Foodie Adventure in Bali – When in Rome, Eat Like the Balinese

As I sat at a wooden table made by the man that drove me to his village home, and looked at the magnificent spread of food before me, I could not believe that the group I was with cooked it all of the food in front of me. “This food is just beautiful!” noted one of the Australian tourists. “Why aren’t their more Balinese restaurants in big cities?” asked the British banker.

I recently traveled to Bali with my wife on our honeymoon. One of the highlights of our trip was taking a course in traditional Balinese cooking in a small village outside the city of Ubud. The tour was operated by a couple – the husband used to be a carpenter and taxi driver, while his wife raised their two children at home. The day started with a visit to the market. As soon as the other class attendants arrived, I knew it would be a fun day. The group included an American working for Google in Israel, a quiet Greek couple, a boisterous Australian family from Queensland and a British couple currently living and working in Hong Kong. We traveled through the crowded market together learning about traditional ingredients and Balinese farming practices. As we weaved our way through the crowded morning market, we spoke with sellers and tasted exotic fruits such as the crunchy snakeskin fruit, the deceptively ugly and tasty jack fruit, and “the queen of fruits,” the mangosteen. After the market we drove back to the village where we visited their rice paddies before heading to our host’s home where the cooking class would begin. The village of Laplapan is made up of 170 families totaling to 800 people. The cooking school, named Paon, is owned and operated by one of those families. The husband, who also serves as the assistant leader of the rice-growing commission in the village, explain to us how the community operates with it’s organizational structure and community spirit while his wife continued to prep the kitchen for our arrival. Our group was put in charge of various tasks such as cutting, frying, and mashing, all while learning as a group how to make vital components of each dish. The 13-course menu included chicken satay, tuna steamed in a banana leaf, clear broth mushroom soup, fried tempe, sambal (a spicey chutney-like substance), chicken curry, and several other savory dishes. For dessert the couple showed us how to make a warm banana and jackfruit dish with a beautiful palm sugar syrup on top. “How many Bintangs has he had? He is going to be smashed when the witch doctor arrives at our villa,” noted the wife from the Australian family. Her husband was enjoying the fridge stocked full of Bintangs, an Indonesian pilsner beer that can be found everywhere in Bali. The family had hired a witch doctor to come to their home after the cooking class to help them lead healthier lives at home. “I am pretty sure he will be diagnosed with drunkenness,” laughed his daughter. As we all enjoyed the pairing of a cold Bintang with the spices of Bali, we reflected on the amazing warmth and kindness of the family that had taught us their staple meal recipes. Not only did Paon Bali Cooking Class end up being the best Balinese meal we had during our 9 day trip, it was also the best way for us to learn and appreciate Balinese culture and experience first hand why many say that the Balinese people are the kindest and happiest people on Earth.

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