Cul­ture fix

Tem­ples, dances and food in Ubud

Paradise - - Contents -

‘Do you need trans­port?’ reads the sign held up high by the Ba­li­nese spruiker as I leave my ho­tel. I shake my head and he turns the sign around. On the back, it plead­ingly reads ‘Maybe for to­mor­row?’ Mean­while, a Ba­li­nese long-tailed macaque picks through one of to­day’s of­fer­ings be­fore hurl­ing it to the ground in a show of dis­ap­proval. Wel­come to an­other morn­ing on Ubud’s Mon­key For­est Road.

While it is easy to eat, pray, love in Bali, there are also re­wards from ex­plor­ing the is­land’s cul­tural side. And there is no bet­ter place to do this than from Ubud.

It is still pos­si­ble to visit Ke­tut Liyer – the Ba­li­nese medicine man who set El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert on her year-long odyssey de­picted in the movie Eat

Pray Love – for a palm read­ing. How­ever, it doesn’t take an en­counter with a for­tune teller to feel the mys­ti­cal side of Bali.

With 90 per cent of is­lan­ders prac­tis­ing Hin­duism blended with an­i­mist be­liefs, of­fer­ings are an im­por­tant part of daily life. Usu­ally con­sist­ing of lit­tle more than a small plaited palm-leaf box, they are filled with food, and they waft the fra­grance of in­cense and frangi­pani flowers.

Put out at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals through­out the day to ap­pease the gods, they line the un­even pave­ments that are cracked and bro­ken.

Nights res­onate with the haunt­ing sounds of game­lan or­ches­tras punc­tu­ated by the gi­ant

croaks of tiny frogs on lily pads. Ba­li­nese dance has its ori­gins in the tem­ples and lo­cal story telling, but these days there are reg­u­lar tourist per­for­mances.

Le­gong dances, per­formed by two young women to the rhyth­mic per­cus­sion of the game­lan, in­volve in­tri­cate hand move­ments and sway­ing heads in­vok­ing the very essence of Ba­li­nese fem­i­nin­ity.

The barong dance is best seen in a tem­ple set­ting and rep­re­sents the tri­umph of good over evil. Back stage in Batubu­lan vil­lage, the per­form­ers are re­laxed as they busily ap­ply make-up. Vil­lage folk­lore val­ues bal­ance and the dance is seen as a way of fight­ing black magic to re­store equi­lib­rium. Rangda is the evil witch of the for­est and it is up to the barong, a lion-like crea­ture, to thwart her schem­ing ways. At the be­gin­ning of the show, he comes on to the stage with his mon­key friend and the ac­tion is in­ter­laced with sen­su­ous Ba­li­nese dancers.

Re­li­gion per­me­ates the so­ci­etal fab­ric and so it should come as no sur­prise that you are never far from a tem­ple.

A con­stant stream of Hindu devo­tees come to Pura Tirta Em­pul (Tem­ple of Holy Wa­ters) to make of­fer­ings, fol­lowed by ablu­tions in the wa­ters fed by a sa­cred spring – said to have been cre­ated by the god In­dra – in a pil­grim­age that has been go­ing on for more than a mil­len­nium.

At Paon Bali (Bali Kitchen), hus­band and wife team Wayan and Puspa, in­vite you into their home and in­tro­duce typ­i­cal Ba­li­nese

Each dish is redo­lent with a com­plex­ity of flavours that is miss­ing in most restau­rants. Pupsa re­ally knows how to get the tastes of Bali to dance off the plate.

fam­ily life. As for many lo­cals, the day starts at the Ubud mar­ket where Pupsa in­tro­duces us to in­gre­di­ents and picks up a few sup­plies that the cou­ple don’t grow in their kitchen gar­den.

Just be­fore we don aprons, there is time to in­tro­duce how fam­i­lies make co­conut oil, the cook­ing oil of choice.

Then it is time to get cook­ing. First on the list is base gede (ba­sic yel­low sauce). Pupsa ex­plains that this is the one thing you have to get right to cre­ate good Ba­li­nese food. It con­sists of galan­gal, gin­ger, turmeric, chill­ies and var­i­ous other spices. Af­ter the in­gre­di­ents are fi­nally chopped, it’s time for us to pound them into a paste in a huge black mor­tar. Fi­nally, it is sauteed.

Soon, it is be­ing used in sate siap, which un­like reg­u­lar In­done­sian-style sate uses minced chicken, be siap mesan­ten (chicken in co­conut curry), pepe­san be pasih (steamed fish in ba­nana leaves), and jukut urab (co­conut and snake bean salad).

Af­ter a few hours of chop­ping, fry­ing and steaming, we fin­ish our food. Each dish is redo­lent with a com­plex­ity of flavours that is miss­ing in most restau­rants. Pupsa re­ally knows how to get the tastes of Bali to dance off the plate.

Air Ni­ug­ini flies from Port Moresby to Den­pasar weekly. See airni­ug­ini­par­

On the streets … (from left) a bas­ket filled with of­fer­ings; a seller at Ubud mar­ket; a Ba­li­nese ar­ti­san sculpt­ing a stone statue; chicken sate and fish be­ing cooked in ba­nana leaves on a char­coal grill.

Ubud mo­ments … the barong dance at Batubu­lan; a bas­ket with red chill­ies at the Ubud pro­duce mar­ket; a ter­raced rice field fringed by palm trees.

A taste of Bali … a dessert of boiled ba­nana in palm sugar syrup, cooked at Paon Bali cook­ing school; a macaque at the Sa­cred Mon­key For­est.

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