Indonesia

Everyday is Market Day

Early in the morning, Ubud’s pasar seni plays its traditional and time-honored role in the everyday lives of the Balinese.  As a traditional market, it’s locals purchase all their usual needs, especially food.
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Long before Western-style groceries and department stores set-up shop in developing countries,  morning markets have sustained, and still sustain, village life. For visitors like me, it provides a colorful and lively glimpse on sundry local life and the chance to get some cheap delicious grub. Where else can you get hot-off-the-grill sate for a measly IDR 1,000 (Php 4.00)?
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During my cooking class, we were toured there by our chef who pointed out all the different fruits, vegetables, and spices used in Indonesian cuisine. My favorite vegetable is this basket of smooth white eggplants.
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I’ve never seen such eggplants before. All the other vegetables suddenly seemed so ordinary.
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At the front of the inner courtyard are women selling all sorts of ready-to-offer canang for the busy Balinese.
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Or if you have loads of time or really want to make your offering truly personal, all that you would ever need is there.

Palm leaves to make the frame with.
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Flowers to fill your little basket to the gods.
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Of course, what’s a market without food?

There are a variety of little snacks such as colorful kue selling for IDR 1,000.
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Downstairs,  at the peripherals are a few stalls selling freshly-cooked food such as roasted chicken, smoked duck, steamed rice, grilled sausages, sate, and other viands. A few tables are set-up for makan sini (literally to eat here) but most go for bungkus (literally to wrap). I bought a serving of rice and sausage for IDR 15,000 (Php 60) which I think was harga wusata (tourist price). The sausage was meaty and flavorful. I wish it was spicier,  though, like the northern Thai Isaan sausages.
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This duck stall had a queue of patiently waiting locals. The bebek (duck) must be enak (delicious).
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And because Bali is Hindu, babi (pork) is everywhere! 

How about some cracklings?
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And the pride of all Balinese babi, the delicious (drum roll)  babi guling!
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My aim really was to buy some spices to bring back home so I can cook those wonderful makanan I learned at cooking class.  I bought three kinds of ginger (dried of course)— galangal, lezaro galangal, and a really aromatic one, zengleo.
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These were going for IDR 20,000 per pack but bargained it down to IDR 13,000 because I bought a lot.  A small pack of saffron was at IDR 20,000 but got it at IDR 15,000.  I probably paid harga wisata but it was still quite cheap considering those types of ginger aren’t available back home.

There were lots of other things such as cinnamon,  cardamom,  vanilla, turmeric, black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, and many more. Candle nuts (macadamia to you and me) were cheap. Still gotta check though if customs will allow it.
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Another item I wish I could bring home was tempe, that ubiquitous fermented soya beans formed into cakes. Very very good fried or cooked in curry.
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Once you’ve cooked your food, you gotta offer some to the gods. Be sure you cover them nicely.
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It’s not all food. How about some second-hand clothes?
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The traditional market is nice to browse around especially if you have a keen interest in cooking. It’s busy around 7 when most locals shop. Refrigeration is a luxury to most of the people so they market almost evetyday. That means you get fresh from the market ingredients in your meals. Everyrhing winds down past 8 as the vendors pack-up and the tourist stalls open.

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Ubud Enak: Makan! Makan! Makan!

Beyond art, Ubud is food paradise especially if you’re like me who loves his nasi goren, sate, and curried.

Just like the Balinese concept of good existing alongside bad, there is a fair share of good warung and bad eating places and food in Ubud. Of course, you can’t really judge an entire place based on one order so my biases are based on what I simply ate. Also, whenever I travel, I almost always stick to local food so you won’t findy non-Indonesian eats here.

Down by the Road.

Really delicious food doesn’t need to come in fancy packages. The best meal you can sometimes have is served in a little shack by the road.

