School for sam­bal

Get­ting to grips with spicy Ba­li­nese cui­sine

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - The Food Issue - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

A CHAP rides past with a clutch of mar­lin loosely tied to the back of his mo­tor scooter. The fish are flap­ping as if they were still alive and I imag­ine that less than an hour ago they were swim­ming in the In­dian Ocean.

It is just past 8am and I am in a dusty lane out­side Ke­donganan mar­ket at Bali’s Jim­baran Bay. I am tag­ging along with sous-chef Iwayan Ari­ana from the nearby Four Sea­sons Re­sort and we have seafood in our sights.

This is no an­ti­sep­tic ur­ban mar­ket, but the real thing, ripe smells and all. Lo­cals buy di­rect from the fam­i­lies of vil­lage fish­er­men, who weigh their daily catches on mu­seum-vin­tage scales. Red snap­per, sea bream, tuna, oc­to­pus and cut­tle­fish are be­ing pulled from plas­tic buck­ets and dis­played on mounds of ice.

In­dus­tri­ous stall­hold­ers are fil­let­ing tuna and peel­ing prawns; there are char­coal bar­be­cues roar­ing and an el­derly woman is crouched over a tin pot of sam­bal that’s fiery red with chillis.

There are aisles of farm pro­duce, too, in­clud­ing pyra­mids of ex­otic sour­sops and cus­tard ap­ples, leafy veg­eta­bles massed in plas­tic crates and buck­ets of speck­led eggs. Ari­ana says the mar­ket is open ev­ery day from 5am to 3pm, but those se­ri­ous about bag­ging the best seafood show up be­fore 9am.

Our quest is to buy the in­gre­di­ents for a Ba­li­nese cook­ing class back at five-star base camp.

The re­sort fea­tures a pur­pose-built kitchen in a court­yard pav­il­ion that is re­served for stu­dents and nearby is a potager of veg­eta­bles, spices and herbs. Ari­ana leads me off to pick kaf­fir limes the size of mar­bles and hand­fuls of lemon­grass; the nar­row plot is over­hung by trees heavy with pome­los and pa­payas. Ari­ana says there are more than 10 types of sam­bal in the cook­ing class reper­toire and th­ese can be pre­pared ac­cord­ing to the de­sired amount of heat — lemon­grass and shal­lot, for ex­am­ple, tastes rel­a­tively mild, while the ad­di­tion of roasted shrimp paste and ta­marind juice cre­ates a dis­tinc­tively pun­gent flavour.

Fol­low­ing Ari­ana’s lead on the other side of a vast black gran­ite work­bench I launch into pre­par­ing three hot dishes plus a serve of pick­led veg­eta­bles. I also tackle a mari­nade of more than a dozen in­gre­di­ents (in­clud­ing lots of ginger and palm sugar) by cut­ting, sea­son­ing, smash­ing with mor­tar and pes­tle, and blend­ing to paste form in a gi­ant food pro­ces­sor. The mari­nade, or bumbu, is now ready to ap­ply, with a groovy lit­tle paint­brush, to a whole red snap­per that we will wrap in a skew­ered ba­nana leaf ready for grilling.

As with all good cook­ing classes, the stu­dents can eat the spoils at lunch, and thanks to Ari­ana’s ex­pert shep­herd­ing, all the dishes look and taste de­li­cious.

And dessert? A so-called Ba­li­nese pump­kin treat is what in po­lite cir­cles would be called an ac­quired taste. It is overly sweet, with at least 100g of sugar and a great dol­lop of co­conut milk. The best that I can say about it is that I did not com­pletely stuff it up dur­ing the cook­ing process.

‘‘Quite good,’’ laughs Ari­ana as he peers at my plate. Then he tells me that af­ter 20 years of ser­vice at the re­sort, this is his fi­nal cook­ing class and his last day on deck. I look so sur­prised that he as­sures me my lumpy Ba­li­nese pump­kin treats and as­ton­ish­ingly hot chilli rel­ishes have had noth­ing to do with his de­ci­sion to quit.


Iwayan Ari­ana con­ducts a class at Four Sea­sons Jim­baran Bay, Bali

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