Category Archives: Life in Bali

lovina, bedugal, monkey hijinks…

So, I will be leaving Bali in a couple days, just enough time to post a couple more collections of thoughts and pictures. I have been meaning for a while to post pictures from a trip to Bedugal, Singaraja, and Lovina.

Now that I am free of work I have been able to see some other parts of Bali. Despite the proliferation of tourists this time of year, there are in fact wonders to behold. First, I drove through Bedugal (the previously discussed Farming region). Bedugal has breathtaking views of mountains and lakes shrouded in cloud cover, and great farm stands. I bought some delicious tropical strawberries and some pretty horrid Durian fruit. I thought I would give Durian another shot to be fair, but it still smells like rotten putrescence and it made me gag to try and eat it. No worries, it just makes more for the cult of people who love it. To those who haven’t had it, it is a giant spiked fruit that smells like a mixture of cantaloupe, garlic, and vomit. I love going to Bedugal because it is so pleasantly cold there, and it reminds me of home. Onwards along the road I took a wrong turn and wound up on a zig zag of a mountain edge road. I felt like my bike was tipping over the whole way. It actually just looks like a joke of a squiggle in the road atlas. On this road was an amazing waterfall that I stopped at. I made a donation to the village (standard at these kind of tourist attractions, it is all about the wealth of the community), and went to go rest by the waterfall and eat some strange vegetarian shiitake mushroom pot pie I bought in Bedugal. The walk to the waterfall is perilous with slippery moss the whole way, and I almost fell in three times. I was wondering about the elderly couple who were entering as I was leaving…..

After that little detour, I went to Lovina where I booked a room for about $10. Lovina is an infinitely more laid back, cheap, and somewhat dirty resort area on the north coast. I also booked snorkeling and dolphin watching for the next morning, beginning at 5:30 am. I don’t know how they talked me into that, but I am glad they did. Chasing dolphins around doesn’t particularly do it for me, but watching the sun come up over the mountains while on a traditional Balinese boat is pretty wonderful. And the snorkeling was truly amazing. Giant purple starfish, 5 foot long striped tropical eels, puffer fish, anemones, coral of all shapes and colors. It was almost too much to process. The food in Lovina is not worth mentioning. Actually it is worth saying that it is terrible and has a high likely hood of making you sick in a lot of places! I did love having beers and watching the sunset at the Warung Rasta. They play nothing but reggae and the owner is a tiny Balinese man with dreadlocks to the backs of his knees. Ha.

On the way back through Bedugal I stopped to hang out with the monkeys that line the road. They are Balinese macaques, and they have no shortage of hijinks. I don’t usually like monkeys and their sinister ways, but these monkeys were pretty relaxed and fun to be around. I also finally visited the monkey forest in Ubud. It is a series of temples that have always been inhabited by monkeys. It is a gorgeous little forest, but these monkeys are significantly less well behaved than the Bedugal monkeys. It is no secret why this is when you see the children tormenting them, and the idiot tourists trying to get pictures of the monkeys on their heads! You’d have to be bonkers to willingly put a monkey on your back after hanging out with them for more than 2 seconds. They also love to steal loose clothing, bags, and anything shiny. Bad monkeys. It was an illuminating moment also to see a little British kid remark in his charming accent: “look mum, they’re just like us!”

I also spent some time in the mountains checking out farms of cacao, coffee, and spices. That was really wonderful as well, unfortunately I got no pictures. Tomorrow I might post some last impressions if I have time between packing, and then it is back to my beloved Brooklyn. Enjoy. N


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kites, sambals, beaches, teeth, and art.

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.

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photos III…

more photos to check…. these are all from our opening ceremony that happened a few weeks ago. more current post soon!

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…more photos…

This was meant to be continued yesterday, but the internet was down again, a nearly daily occurrence at this point. Anyway, to begin with a shot of my favorite chicken family digging in the trash near work..

…and this cat, quite notably, is still in possession of a tale. A true rarity among cats on Bali…

And a small snapshot of the many bugs of Bali….

Some great ingredients-in order: fresh cacao/chocolate pod-before drying and roasting to become chocolate the cacao seeds have a sweet tropical fruit around the outside, super yummy. torch ginger (the very aromatic flower of ginger used for sambal and salads) and baby ball eggplants. young jackfruit, which is cooked like a potato, and edible wild ferns called paku locally. All yum..

