Here in Bali, a kite is an interesting thing. Right now, the wind is strong, and the sky is full of kites. All kinds of kites. There are beautifully ornate kites, kites made out of what looks like trashbags, and last week we saw a kite that was riding on a dumptruck- so big it was hanging over the edges. Certain villages have one sizeable kite which everyone shares. Designs are passed down like recipes, and the kite flying tradition is a spiritual rite. Certain gods loved kites, and now the pious honor them by staring into the sky for long moments with intention and joy that would make Mary Poppins proud. I am sad that I missed the Kite festival in Sanur, it is apparently a sight to behold. One year there was a kite which measured over 600 ft. including the tail. It is impossible to take a picture which could transfer the feeling of seeing 50 or more kites of all manner littering the tropical sky.
Last week I decided to see if I could enjoy the benefits of living in a medical tourism country. I was not let down, when I found out that I could post, crown, and rebuild my whole mouth for only 800,000 rp ($850). My U.S. estimate was closer to $8,000. Phew, that alone could justify a trip to Bali. You could buy the ticket, eat well, stay well, and fix your teeth, and then get a few massages to round it all out. I am converted. Not to mention that my dentist was lovely. She trained in U.S., and I was instantly charmed when her first question to me was: “So, how is your health in general today?” After I got through becoming dentally a whole person again, I decided to treat myself to a cultural experience. To understand why I would want to treat myself to, it is first necessary to understand the hardship that one must go through to reach the dentist. Firstly, it is a long way through through treacherous traffic to reach the dentist, which is in Bali’s Mall, a hideous modern palace of glitz. But to get there, you need to pick your traffic lane closely, or you will surely be taken over by the corrupt cops (which I was not about to do, having had to bribe them with 300,000 rp the previous weak for a fabricated violation….). So, I stayed in the right lane, and tried to position myself on the opposite side of more vulnerable looking tourists. It is this way because Kuta, is the original Aussie-Bali tourist nightmare town. Like the jersey shore in paradise, or the OOB for those of you from Maine. So having driven this way for multiple hours, had my mouth drilled out, and being quite sun soaked and weary, I thought maybe I would check out some high art….
The Blanco museum in the middle of Ubud is a fascinating place. Blanco was a Catalonian/Phillipino who came to Bali and promptly had his wallet stolen. Penniless, he befriended the king, who later gave him the land, supposed to have mystical powers, on which now stands his museum. Though he has passed, the museum contains many wonderful paintings by him and his son. As a not so young man he married one of the most famous, teenage Balinese dancers. She became his muse, and the paintings are often nudes of her. After checking out the gothic interior of the museum and its paintings, I stepped outside to scope the toucans, parrots, and tropical larks scattered around the property (maybe drawn to the inherent mystical nature of the land?), and the giant dragon sculptures. Lost in random thought, I was interrupted by an elderly Balinese woman, who wanted to converse about how we had the same earrings, and how she too had lived in New York once in the 50s. I asked her where she lived, and she said here, this is my house, I am the widow.
I have explored the southern beaches of Bali to a certain degree, and the finest so far has been in Uluwatu at a resort called Karma. We took Colette’s sister Liz, and her friend Marcie there for a lazy day recently. For 50,000 rp (9,000 rp = $1, I will henceforth cease to quote the exchange rate…) you can take a cable car down the 100 ft cliff to the beach. It is a crystal clear coral break surrounded by shear cliffs and white sand. I still haven’t figured out what precisely is so alluring to tourists about white sand. The most beautiful beach I have seen yet was the one I accidentally stumbled onto after taking more than one wrong turn, and that had shimmering black sand and three local fisherman. Anyway, back to Karma… It is also an amazing beach. And there is a classy little restaurant on the beach that will serve you drinks in a lounge chair, or flatbreads with a sunrise beach view. Not bad. Nothing will compare to the extreme beaches of my homeland, but this one came pretty close, plus the water wasn’t the kind that will freeze extremities off your body.
I have written before about sambals, but I just wanted to include my three favorite. One of my cooks, Iluh with assistance from Chef Made, taught me the basics of making these three. So enjoy.
Sambal Kecap- Kecap Manis (meaning sweet kecap-pronounced ketchup), is a palm sugar sweetened soy sauce. for this you just slice up 3 or so really hot chilis with the seeds, two small shallots, and one clove raw garlic and just cover with kecap manis (available at asian stores, or make your own very easily). After about a half hour, this will be a ridiculously hot and delicious condiment.
Sambal Lombok (chili)- This one is a gold standard in Bali. I have omitted fish products, usually it contains shrimp paste. sometimes I smell the shrimp past wafting out of people’s houses in the mornings on my way to work, and I feel slightly nauseous. Behind the love of pig products, it is the one thing I can’t really get behind in Bali cooking… Anyhow: Sautee four or so chopped roma tomatoes, a mixture of decided really hot and pretty mild chilies, two kaffir lime leaves, 5 cloves sliced garlic, and 5 sliced shallots in neutral flavored oil until there is not much moisture left from the tomatoes and everything is well cooked. roast about 8 candle nuts until brown. puree all ingredients in a food processor, so they are slightly chunky, but the candle nuts are completely broken down.
Torch Ginger Sambal- Torch ginger is the amazingly fragrant flower of the ginger plant. It has an exotic flavor reminiscent of coriander. It is worth seeking out at an asian market to make this condiment. Finely chop about 5 medium sized torch ginger flowers, 4 stalks lemongrass-only tender lower part, two shallots, and thai chilis. Squeeze over top the juice from 5 kaffir limes, or one regular lime if kaffir is not to be found. Leave some of the lime rind in the sambal to marinate further. Pour over about 1/4 cup salad oil, salt to taste, and let marinate for at least 5 minutes before eating. All of these are made to be eaten with Nasi (rice) first and foremost, but are awesome condiments for other asian foods- tempe, tofu, probably fish etc….. Enjoy. N.