My first taste of pepes and sate lilit ikan was at a little stall by the road on my way to Julah up in the north. It was way past lunch and I was really hungry. Both the pepes and the sate had just been grilled. I liked the sate most especially, I ate 5 sticks with a plate if nasi putih all for just IDR 7,000! As local as local could get.
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My driver also took me to a warung in Singaraja to try siobak, a soecialty of the north. It was a thick gooey stew of pig ears, organs, and fatty cubes. It tasted sweet with a hint of spices. I didn’t like it very much. It only cost IDR 5,000.
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While waiting for our orders, I had some sati babi which was grilling just outside the warung. Really delicious.

Padang Makan

Probably one of the cheapest eats around and we gotta thank the Minangkabau of Sumatra for the concept and the recipes. These simple eateries are all over Indonesia and there are two in Ubud. One in Jl Hanoman and the other in Jl Raya Ubud a stone’s throw away from Ganesha book shop.

For about IDR 20,000 you get a plateful of rice, vegetables, and two viands of your choice. You can choose as much viands as you like and just pay accordingly.
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Yeah, the food is pre-cooked and has been sitting at the counter for some time but fear not as the kind of dishes displayed and their cooking techniques aren’t the type that spoil easily. Lots of locals eat here too. Try the chicken dishes which have been marinated in spices.

Warung Here Warung There

In central Ubud, a warung doesn’t automatically translate to cheap pit stops where the locals eat. It’s simply a place, any place, for tourists to eat. Real warungs do exist but you certainly wouldn’t find them along the main tourist areas.

Near the corner of Jl Raya Ubud and Jl Sandat where I’m staying at is an all green warung imaginatively  named Warung Sandat.

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Took a seat at the second level overlooking the street below and enjoyed my nasi campur.

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On another occassion, I had a gado-gado and a nasi goreng. The food is very good value for money, tastes homey and very filling. If you like your food good and simple, then this warung is for you.
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Thank Brahma, Vishnu, and Siwa for restaurants that live up to their names. After a barong performance at nearby Agung Rai Museum (which, by the way, has a splendid collection housed in two galleries) I headed to Warung Enak, took a seat outside and ordered a nasi campur. It was simply enak.

Everything from the freshly fried kropokto the urab sayur to the nasi and everything in between was simply flavorful. The curries were simply the best I’ve had. I was tempted to ask for a full order. The rice was interestingly presented as the bottom layer was nadi putih and the top nasi kuning. Maybe next time I should have riijastafel all to myself. By the way, service was gracious and excellent.
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It’s a bit on the expensive side as the mains were around IDR 40,000 up. Worth it though. The welcome drink, a concocotion of tamarind and lime juice was simply divine.
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Warung Lokal at Jl Gootama serves more than local food. There are pancakes and pasta.
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It’s a small place with only a few long communal tables and devoid of any decoration.
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The nasi goreng was very good though it could do a little less kecap manis. The krupuk however, was as stale as the server who didn’t want to be bothered from sorting a bunch of string beans.

Sitting amidst the quaint shops at Jl Dewi Sita is no-frillsWarung Kacu.
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The lumpia, gado-gado, cap cay, and nasi goreng are delicious.
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I’ve heard much about Fair Warung Bale so on my way to Warung Schnitzel, I detoured there instead.

The place had a friendly atmosphere as the staff was all smiley. Unfortunately, that was what they were just mostly good at. Service was slow as they seemed to be more intetested chatting or hanging around the counter.
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I ordered a chicken curry and their 5-minute Heavenly Cake. I’ve already written about the cake that turned out to be a burnt pancake in a previous post. The curry was of a generous size and quite good. However, at IDR 50,000 it wasn’t good value as you could get the same quality at other less expensive places.
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I’m kinda ambivalent about this place. I’m not sure if I’m gonna like it or not. I kinda feel it’s just all hype. The owner, Alex, was a nice guy who greets customers and even clears the table as his staff is too busy chatting or trying to be cute.