And finally the skeleton of the beasts they are building for one of Bali’s biggest bi-yearly ceremonies. Now they are all covered in black and gold with wings and sinister faces. Amazing. But this was taken at the beginning of construction. That’s all for today. Enjoy. More tomorrow if the internet is working, I have a lot of pictures to unload! N

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I haven’t felt much like writing. I have been busy, and my mind has been otherwise occupied. Therefore, I have opted to mostly just upload some photos this time around, I hope you enjoy.

This is Chef Made, my co-chef. He is a power house of knowledge and skill. Just look at him texting and holding on to those fresh daikon and carrots. We went to visit the organic farm we will use most often for our restaurant. We got a tour of the farm, set on a mountain side in the middle of jungle. You can’t tell so much from the pictures, but all of the different plants just climbed all over each other and mixed together, creating a very Bali-like kind of beautiful chaos. More shots:

This is a volcanic lake up in Bedugal, which is the prime center of agriculture in Bali. We passed it by on our way to and from the farms we visited. Up in Bedugal is the only time I have ever felt cold in Bali. It is beautiful up there, and the road is lined with monkeys just hanging out. I didn’t manage to snap any good photos of them from the car, but I got this cool photo of the volcano shrouded in cloud cover…

And this is what real shade grown coffee looks like, hanging out in the middle of the jungle…

….and this is an organic oyster mushroom grow house…

…these orchids grow out of a tree near my house. And that will have to be all of the pics for today, as I am out of space here. To be continued tomorrow….


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Foods of paradise (to my chef friends)

I have been meaning for quite some time to write on the subject of the food here. I have been putting it off until I actually experience more of the food in question. I have been so involved with creating a western restaurant experience (fine dining, new york style) for western guests, in a foreign land, that I have had really had to put in my own extra curricular effort in order to understand what makes the food in Bali. I have been asking lots of questions, tasting lots of food, and trying to understand what motivates the Balinese in the kitchen.

The food here is excellent, but it does not change much from day to day. There are certain ingredients and customs held on high, and rarely do they suffer an attempt at reinvention. That being said, the food here is incredibly lively in a way that always excites the palette. The food is tropical, exotic, spicy hot, fragrant, and simple all at the same time. Normally at meal time in Bali you will find 60-70% of your plate covered with rice. Now most people eat white rice, but originally the Balinese grew mostly red rice, which is excellent, and infinitely more nutritious. Many Balinese now suffer from diabetes, thanks to poor quality, refined white rice. There is also excellent black rice, but that now is relegated only to sweet black rice pudding. After rice the plate is often made up of the classic vegetable side: a mixture of any combination of bean sprout, local water spinach, yard long beans (an asian variety of green beans which reach up to 1 yard in length) , or other green vegetables, which have been blanched and cooked with fresh grated coconut, chili, ginger, and kaffir lime leaf. There is almost always tempe (cultured soybean cake), and in rare cases tofu, either made with spicy Balinese curry, or fried crispy and served with tomato sambal. Sambal is to Bali as “salsa” is to Mexico. Sambal, like salsa, translates just to sauce, fittingly so as it is the obligatory sauce accompaniment to well, everything. It is usually one of three varieties: tomato, sweet, or hot chili. All of the sambals start with fried shallot, garlic, hot red chili or sweet pepper, turmeric, aromatic ginger or galangal, and often candle nut. They are simmered and crushed into a paste. For non vegetarian sambal there is usually shrimp paste, which seems to be more revoltingly odorous here than anywhere else I have come in to contact with it. Anyhow, sambals are delicious in their own right, and are often the only accompaniment to rice, especially at breakfast. This typical plate of food would generally be prayed over, and then eaten within minutes with the use of fingers only, from a banana leaf plate which will later be discarded back to nature. In the typical showing of Balinese hospitality and grace, there is always someone smiling and offering me a fork at mealtime, knowing that I am not the initiated.

Other Balinese favorites you can go to eat? Satay is excellent, and in Bali it is either vegetarian (tempe, vegetables, eggplants) or fish skewered on lemongrass and grilled over a fire which burns coconut husk. The lemongrass which is the skewer and the coconut of the flame add fragrance and muskiness to the delicately spiced food. The seasoning is often varied, but I have tasted ones with Balinese cardamom (it is it’s own spice altogether), ginger, and kecap manis (soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar). Another seemingly simple dish, yet satisfying Bali soul food, is Cap Cay (pronounced Chap Chai). It is really just stir fried vegetables with garlic and soy sauce, but in Bali it is sautéed in the wok with extra virgin coconut oil, which again transports it. If you are curious, try this method:

Heat 1 Tablespoon extra virgin Coconut Oil very hot in a wok.

