I mentioned a couple times nearing the end of last year that I was heading to Bali. I have been trying to write a summary post for weeks. It’s way harder than I expected…
Where do I start!?
Ok. Let’s start with this. Bali in 3 words? HOT. Hindu. Hustle.
Seriously though – H U S T L E. If you didn’t bargain your way through the day you were sure to end up paying AT LEAST double what the ‘actual price’ was. I learned that the hard way. We racked up some serious spend over the first half of the holiday. Rookie errors. Over and over again… But that’s how you learn I guess! Couple of the most valuable lessons learnt along the way:
> Go with metered cabs. You will always, always pay more off the meter.
> If you can drive one, rent a scooter – that’s the way to go from day one. They say when travelling you should take public transport – well in Bali scooters ARE the public transport. Kids drive them, entire families, people getting groceries, picking up grandma, taking their dog to the vet, collecting furniture, going on a girls night out. If you can’t… Then learn. It was seriously just the funnest, coolest bestest way to see everything and get around. Plus you feel like a bad ass.
> Don’t do the tourist thing. We went on a full day taxi tour of the island and we saw a lot of amazing things in a relatively short space of time, but everything we did was straight from the generic Bali Tourist Pamphlet. Some of the temples that we viewed were so packed full of tourists that it looked like Christmas Day on Durban North beach.
> Eat everything. Especially street food. The food is AMAZING. All of it. But going to a restaurant (no matter where) means you are usually dropping top dollar (R100 – 200 pp) – street food worked out to max R20 a person.
> Just say no. No thank you, I don’t need a masssaaajjjjhh*. No I do not want a mani-pedi on the beach, thanks. No we are not interested in water sports. No, we already have a ride to the airport. We don’t need a taxi. I don’t want another leather bangle. I already bought that exact crochet bikini from the market across town. Do I look like I want a wooden carved penis?? No. No. No.
*Masssaaajjjjhh = Massage.
So – HOT. I don’t really need to explain that one. It was effin’ hot all the time, everywhere from the moment you step out of the air-conned hotel room to the blasting cold relief of a cab. Even the water was hot. Swimming in the ocean or the pool didn’t help much cooling you down, it was just a slightly less hot place to be. There was actually no relief from the heat outside an air conditioned building or car. You get used to it I suppose – having your forehead glistening with sweat by 9:25am, or having your shirt stick to your back the entire day. I don’t cope well in the heat. I think my internal body temperature is already really high so there were times when I thought I was actually just going to internally combust just standing on the street. Luckily I didn’t. What I also found kind of strange was the fact that most local meals were piping hot meat and rice – eating a hot meal in those weather conditions just didn’t make sense to me… Until I started eating. Doesn’t matter what the temperature is, that food is so damn good.
It was quite an experience to stay in a country where the primary religion is not Christianity. It took us a while to figure out it was Hindu – the tell was the miniature offerings outside all the market stalls. They would put little bamboo trays with flowers, biscuits, sometimes cigarettes or incense as their morning offering to the gods. I loved all the statues and temples – it’s such a visual religion, especially the bamboo art, which really appeals to my design side.
So I have been beating around the bush for enough time now. Let’s get to the meat of the conversation (Ha! I know. I am terrible with my puns. Just shush).
Favourite dish: Nasi Campur.
Nasi = Rice. Campur = A variety of different meats – pork, chicken satay, fish curry… The perfect dish to get a range of flavours and avoid FOMO. Cause that is a real problem for me.
I also loved all of the satay dishes. The peanut sauce is so tasty. I think of all the dishes I probably ate the chicken satay the most. With their steamed, sort of sticky rice. Mmmm… A close second to my favourite dish was not a local dish, but it does deserve a mention. Sweet potato gnocchi from the hotel restaurant. We went out one evening and decided to order 3 mains between 2 people AND get dessert as well. I think people underestimate my capacity to eat. We got a red snapper, the sweet potato gnocchi and a lamb dish (I think. I honestly remember nothing besides the sweet potato gnocchi). I will replicate that dish. One day.
Favourite restaurant: Bumbu Bali.
Partially cause I got to meet the chef. Partially cause the food came on this big tray with a metal rod hanging skewers, lots of little bowls and a mini hot plate. Partially cause we managed to actually get a table without even making a booking – completely unaware that this place booked up weeks in advance. Partially cause we rode there on the scooter – finally being all bad-ass and no longer rookie-ing it up. Partially because I got to buy a cook book written by the chef on local Indonesian (but contemporary) food. Partially cause I ate so much I was in dire need of a nap after. But.. Mostly because it was the night after the best day. We had just got the scooter, spent the day on an amazing beach and riding around town going to the coolest markets and eating the best street food… We had finally settled into the holiday and Bumbu Bali was the perfect end to the perfect day.
We had a street food festival the other day here in Joburg. In hindsight I just want to laugh. We don’t have a street food culture here. More so, I suppose in the more rural/township areas – but even then it’s the Nik Naks, apples and maybe some sweeties that dominate the street food scene. Apparently majority of the street food in Bali is influenced by other Asian cultures as opposed to being authentic/original Indonesian style… Each vendor had a special dish. One dish that they constructed for you on the pavement. Sitting on the side of the road and eating a dish that a local guy, who can not speak a single word of English, dished up for you in his beautiful porcelain bowl and stainless steel spoon, just does not compare to anything I have experienced before. It’s so personal and intimate yet so temporary and fleeting. We didn’t speak – obviously, we couldn’t – the food and money just exchanged hands and we quietly sat near each other until the meal was finished. He would then pick up his cart and move along and we’d climb back onto the scooter and part ways. I wish we had done more of that.
One thing that I wasn’t too keen on about the street food were the grey, some sort of meat-resembling, balls that accompanied the broth and pastries or noodles that most vendors specialised in. They tasted sort of like pork, but also sort of like chicken, and maybe a little bit like… vegetables? They weren’t amazing. The broth that the vendors made (each slightly different to one another) was really delicious. I think the fact that it sits the entire day and absorbs the flavours only does it justice.
We really ate amazing food. Whenever people ask me about my highlights from the trip I find majority of it is centred around our food experiences. I can not wait to start cooking from my ‘A New Approach to Indonesian Cooking‘ book. Obviously it will be difficult to replicate the flavours when we don’t get all the fresh herbs or spices here.. but I sure am gonna try.
Other highlights from the trip:
> Waterbom Park.The biggest, baddest water slide park I have ever been to! I know. I am a child. But it knocks the socks off of Sun City hands down.
> Sea walking & snorkeling. I honestly had moments when we were doing the sea walker where I thought I was going to die. The moments when I was not on the verge of a heart attack were incredible. Thousands of tropical fish swimming around my bubble head. Besides I had never snorkled ‘properly’ (i.e. more than the rock pools near Fish Hoek beach) so it was pretty epic for me – even though we didn’t see much since everyone and their oupa was snorkeling/diving/sea-walking/glass-bottom-boating in the same 50m2 area.
> Driving through the mountain/forest area in the central part of the island. It was stunning. Misty, green, rural… It was a real Balinese experience. Seeing how the locals lived, driving through the towns and past the rice paddies. It was the one and only time during the trip that I got cold too!
> The scooter. So cool
> Coffee tasting. The local coffee plantation was an awesome experience. Going through and learning the processes, feeling and tasting the beans, the coffees and the teas. We learnt all about the Kopi Luwak cat that finds the best beans and then poops them out. We drank some of the, very expensive, poop coffee. $50 in Australia for a cup?! What?
> Seeing the sunrise on the last day.