The nasi goreng urutan at Warung Biah Biah at Jl Gootama was such a let down after all those reviews at Trip Advisor. Urutan is Balinese pork sausage which is delicious. Having tried one at the Ubud Market in the morning. Mixed with nasi goreng you can’t go wrong. However, it tasted just like ordinary fried rice with a little sausage mixed in. The pork in sweet soy sauce was just as average. Both dishes just didn’t have any hint of spices. The place was packed for dinner and I was fortunate to grab a single table at the back. It took some time for my order to arrive maybe because of the large crowd. The prices are reasonable and you can order small plates (IDR 8,000) which were really small like the equivalent of two tablespoons to create your own nasi campur or add it to your existing spread like what I did with mine.

A Warung by Any Other Name
Nothing really distinguishes a restaurant that calls itself a warung from one that calls itself something else such as a cafe or a restaurant.

Everyone loves Cafe Wayan and who wouldn’t?  The service is warm, the setting beautiful, and the food plentiful and delicious. 

The Sunday dinner offered a good sampling of Balinese and Indonesian favorites like nasi kuning, gado-gado, sate lilit, curry, and many more. Good value at IDR 150,000.

The New Year’s Eve dinner was quite expensive at IDR 275,000++ but I enjoyed it. Considering that other restaurants were offering sit-down dinners for IDR 250,000 it was good value.

The babi guling wasn’t very tasty though and the skin wasnt crunchy. Super delicious sate babi and seafood curry. The dinner came with a glass of complimentary wine.
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I’ve also ordered ala carte— gado-gado, and spring rolls.
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The nasi campur was very good value for money as it was very filling though I found the opor ayam quite bland.
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I really enjoy dining at Cafe Wayan because not only do they have beautiful surroundings, the staff really make you feel at home.

Dapar Bunda. It seemed newly opened and had very nice interiors.
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The place was spacious and very clean. With retro furnishings such as old typewriters and television sets, it felt like being in someone’s house circa 1960s.
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I loved this wall of mirrors.
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Alas, what would have been a nice morning enjoying the place was cut short when my food arrived.

Servings were so small!
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The concept was to create your own nasi campur. So I chose nasi kuning, jackfruit curry, and potato fritters. It amounted to less than IDR 20,000. Cheap. For such a huge cup of rice, the portions of the viands were so small. Jackfruit curry was only two spoonfulls and was so bland I had to put salt. The potato fritters were the size of a coin.

I was so disappointed I finished my food quickly, got my stuff, paid, and left. Never to return.

Babi and Bebek

Any tourist to Ubud has two items on their culinary bucket list– babi guling at Ibu Oka and bebek bingil at Bebek Bingil.

On my first visit to Ubud a couple of years ago, I enjoyed Ibu Oka’s babi guling so much I had it almost everyday. This time, I ordered a special for Christmas lunch and it was disappointing. Not very savory and the skin wasn’t crunchy. Three locals have already told me the taste of Ibu Oka isn’t very Balinese.
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Bebek Bingil is to crispy duck what Ibu Oka is to babi guling. Ordered a set meal and came out satisfied. The bebek was crispy and tasty. I could have eaten two.
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Food with a View

There’s nothing like Bali’s rice paddies, no matter if it’s just a few hectares, to bring people in and raise prices up. Often, it’s the only thing the warung, cafe, or restaurant has got going for itself. With tables placed literally alongside the rice paddies, I wonder how it look come planting or harvest season when people actually work the fields?
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Cafe Angsa at Jl Hanoman has lovely wooden tables and chairs and a gorgeous view of rice paddies at the back. Your table is literally beside the paddies just like in Three Monkeys.
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Service and prices are equally friendly. The kari tahu (vegetable curry) was soupy but tasty. They also have one of the cheapest kopi bali around for only IDR 10,000 a pot.
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Located just beside the posh Three Monkeys, Roi Pasti is easy to miss with its small entrance. Once inside, you share the same paddies with its more expensive neighbor but you dine on more affordable food and simpler surroundings.
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But you came for the paddies and the free wifi, right? So choose cheap and enjoy them at Roi Pasti unless you have a deep pocket.