Add 3 Cloves Sliced Garlic, as much sliced chili as you like, and ginger if you feel, sautee one minute until cooked fully.

Add Chopped Bok Choi, Red Pepper, and any stir fry vegetables you like, sautee on high heat until veggies are beginning to break down.

Add soy sauce to taste, a teaspoon of coconut milk if you have it, and a few spoonfuls of vegetable stock if needed to deglaze the pan. Simple, but good, serve with rice.

Another method to try is for Pepes, another classic Indonesian dish. Typically it is fish and aromatics mashed together, filled into a banana leaf wrapper and grilled over burning coconut. This is my vegetarian version. All of these ingredients would be available in a good asian market…

2 Kaffir Lime Leaves, sliced paper thin

3 Cloves Garlic, minced

2 Red Thai Chili, minced, or as much as you like

1 inch Minced Ginger Root (peeled)

½ inch Galangal Root, minced (peeled)

1 inch Fresh Turmeric Root, minced, or ½ teaspoon Dried

2 inches Lemongrass, minced very fine

1 Small Shallot, minced

1 Teaspoon Salt

2 Tablespoons Coconut Milk

Juice half of a Lime

¼ teaspoon Ground White Pepper

1 Tablespoon Dried Coconut

1 Large Package Tempe

Banana Leaf (often sold frozen in asian markets)

Method: Grind all ingredients to a paste in a food processor. Stuff about ¼-1/2 Cup of mixture onto a banana leaf segment, and wrap into a package. Grill or fry on both sides until outside is blackened and inside is cooked through. They are also good steamed. Serve out of the leaf with rice.

For my chefly knife fetish I have come to the right place. The other day I bought these hand made knives (picture below) on the street from the craftsman for less than $20 US for the set. Everyone in Bali is an artist in their daily life, I swear it. Even utilitarian objects are made for joy.

Much like joy, every day in Bali is also filled with spirits. My day was filled with one too many the other day. When I came in on Wednesday morning to work, my kitchen counters were absolutely covered with a nasty, dirty, child’s footprints. When discussing the matter with the security guard, and everyone else on sight, they informed me that it was the restless spirits on the property. In turn, we would need to make an offering to make sure it would not occur the following day. I told them ok, as long as we could in turn finish building the wall to the kitchen. Although I do not doubt the higher likelihood of the spirit plane being more present in such an intentionally sacred place as Bali, I also know how much joy it would have brought me as a village child to run wild on an unsuspecting chef’s kitchen counters J. And so we will pursue both possibilities with equal candor.

It is not just spirits which require careful diplomacy. I have also been learning interesting things about the politics of business here. For example, it was vital that we reserve a certain portion of our hiring for people who live in the banjar (village), as per the village chief. We will also fix the roads in the village and create a trash and recycling removal solution. Truly a small price to pay for what we get to borrow in exchange. I have also just been informed that the village elder, who is also considered to be one who sees ethereal things, has had a visit from the diabolical spirit children. Apparently they wanted to apologize. Go figure. I hope you enjoyed the food discussion, which is barely even begun, and enjoy these photos that I was finally able to extract from my mystifying camera. Over and out, N

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fire fire

Between pulling long hours at work, and having some kind of tropical flu ravage My and Colette’s insides, I haven’t really had the resolve to sit and write anything here. But much has happened.

First of all Colette is here, and loving it. I believe her first words on the subject of Bali were “I don’t want to go home….” All in all it is hard not to be drawn a little bit, at least in the beginning, to the magic of the place. She is still horrified by the motor bike driving, both riding on the back of mine and the idea of riding her own one day.

