Friday, 7 June 2013

Bali - Cookin' up a storm in the countryside

Off to the countryside today for a cooking experience.

I love cooking classes in countries that I visit. After researching what was on offer around Legian and Seminyak I realised that the classes that were being offered were to 'touristy' and not exactly what I was looking for. It wasn't until I spoke to someone at the hotel concierge and mentioned that I would love to do a cooking class that was a little bit more local and they suggested a company call Bali Experience Adventure. They offer a morning countryside cooking experience and it was exactly what I wanted.

Not only do I get to cook and taste local but I also get to visit a school and learn to make the flowering offerings. It seems I'm the only one doing the trip today. Bonus for me, I get one on one attention.

After driving through the horrific morning traffic for about an hour we arrive at a small wet market where I was handed a list of ingredients to purchase, 5,000 rupiah to buy them with and some language to use to purchase the spices. I had to ask "how much? " for each ingredient (shallots, chili, ginger, lemongrass, white pepper and shrimp paste) all in Bahasa. All the ladies at the market surrounding me and myself all had a giggle as I tried to get my tongue around the words. But I managed and came away with my little baggie of aromatics.

I took the opportunity to look around the now quiet market, it's only 9.30am but the market is already starting to close up after a busy morning. I see stalls selling tropical fruits like mangosteens, lychees and the popular weird feeling fruit, snake fruit. I see a sweet stand a decide to purchase some peanut crisps for later and I avoid the meat section because the stink of the meat from the heat of the day already was potent!

sweets at the market
my baggy of aromatics

Onwards to the countryside, driving through lush rice paddies and small villages with chickens running around, we end up in the middle of a rice paddy and stop. I'm greeted by a local who is acting as my guide today. I am warmly welcomed and then handed a sarong to wear. He helps me dress and advises that it is respectful for me to dress as a local going to the village that I am visiting.

Another elderly man came up to me with a huge grin, his face weathered from age, weather and hard living. He must be at least 80 and he cannot speak a word of English. That is okay we manage to communicate through body language and lots of nodding indicating that he wants me to get on the becak, which is basically a pedicab or rickshaw. I hopped in and his sinewy, thin legs start to cycle. How can this man who I could snap in two as he is so thin have the energy to carry me over the crumbling pothole filled asphalt road that is washed away in parts. He grins at me as I turn to see if he is okay? He does it with ease, no breaking a sweat and it doesn't even change his breathing. Just makes me realise how unfit I am! He's the man!

The children are excited and eager to greet me and all come running to the gate as I arrive. I get 100 questions asked of me at once and I'm overwhelmed by these sweet, sweet children, all eager to practice their English. Those that are shy and don't say anything are just simply happy to 'touch' the traveller as they sneak a touch and run off smiling.

I briefly meet the principal but as the bell is about to be rung he is busy with duties and needs to run off. My guide leads me to the classroom that I am visiting today and hands me 2 exercise books wrapped in brown paper. He explains that these are gifts for 2 students of my choice. I will be spending about 15 minutes in the third grade class. How can I choose and single out 2 students. That seems unfair and puts me in an awkward position. If I had only known that this is what I would be giving as gifts I would have purchased enough stationary myself to donate to the school so everyone benefits, but its to late as the guide has done it in front of the children.

I greet the classroom and they answer like they do to any teacher 'Good Morning Teacher' I let them ask me their questions and I answer things about myself that they want to know. I in turn, ask them the same question and try and remember everything they are telling me. We sing a song in English and then they sing one in Balinese (which just sounds so much more in tune!). I then do some revision with them and see how much they remember of what I told them. I choose two students this way and give them their gifts. It's only a small amount of time with them and I wish I could have stayed longer and actually taught the whole class, but the teacher is hovering outside on the terrace waiting to take over. He speaks no English but thanks me for visiting and I tell him (through translation) that the children and wonderful well behaved!

Onto Padangaling village and the beautiful home where I will be cooking today. It's set out in a traditional style of Balinese homes, including the family temple and buildings holding bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms.