Had a tempe in kecap manis. Cheap, filling, healthy, and yummy.

If you want bigger rice paddies, take the short flight of steps to Tropical View Restaurant where the Greek Salad tastes nothing like Greek Salad. Think cheap pseudo – mayonnaise with vinegar.
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Come here for the view.
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There is so much food to enjoy at Ubud. I hadn’t even tried others that come highly recommended such as Melting Wok for their curries and Warung Pulang Kelapa for their prok ribs. If you tire of local fare, Pizza Bagus and Scannapoli score points based on internet reviews. There’s even a taco joint!

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Ubud Enak: Coffee and Dessert

Going on my 12th consecutive day here in Ubud and my taste buds, not to mention, my visual senses, have not yet been satiated. As the cultural heart of Bali,  it will come as no surprise that eating in Ubud can be as delightful as watching a legong performance. Though some restaurants, appropriating the term warung, are more atmosphere than food, Ubud is still generally a good place to eat. After all, if you’re unhappy with whatever you’re having at the moment, good food is just a skip away.

Coffee and more coffee
I love a strong brew and Balinese coffee is the best with its rich and earthy taste. It’s so dense that as you near the final sips from your cup, you can taste the fine granules. It’s best with a stick of cinnamon and palm sugar. The best Bali coffee was at China Moon at the of corner of Jl Hanoman and Jl Monkey Forest. They serve it in a French press and you stir your cup with a cinnamon stick as you chill-out on the comfy outdoor lounge.

Beyond Bali, Anomali Coffee along Jl Raya Ubud has heaps of single origin coffees from the plantations all over Indonesia. I tried a French pressed Torajan coffee. Soooo goooddd! Paired it with a yummy chocolate tart and spent the afternoon at a table at the back working on my notations for my tingklik lessons. The staff was very friendly too.

I’ve made many a stop over at Cofee $. Had an iced ginger tea and a cup of Americano. Nice balcony seating accessed by the steepest stone steps ever! Very very good Wifi too for updating your status at FB.
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Dessert Heaven
Who would have thought Ubud would have some of the best pastries?

Top on my list and the BEST ever for consistent deliciousness and quality is Caramel at Jl Hanoman. They’ve been open for less than a month and I hope they remain open forever! The French macaroons are absolutely to die for especially the red velvet and salted caramel.
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The young chef-owners (who happen to be a couple) are from Jakarta and are uber friendly. Chat with them as you bite into a lovely cheesecake or cupcake made from cassava. Sometimes, I drop by the store to buy a couple of macaroons to eat while walking.

A big disappointment was Localista. The driest cupcakes ever. Tastes like grocery cupcakes you give out during wakes. It would have been a nice spot to relax after gazing Rio Helmi’s wonderful photographs at his gallery next door.
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At Fair Warung Bale, intrigued by its name, 5-minute Heaven Cake, I ordered one. It was nothing but a BURNT pancake topped with whipped cream, jam, and butter. Guesthouses make better pancakes.
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Another disappointment was the Super Lemon Cupcake at Three Monkeys. the large cupcake had been sliced in two and a layer of whip cream and strawberries placed in between. Dry cuocake (maybe Localista supplies them). Uninspiring dessert amidst inspiring rice field views. Tragic.

I love dining at Cafe Wayan but the only time I tried one of their cakes, Mocha Nut cake, I hated it. The sponge cake tasted like cardboard. Stick to the meals. Can’t go wrong.

Café Luna’s Lemon pie was spot on with its perfect balance of sugar sweetness and lemon citrus.

Friendly to your health are the offerings at Kue. I tried the Raw Chocolate Caramel bar (really heavenly, especially the caramel) and the Red Beet cake with Raspberry (berrylicious). The bakeshop bandies its whole and natural food approach in its products. The breads look delicious too.
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Gelatto is everywhere and Gelatto Secrets with its many stalls rule them all. I had the cinnamon which was yummy though the texture was too dense. The Caramel owners said that Gaya Gelatto was so much better. Along Jl Hanoman was a gelatto stall outside a small store selling beauty products. Had the Black Rice twice. Smoorh gelatto with chewy bits of black rice.
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Coffee and Ceremony

Lucky night. While walking along Jl Raya Ubud after an early dinner at Fair Place Warung,  I saw droves of Balinese in formal attire walking and gathering in groups. The last time such gatherings took place, the procession with the ogoh-ogoh took place.

