Din­ner Served on a Vil­lage Plate in Ubud

It is not easy to find great cook­ing classes to dig up more about tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese cui­sine. Stephanie Brookes ex­plores Vil­lage Plate, a com­mu­nity that links trav­ellers who wish to learn how to cook tra­di­tional meals with a lo­cal Ba­li­nese host fam­ily.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - By Stephanie Brookes (Im­ages cour­tesy of Vil­lage Plate, Taksu Photo Gallery, Ubud) Stephanie Brookes is an au­thor, travel writer and blog­ger with tales from In­done­sia and be­yond

I DE­CIDED TO seek out cook­ing classes in Ubud and was over­whelmed by the choices. Many restau­rants of­fer cook­ing classes on- site and most ho­tels of­fer cook­ing as an in- house ac­tiv­ity. But I was on the hunt for some­thing dif­fer­ent and lucky for me, I found out about Vil­lage Plate.

Vil­lage Plate is a com­mu­nity ini­tia­tive, which links you (the trav­eller) up with a lo­cal Ba­li­nese host fam­ily. The idea is for you and your host fam­ily to share a tra­di­tional meal and cook to­gether. I was after an authentic ex­pe­ri­ence, so that sounded per­fect. I knew it would open the door to find­ing out more about Ba­li­nese cul­ture. Be­sides, I was in­trigued to know just how those fam­ily com­pounds op­er­ated any­way.

Food brings peo­ple to­gether and what could be a more authentic way of get­ting to know Bali than be­ing in­vited to eat and min­gle with the lo­cals in their vil­lage? So with­out a sec­ond thought, I booked on­line for the Vil­lage Plate mar­ket tour, cook­ing class and lunch op­tion.

I was picked up at my ho­tel in Ubud and met my host Putu at the Ubud Mar­ket. I was ex­cited about go­ing fossicking for the in­gre­di­ents of my pend­ing lunch. It was 7 am and su­per busy at Ubud Mar­ket, which sells pro­duce ev­ery day, open­ing very early at 3 am. It’s all over by 8 am, and the mar­ket then turns into an art and tourist hand­i­craft shop­ping ex­hibit.

My first food talk and ex­pla­na­tion of all things weird and won­der­ful was at the jack­fruit stand. Putu ex­plained all the lo­cal pro­duce to me and taught me how to dis­cern the dif­fer­ence be­tween the good, the bad and the ugly.

“Here, take a look at this jack­fruit,” Putu said hand­ing me the rather large, spikey fruit. “This one is ripe, which means the flesh in­side is very sweet. We eat this as it comes. It’s de­li­cious. How­ever, take a look at this one.” She handed me an un­ripe one and ex­plained:

“This is also a good one, and we will use this for cook­ing as a veg­etable. How­ever, it must be un­ripe. We cook jack­fruit in a curry sauce, very slowly, which al­lows for all the flavours of the spices and chili to soak in. The re­sult trans­forms the meaty, fleshy chunks into a melt-in-your- mouth flavour, like noth­ing else. We are not mak­ing jack­fruit curry today, but I will buy this one for to­mor­row. I can give you the recipe if you like.”

To­gether we picked out a ripe one and that was to be­come our ap­pe­tizer with a fresh young co­conut later.

We toured the spice sec­tion of the mar­ket, and I got a run­ning com­men­tary of all the Ba­li­nese spices and learned about the ba­sic five – which we went ahead and bought: garlic, onion, ginger, galan­gal (some­times called Si­amese ginger) and ken­cur (Ba­li­nese ginger). It was fun to watch Putu hag­gling and bar­gain­ing over the price of cer­tain items she deemed too high. With a bun­dle of spinach, a pile of bean sprouts, ears of corn and loads of spices, we headed out. We had one more stop be­fore ar­riv­ing at Putu’s vil­lage and dropped in at Pe­jeng Mar­ket. “This tra­di­tional mar­ket is much smaller and stays open till 2 pm,” Putu ex­plained. “Some items are priced bet­ter at this mar­ket. This is a good place to buy chicken, and their tem­peh is ex­cel­lent too.”

We ar­rived at Pe­jeng Kan­gin Vil­lage some ten min­utes later. We en­tered the fam­ily com­pound via a lit­tle coun­try lane, with a pretty green over­hang of var­i­ous trees, which Putu pointed out on the way – snake fruit, banana and trees with funny sound­ing names that had ed­i­ble leaves.