I am welcomed with a cold drink and a platter of cassava chips, freshly cooked and are crispy with a hint of salt. It's a nice little break in the cool shady away from the heat. I look up and there is a box hanging from the rafters which is full of bees. The even cultivate their own honey and the bees are happy just sitting in the box.

cassava chips

honey bees

I take this opportunity to look around the grounds that are beautifully maintained and have many herbs, spices and fruits which are grown here for consumption by the family, sold at market and also used in the class.

Wandering around the grounds to see what they grow and I came across 4 baskets that held a rooster each. I am told that they are raised for cockfighting but am assured it's only for temple ceremonies and not for gambling. We discuss the ethical side to this as I find it barbaric, however try to accept that it is traditional for this at a temple ceremony. Of course cock fighting (legal and illegal) happens in Bali for great sums of money sometimes, but this family are very religious and its purely for temple.

I am seated under a pagoda and am shown how to make the flowery offerings and what each piece means. The men and the women both wear different things in their hair and the little banana leaf boxes are filled with 4 different flowers all have different meanings. I make my own head piece (which is the males one because my hair is short?..OK? and a decorative wall hanging from palm leaf.

flower offerings

It's arak tasting time, and I'm shown how the distillery works and get to taste the aniseed flavoured fresh arak. I'm assured that it's not spiked and its organic. They mention the problem with the bars spiking the liquor for cheap cocktails that has made many people sick. This has been in the media alot leading up to our holiday. I take a sip and hope for the best.  It's sharp and aniseedy and makes me shudder (reminds of to many nights of sambucca shots when I was younger!)

 arak distillery

But I'm getting hungry and it's time to get cookin'.

There are 5 platters set out in front of me laden with spices and herbs and ingredients for each dish that is being demonstrated today. That is the only down side to this as it's not hands on like I prefer but demonstrated. I do assist with preparation of the ingredients and it's not long until my fingers and hands turn yellow from grating fresh turmeric, ginger and garlic. Many Balinese dishes have the same foundation of spices but all used in different quantities to make up the combination of flavours. These spices depending on blends and amounts give the food the wonderful deep layers of flavours that Balinese food has. I love the smell of fresh garlic, ginger and lemongrass wafting through the air.

Each dish is prepared and cooked and eaten before moving onto the next one.

We start off with yellow rice, coloured with turmeric and cooked in coconut milk (this I don't eat straight away as it steams), followed by chicken satay with a devil sauce, tuna wrapped in banana leaf, water spinach and Balinese Fried Chicken.

The chicken satay has a great char on it and the devil sauce has a definite devilishness to it! Wow what a kick!

Chicken satay with devil sauce

 Ingredients for tuna wrapping

I steam the banana leaves and wrap the tuna up and place on the grill. They have a delicate flavour. The water spinach has to be the dish of the day for me. I got to cook it over the open hot coal stove and loved the smokiness coming off the wok. I have eaten water spinach many ways but this would have to be the best water spinach I have ever eaten. It's full of chili and garlic and fried in coconut oil. Big hit.
ingredients for water spinch
Cooking in the open kitchen

Water spinach with garlic and chili

We end the session with Balinese Fried Chicken with a bumbu bali style sauce. It's succulent and juicy and sweet with a hint of heat.
Balinese Fried Chicken

At this point I am so full from all the tasting, my eyes nearly bulge out of the sockets when they tell me that lunch will be served shortly under the pagoda and it will be a platter of everything that we just cooked. There is no possible way that I'm going to be able to eat much of it and I ask my guide to join me explaining that I don't want to leave so much leftovers and secondly I don't want to dine alone with everyone watching. He is happy to join me.
Lunch platter

The platter arrives with all the things we have cooked along with a couple of extras and I have a small taste of everything again. It really is a wonderful meal and only wish that I could have eaten more of the delicious flavours.

The heat of the afternoon and all the food lulls me into a food coma and after being presented with a certificate for the course and the flowery offerings to take home with me I am back in the car heading back to the beach. I think I may have even had a nanna nap in the car.

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