A group of  women had taken post at the corner of Jl Raya Ubud and Jl Sri Wedari. Sensing a procession, I went to nearby Warung Schnitzel, ordered a kopi bali and took stock of the scene from the warung’s balcony. Just as I was finishing what was left in the coffee press, I noticed the crowd had gone bigger and young women with offerings on their heads and young men carrying the sacred barong masks had assembled.
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I quickly paid for my coffee just as gong music led by the ceng ceng started.
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People were  seated in a circle inside which were numerous offerings.  A man in all white,  presumably a pedandas took what seemed to be some root crops and diced them. When he finished, another pedandas scattered away grains of rice. All throughout, woman sang in a plaintive chant.
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Then a bell started to ring whereupon the kneeling crowd took a petal, clasped it between their fingers and seemed to offer it with their arms in prayer position above their heads. When the bell stopped ringing, the women put the petal in a knot on their hair. This went on about three times.
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Then everyone stood-up and one of the pedandas blessed the women with the offerings.
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Gong music started and the procession began with the women leading followrd by the barong masks and the barong ket then the musicians and finally the crowd.
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It was such a thrilling scene with the barong masks held high above the carriers’ heads towering over a sea of people.  The procession went down Jl Raya Ubud then turned left to Jl Hanoman.

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Beautiful Blanco

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Lavish. Elegant. Beautiful. Those three words aren’t enough to describe the Blanco Renaissance Museum. From the moment you pass beneath the welcome arch at the entrance of the curving driveway to the moment you enter the sacred portals of the museum, you feel you are treading on sacred aesthetic grounds.

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All that is true,  good, and beautiful is canonized here.

After paying the IDR 50,000 entrance fee, you pass through this small arch and you feel beautiful already.
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And you emerge on a spacious garden.
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The highlight of course is the museum set-up like a grand European mansion. An imposing arch frames it. It’s Blanco’s inverted signature that had been doubled. Creative.
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No pictures are allowed inside. As you walk from floor to floor gazing at the beautiful pictures, soft operatic museum surrounds you. The paintings are of mostly female nudes. Like any European artist, he was enamored with it. In both sensual and natural poses, Blanco lovingly painted the female figure, most of which were of his Balinese wife, a famous legong dancer. With a style and technique that seemed to border on impressionism, the images are languid and dreamy. Gorgeous frames, artworks in themselves, made even rhe simplest of paintings look lavish.

Up on the rooftop, graceful golden dancers look over the surrounding lush landscape of rice fields.
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Blanco was a Spaniard born in the Ermita district of Manila in the Philippines then moved and lived in the Campuhan area of Ubud. Looking at his photographs on a wall, he bears a strange resemblance to Salvador Dali with his quirky expression.
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His original thatched cottage has been rebuilt and stands beside the museum.
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His only son, Mario, who himself is a painter, has his works exhibited at a smaller gallery cum studio.

Behind the large resting space was this cute cottage.
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I really enjoyed the museum and its grounds. Beautiful and serene are understatements.
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I wonder where this door leads to?
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If it weren’t for my gamelan lessons I would have stayed there for a few more hours. Have some refreshments at the cafe overlooking the gardens, sit at one of the many luxurious European arm chairs or sofas and just gaze at the artworks, or just do nothing but feel the place.
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New Year in Ubud