I got to go through the split gate and walked into the world of a Ba­li­nese fam­ily. Putu gave me a tour, show­ing me the dif­fer­ent parts of her fam­ily com­pound and ex­plain­ing that the pav­il­ion where we would have lunch was also used for dif­fer­ent pur­poses.

“This fam­ily bale (pav­il­ion) is used for wed­dings and tooth-fil­ing cer­e­monies,” Putu ex­plained. “Also, baby cer­e­monies are held here. Th­ese take place at 12 days old, three months and again at one and a half years old. “It is called a Bale Dan­gin, which means East in Ba­li­nese. That means it faces to­wards the mother tem­ple, Be­sakih, on the sa­cred moun­tain, Mount Agung, which is Bali’s tallest moun­tain. This bale is not for sleep­ing. It is not al­lowed.”

Putu showed me through her fam­ily tem­ple, too, ex­plain­ing how ev­ery fam­ily com­pound must have a tem­ple and ev­ery 210 days a big cer­e­mony is con­ducted called an Odalan. Pup­pet masters are called in, as are game­lan play­ers, and the tem­ple is dressed in white and gold silk, rep­re­sent­ing pu­rity and the Gods.

The next part was ex­cit­ing – don­ning aprons and check­ing out Putu’s knife se­lec­tion. We had one duty to do be­fore we got started. We lit the tra­di­tional earth­en­ware fire to­gether and Putu ex­plained:

“This old kitchen fire­place is orig­i­nal and has been in our fam­ily for six gen­er­a­tions. We use it ev­ery day. It is to cook the rice and vegetables and to steam the

pepes, which we will make today. The other cook­ing takes place with a con­ven­tional gas cooker on the other side of the kitchen.”

We pro­ceeded to cook the rice the tra­di­tional way, with cas­sava. We cre­ated a dish called Nasi Sela, and when that was boil­ing away we got on with the fun part: wash­ing, peel­ing, scrap­ing, dic­ing and chop­ping our fresh mar­ket pro­duce un­der the expert guid­ance of Putu and her hus­band Pasta, who joined us. We ground the spices with a stone mor­tar and pes­tle cre­at­ing a marinade con­coc­tion for the chicken sa­tay. This con­sisted of chili, garlic and lemon­grass, which we picked from Putu’s gar­den.

The tem­peh ma­nis was next, and over the gas stove, we fried tem­peh in grandma’s co­conut oil (hand made), mix­ing co­rian­der seeds and palm sugar along with the five ba­sic spices.

Mak­ing pepes tuna was fun, as we went out in the gar­den and cut the banana leaves di­rectly off the tree and when we mixed the spices to­gether, Putu pointed out the ken­cur, and ex­plained, “We be­lieve ken­cur cures the flu. At three months we rub it on the baby’s head, on the crown area, to protect them from the flu.”

The meal was de­li­cious and an ab­so­lute ban­quet. As we were eat­ing, Putu was busy writ­ing out the recipes by hand. Be­fore we said our goodbyes to the grandpa, un­cles and aun­ties, and nu­mer­ous chil­dren, we vis­ited the or­ganic gar­den and met the fam­ily cow.

I learned a whole lot more than cook­ing with Putu, and it re­ally brought home to me that shar­ing this culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence in such an authentic way al­lows for a close con­nec­tion with the lo­cal peo­ple. After all, isn’t that why we travel? Th­ese are the mo­ments we re­mem­ber. They are the defin­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that al­low us to ex­change across cul­tures and to learn from each other about our dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Need to know: Bring mos­quito re­pel­lent. Rice fields of­ten sur­round Ba­li­nese vil­lages, which means stag­nant wa­ter can some­times hang around. For an­i­mal lovers, most vil­lages keep pigs, cows, ducks, chick­ens, birds, cats and dogs.

The high­light: Learn­ing about the cul­ture and hav­ing con­tact with a lo­cal vil­lage. I made two new friends, Putu and Pasta.

Try it again? I would. If you have time, I would also rec­om­mend tak­ing the four-hour mar­ket tour, cook­ing class and lunch. If you have lim­ited time, just go for lunch or din­ner. How to book: www.tak­supho­to­gallery.com/the-vil­lage- plate

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