We witnessed our first taste of traditional Balinese ritual and ceremony this morning. We were invited and told to wear white shirts and a sarong which would be waiting for us.  The ceremony was to celebrate the changing of the moon. It was a fire purification ceremony for the karmic soul. Many things were thrown into the fire… coconut tree wood, petrol, floral water, coconuts, coconut water, flower petals, leaves containing prayers, mud… Apparently the ceremony is rarely performed now because of an out of control fire that happened years ago, presumably harming a lot of people. It is easy to see why, the fire sparks at you and fills you up with thick wet smoke until you can barely breath. By the end your karma is supposed to be neutralized in a kind of rebirth. There is a lot of cracking and drinking of coconuts, as well as bathing of heads in floral water. The ceremony was also a lot of monotone singing/chanting of om shanti and other prayers, as well as constant bells and blowing of conch shells. The final music was played on a harmonium and hand drum. All in all it was a little perplexing to my outsider self, especially given my willful lack of religious experience. I really enjoyed the trance, zone out element of the music and chanting. I almost wish I had just an audio recording to experience. Other than the music, the most interesting thing was how much it reminded me of every other world religion at different parts of the ceremony. Though more colorful, it shares much in common with the singing , the incense, and water themology present in the catholic church, as well as certain musical cues present in old judaism. The further you travel, the more everything stays the same. I think in the future I could really stand to be more of an observer, less of a participant. I find the rites of others unbelievably fascinating, I am just not sure I care to awkwardly place myself into the middle of them when I am so clearly not a believer.

As I said previously, I have been pulling long hours at work. The deadline has come closer, and I have begun to do lots of tastings and dinners for well known food writers and taste makers on the island. The scene for that is strange here. All of the people writing on food and hospitality in Bali are either American or Australians who have been here for a while, as evidenced by their leathery wrinkle tans, cosmetic work, and demeanor fitting of orange county, USA. It is kind of funny that these people judge paradise and those servicing it. I still can achieve no reputable supply chain for the restaurant with the way in which business is done here, so we will more than likely keep a staff member to drive to the store every day and fill gaps left by unreliably food distributors. So, to anyone planning to start a restaurant in Bali, the food is amazing…..if you can get it in your hands.

Speaking of food here, it is all about coconut. Coconut is in everything. Food, religious observance, construction, fuel. They use the leaves to build roofs and make religious offering boxes, they use the flower and its syrup to make sugar, they use the wood to make statues and tools, they use the husk to make fires for ritual and grilling food, and of course they eat and drink the young coconuts every day. We had the opportunity to take a hike outside of Ubud recently with our new friend Michael. It is a short but amazing trail that goes a long a very high ridge between two river valleys. The whole area is covered with coconut trees, as is all of Bali. On our way back down the trail a heavy set, one eyed, loin cloth wearing, Indonesian version of quasi modo jumped into the path ahead of us bearing coconuts. He proceeded to crack the coconuts for us to drink, and scrape the flesh into our hands to eat. He introduced himself as Ketut, one of only four men’s names in Bali. After we had tasted some of the fruits of his labors we were very ready to move on and away from his awkward demeanor and disruption of our pleasant hike. When the time came to charge us, he offered a ridiculously high price, despite the fact that he had originally presented them as a friendly gift, which is not a ridiculous notion considering the Balinese kindness frequently stretches that far. When we protested and offered him a more fair, but still inflated price, he proceeded to tell hilariously implausible stories of his grotesque self climbing 50 foot coconut trees way down in the valley just to bring the fruits to us. Ha. It is not frequent that you find these traps and dishonest people in Bali, but every once in a while there is a Ketut with his coconuts lurking around the bend. We ended up putting a few bills under his coconut knife and taking off.

Speaking of Ketut, if I have not mentioned it already, there are only four names per gender in Bali. For men, Wayan is a first born child, Made is next born, Nyoman is third born, and Ketut is fourth born. Ketut means something to the effect of “lid” in Balinese. Apparently after your fourth child, you really want to put a lid on it. I have also heard that many women desire to be with a Wayan in order to be with the man who will have all of the inheritance. If you have five children, you will need to start back at Wayan all over again, so it is complicated. I do not yet know all of the women’s names. There is Kadek and Ebu I know for sure, but the rest I am still learning. The women in Bali are more modest and shy in general and I do not have a lot of vocal work interactions with them yet. The security guards at work mistakenly think I am a Wayan child and when I roll into work they always call out to me “Halo Wayan Neal”. I don’t have the heart yet to tell them that I am a Nyoman.

Today is my one day off (I really need to restructure the work in this kitchen….), and I believe we may finally be enjoying the beach and maybe checking out some more of the fine restaurants in Bali. I have lots of great pictures, but my new camera is still a mystery to me for now, so until I figure it out…. Enjoy until next time. N


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