Sendiri.   Bahasa for “alone.” I say it often when I ask for a table at a warung or ask about transportation rental.  Yes, I am sendiri and no moment is this more obvious than now,  sekarang. It is close to 9.30 in the evening and I am alone in my little bungalow at my home stay at a family compound in Ubud. Yeah, hearing the family having a get together while the smell of sate grilling fills my room and fireworks explode outside remind me that I am sendiri sekarang. Alone now. Last year, I was at quiet Muang Ngoi Neua in northern Laos. Even then, a small crowd of tourists managed to party at a bar by the river. I stayed in my room. Snuggled under the sheets in the freezing weather. Tonight, the weather is cool and I’m snuggling in my sarong. In nights like this one, I suddenly am sorry for leaving family behind to take on this trip. I am too shy to join other travelers. Tomorrow,  I know I will be alright again and soon this feeling of loneliness will be replaced by a feeling of apprehension for the fleeting days of a holiday that is soon to end. But as of this moment, I am sendiri. Selamat tahun baru.

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Honoring the gods in Bali

The deep spirituality of the Balinese never cease to amaze me. Amidst the changes that brought by massive tourism and modernization in their lives, the taksu (that which is unseen) remains largely untouched. It is here where the real Balu and Balinese are manifested.

Throne of the Sun

Every house,  structure, rice field, village has them. These small structures are symbolic of the triptych cosmic world of the Hindu Balinese. The empty chair represents suriya, the sun god in the highest level,  swah with the humans in bhuwah, underneath, and demons at the bottom buhr.
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At intersections, where it is believed spirits dwell, they function both as religious markers and traffic aids.
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More obvious are the daily colorful offerings canang . These beautiful works of art are made from woven palm leaves made into a small tray with a mat of banana leaf at the bottom. It is then filled with flowers, leaves, and sometimes a small biscuit are to please the gods. Small mats made from banana leaves are laden with rice to appease the more malevolent ones.

They are most ubiquitous laid out on the street
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temple walls
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shop counter tops
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and just about anywhere including pn vehicle dashboards and machinery.
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It is the task of women to make this. However, one can always buy ready-made canang at the market.
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You can usually see someone making an offering at all times of the day, most often in the morning. The ritual is very solemn. It involves lighting an incense so that the “essence” of the offering may reach the gods. Following a series of gentle hand gesticulations, some water is sprinkled.
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The most magnificent of all are the towering offerings women place on their heads to be offered at temple cerecmonies.
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On a previous trip to Bali, I once saw a whole chicken attached to a towering offering that was no less than a foot high!

After all these goodies are offered to the gods, these may then be partaken by the mortals.

If Bali is truly the Island of the Gods, then Brahma, Wisnu, and Siwa must be highly pleased.

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Payuk Bali Cooking Class

Since my first cooking class at Tamnak Lao in Luang Prabang December last year, I’ve made it a point to join a class whenever I travel. It’s a wonderful way of learning the complexity of the cuisine I like so much with the added bonus of being able to re-create the food back home. Actually seeing it being made, seeing how it looks, smelling the aroma, feeling the heat as it simmers, makes the recipe come to life.

I’ve always loved Indonesian food with its fiery spices that tantalize the taste buds and boggle the mind. Where did that flavor come from? How could they have cooked it this way?  My goal in this class was to learn how to make satay, peanut sauce,  and nasi goreng.

With so many cooking classes in Ubud, it was hard to choose. I finally settled on Payuk Bali because of the menu though it didn’t feature nasi goreng.

Ketut, the chef,  picked me up a little past 8 in the morning.  In the van were a young couple from Melbourne,  Rick and Madelaine. We then fetched, another guest, Zuri from the US but based in South Africa. Ketut explained that there were 8 of us but we had been divided in 2 groups.

First stop was Ubud Market.
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This was the same market that tourists go to for souvenir shopping. At past 8 in the morning, it looked different as most if the shops were still closed. Instead, there were all sorts of fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, and other stuff a cook would need.

Lontar leaves and flowers for the canang were also in abundance.
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Of course, what would a traditional Southeast Asian market be without betel leaves?
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Lots of unidentifiable food for sale.
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But the most interesting  find, at least for me,  was the white eggplants!
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They were such a shiny white.

