hair, and if you are a tourist, they will insist on putting a traditional head scarf on your husband and taking your photo. And you let them do it, because you think it might make your mom happy.
Coconut oil is a key ingredient to the cuisine here. To make it, they grate fresh mature coconut and boil it for hours. Then they skim off the oil from the top, and boil that again for hours. It seems like a time intensive process, but the resulting oil tastes and smells amazing when you cook with it.
So many spices! Chiles, lemongrass, scallions, garlic, turmeric, coriander seed, palm sugar, kefir lime leaves, bay leaves, cloves, white pepper, macadamia nuts, sweet chilis, nutmeg, and three types of ginger. Whew!We chopped everything up, then ground them up into paste with a mortar and pestle. Three (delicious) sauces essentially create the base for all of the foods we made – a general base seasoning, peanut sauce, and spicy chile sauce. Mixed with the coconut oil and fresh kefir lime juice, these flavors are so, so good.Lots of sauteing, frying things in coconut oil, slicing carrots into little temple shapes, and many other steps later, we had an enormous meal to sit down. Gado Gado (boiled vegetables, egg and fried tempe salad with peanut sauce), Vegetable Curry, Steamed Tofu made in banana leaves, Tofu and Tempe Sate (skewers of onion and green pepper with tofu and tempe, covered in peanut sauce), Nasi Goreng (the fried rice dish pictured above), Timun soup (black beans and cucumber in turmeric broth), and a dessert of palm sugar braised banana. So. Much. Food.
You have to admit, it looks pretty good – even if you aren’t that into tofu. I wish we could have taken to-go boxes of all the delicious food that was leftover. Instead, we’ll head to the market and buy the ingredients to make our favorites at home (Nasi Goreng and Tempe Sate were our favorites.) Yum yum yum.