Bali is generally seen as the relaxing heaven for the busy professional, therapeutic market playground for the shop-a-holics and soul searching jungle retreat for nature lovers. However having been there and done that of the major attractions of Bali, I decided to do something different. So I joined Anika cooking class to learn the flavors of Bali.
Situated in a small residential area of Denpasar, Anika Guest House runs cooking classes daily to introduce travelers to the background and basics of the Balinese cuisine. I was picked up at the resort bright and early, and it was to the centre of Kuta we go.
“Do you smell that?” Our instructor, Nyoman, asked, nose high in the air, sniffing and smiling. “That’s the smell of Bali.”
Indeed, there is a sweet, smoky and delicate scent in the air, and I couldn’t track the source among the herbs and spices surrounding us here at the local markets in Kuta.
“It’s from over there, the offerings we make to the Gods five times a day.” He pointed to the little baskets on the floor, neatly placed along the gutter strip, layered with grains, fruits and flowers, topped with a stick of burning incense.
Our cooking class today started with a market visit to select our ingredients. Being along the locals we were also learning a few things about the local life. Following Nyomans heels we snake between the caged chickens and bundles of pandan leaves, between the sacks of root vegetables and trays of spices, stopping once in a while at different stores so he can show us the difference between the cloves and the coriander seeds, the galangals and the turmeric.
After we bought all the ingredients we needed, our van took us back to the guest house where we get hands-on instructions on some of the Balinese favorites.
Good cooking always starts with good basic techniques. We armed ourselves with a Balinese style stone grind, a flat slab of volcanic rock platform with a large tadpole shaped hand grind, and for twenty minutes we worked away with ginger, garlic, chili and seven other different spices, until they turned into a unrecognizable paste.
“Take your time!” Nyoman reminded us. “Slow and steady will always create good results.”
This paste, we were told, was the base for many of the delicious meals we’ve had in the restaurants in town, and with this paste, we moved on to make our own lunch. Step by step, Nyoman demonstrated the methods and we followed him rather clumsily. Our menu consisted of fish curry, chicken satay, fern lawar, nasi goring with fragrant yellow rice. Each dish was carefully supervised by Nyoman, and we were extremely satisfied with the end result.
Sipping on hibiscus tea and dining on our creations, while joking about how the Balinese can keep so thin as they seem to eat all the time, we chatted about the importance of food and the way flavors should be balanced not only to suit a person’s preference, but also to their health and wellbeing. Balinese cuisine, he said, along with the rest of the Indonesian cuisines, ensure such a balance is kept, without sacrificing the flavors.
I would be lying if I said I knew exactly what to do in the kitchen now when it comes to Balinese cuisine, however the course gave me a different insight into the life of a Balinese. Returning to my resort and as I dined among my fellow travelers, I am reminded of the different flavors and smells used in each dish we were served, and glad that I took the time on my journey to experience cooking such dishes.