The weighing scale was also interesting.
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From the market, we headed outside Ubud to some rice fields where Ketut explained the Balinese irrigation system called siobak wherein the entire village shares in the irrigation, channeling water where it is needed most.
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One important lesson I learned is: rice  stalks that bend over and touch the ground are no good. Ketut also explained that since the fields had black soil due to its proximity to Kintamani, it was very good for growing white rice.  Brown rice was rhe domain of Jatiluwih which is towards the west.

We then headed to Laplapan village where the cooking school was.

The school was inside a family compound and Ketut explained how itveas organized.  The eldest son’s bungalow faced north while the parents faced west. The kitchen was south.  We were then led to an area used for ceremonies where we were taught to make the simplest canang, those square offerings placed everywhere. According to Ketut, a person needs about 50 of those per day to place everywhere. That’s a lot. No wonder one always sees someone, usually a female,  making canang.

It was simple really. You take a strip of leaf and form it into a square using thin wooden splinters to secure the ends. Then a square piece is placed at the bottom and secured.  A dried betel leaf is placed along with multi-colored flower petals.  Finally, curly hair-like threads of the pandan leaf are placed.

After making the offerings,  cooled with a refreshing glass of lemongrass tea sweetened with honey,  we were lef to a small shed where we watched an old woman make coconut oil over a clay wood-fired stove. A large pot was already simmering and a sheen of oil had already formed on top of the coconut milk.

Then it was on to the cooking school at the back of the compound overlooking a gorge lush with greenery.

One side was the cooking area and another side was the dining area. We had some jackfruit fritters and tea while the staff prepared the kitchen.

The other group arrived a few minutes after we had settled down. They were under another chef’s care.

Our menu: basic paste used for everything,  gado gado, sate lilit, Bumbu ayam, nasi kuning, and sweet potato in palm sugar.

We were each assigned a chopping board and were given stuff to chop. We all shared preparing or cooking the different food rather than creating each of the dishes from scratch.

I was disappointed as I didn’t really feel like I was cooking. The vegetables had been pre-cut already and we merely chopped it and mixed it all up in a stone mortar for the sauces.

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Chicken for the sate lililit was mashed in a large mortar and pestle and anyone who was interested did a few pounding.
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One person would be cooking something and Ketut would tell someone to put a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that while the rest watched.
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One common thing we all did was to put the mashed chicken which had been mixed with the basic sauce in bamboo sticks for the sate lilit.

The saving grace was Ketut’s and the staff’s friendliness and casual banter with us. It was soon over and we headed to the dining area where the staff prepared the food we had cooked buffet style.

There was a lot of food and a few of us took second servings. The spices and the chili had of course been scaled down which made it a little boring. I liked the Bumbu ayam the best.

I did enjoy the class mostly because made it fun and I did get to see how the dishes were all made and with the recipes and all my mental notes, I’m confident I could recreate all those back home. However, I left the cooking school a bit frustrated as I wish I could have experienced some more.

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A Procession in Ubud

It’s what every visitor on Bali, especially Ubud, dreams of — a ceremony. On my way to Ganesha bookstore along the main road, I noticed lots of people on their Balinese formal wear. A group of men were all seated at the entrance of a “pura” across the bookstore and were all uniformly attired — white shirt, white head wear, and white sarong. Nothing really unusual in Ubud where ceremonies seem to take place everyday.  As I emerged from Ganesha, I saw more people coming up from the road. Hmmmm… I went to Kue next door and took a seat by the large front window while having my slice of Beetroot Cake.

More and more people were coming.  I finished my cake and headed up the street towards the palace.
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Crowds had lined the road and anticipation hung in the air.
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Something was going to take place.  I took a spot in front of Corner Warung and inquirec with a young father  was seated at the warung’s steps with his young sons what was happening.  A procession of “ojeh ojeh” was going to take place.  These were the large statues made of styrofoam used in processions. I had seen one in a banjar in Tihingan.

Soon the procession announced its arrival with loud gamelan music composed of bonang, agong, ceng-ceng.
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The first ojeh arrived and it lots of kids joyfully carried it.
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Behind were the musicians who made really loud and exciting music with its clashing ceng ceng.
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There were several ojeh and each was paraded by a particular group who would rock the image side to side and at times even bounce it. The musicians brought up the rear of the parade. It was all really fun to watch.

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This ojeh had a tail so the men carrying it were bouncing it around to make it move.
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The parade took up the entire main road. At one point it stopped and I noticed the men were given eater in sealed cups and they opened it, too a few gulps then sprayed the ojeh with the remaining water.
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This group even had a trompong on wheels.
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And an agong player rode on the agong frame on wheels.
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One of the unique instruments I saw was an ensemble of frame drums that looked like kompang.
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The last group of musicians that brought up the rear of the entire parade were all very energetic and whenever they stopped they would sometimes punctuate the ceng ceng with syncopated shouts of cak.
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From the main road, the parade turned right at the palace and continued down the entire length of the street.

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Are you Bali Aga? Northern Bali Adventure

From the temples of Goa Gajah, Goa Kawi, and Tirtu Emple, I was off to something older than Bali’s Hindu culture.  It’s older animist culture. That of the Bali Aga who, if my guidebook is to believed, reside in ancient villages in Sembiran and Julah up north of the island. Unlike Tengganan in the southeast, these two villages were off the tourist radar. In fact, my driver hadn’t been there and was amazed I knew those places.

The Bali Aga were the original Balinese in the sense that when the Madjapahit Empire took over what is now Indonesia, they refused to adopt the Javanese culture.

We headed north via Kintamani passing through Danau Bratan. At a very high elevation, it was understandably cold and misty. From the main road, we took a small around that led straight to Sembiran. My driver was merely relying on his general sense of orientation and instructions from people on the street.

There was hardly any other vehicle on that road which was good because it was so narrow. We traveled up and down the spine of the mist-covered mountain. Not for the faint of heart due to deep ravines on one side, the scenery was beautiful nevertheless. Lush greenery and beautiful flowers. From afar, we finally saw the tin roofs of clusters of houses and we soon arrived at our destination.

Sembiran
It was not what I expected. It looked liked any contemporary Balinese desa. The driver asked a young man who confirmed that indeed we were in Sembiran and they were Bali Aga. Questions about megalithic stones was met with a puzzled look. I asked for an old temple and we were brought to the Pura Dalem.

Maybe we were in the wrong Sembiran? We went to the village hall and asked a group of men who confirmed what the young man had said earlier. Indeed, we were in Sembiran and they were Bali Aga. As for any large stones, they knew nothing about it. Whaaattt? “But the internet said . . .” I insisted to my driver. To be fair, he seemed to be as bothered as I am. One more try. We stopped to ask an old man puffing on a cigar by the roadside.
“Where were the ancient houses?”
“A long time ago. No more. All new.”
That was the death blow. I had come v all the way for nothing.

Hopefully, Julah would not disappoint.

Julah
Indeed, Julah, was Bali Aga. A long row of family compounds lined a single street that composed this tiny tiny village. Ritual offerings hung by the doorways. Several had chickens in them. At the end of the village was a temple sey amidst spacious leafy grounds and if my guidebook was to be believed, the large ancient tree was where the villagers used to lay their dead to decompose just like what the Bali Aga in Trunyan do.

We explored one of the family compounds where we were warmly received. Unlike the Balinese, the Julah Bali Aga had a temple for each of the families living there. In that case, three. The temples were large square houses with rectangular roofs and were placed on one side of the compound. Inside were placed ceremonial paraphernalia. I also got to see a tradutional kitchen with wood-fired stoves.

I bade good bye to the family head and gave a donation of IDR 20,000.

Julah was a real village untouched by tourism. Nobody was selling anything. The people were merely living there.

I had finally found my Bali Aga.

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