COOKING UP A STORM IN TABANAN
LOOKING TO ESCAPE THE MADDING CROWDS AND EXPERIENCE TRADITIONAL BALI BY RIDING A BICYCLE AND LEARNING HOW TO COOK THE ISLAND’S HERITAGE RECIPES? THEN SIGN-UP FOR THE HUJAN COOKING CLASS WHICH COVERS ALL THIS AND MORE IN ONE DAY...
Joining Will Meyrick’s Hujan Cooking Class
Bali dishes-up heaps of cookery classes in mainstream tourist areas, but the relatively new Hujan Cooking Class takes you further afield, literally. A day out immersed in the rural charms of Tabanan, a lesser frequented but beautiful region along Bali’s west coast, the Hujan Cooking Class lets you experience not only the regency’s traditional daily life – all while cycling around on a mountain bike – but also learn heaps about the local culture and cuisine. This is the brainchild of Hujan Locale, an Ubud restaurant renowned for refined Indonesian generation-old recipes and the Sarong Group (whose other acclaimed restaurants include Sarong and Mama San), all of whom are committed to a strong farm-to-table concept, using the freshest, quality locallysourced produce and preserving the archipelagos’ culinary traditions.
Our cooking class starts early at 6 a.m., congregating at the designated pick-up spot (Ubud or Seminyak), then we were whisked off to a village deep in Tabanan Regency – the journey was even more remarkable as we watched sunrise over rice fields and arrived around 7 a.m. at our meeting point. Here, over some freshlybrewed coffee, we met our fellow cyclists and guides, which included Sarong Group founder and celebrity
chef-restaurateur British-born Will Meyrick, who apparently lives in this very village and likes to lead the occasional cooking class. We’re in expert hands.
After a short briefing, our small group sets off en masse on mountain bikes, cycling in the fresh morning air through quiet back roads and laneways that cut through luscious landscape filled with quaint villages, farming plots and quintessential jade-green rice terraces backed by mystical volcanoes.
After a few wobbly moments – and for this reason, don’t stay out late drinking the night before –, I discover mountain biking is a cracking way to explore Tabanan’s off the beaten track countryside, experiencing a refreshingly still evident traditional side of Bali, encountering the locals and getting up-close to nature. We stop off intermittently at several points of interest to learn more: at Pura Taman Beji (a temple famed for its holy water) and never-ending rice fields to get some insights on rice production and ancient Subak irrigation systems. We also discover the multiple culinary uses of pandan leaves, whose bushy trees line the roads. Who knew? Apparently, I didn’t.
We take a lengthy saddle break at the morning market in Mengwi Township. Unlike other food markets assimilated into cooking schools, Mengwi offers a genuine local market experience where you’ll find scant other tourists around. Led through narrow gangways lined with stalls piled high with every manner of produce and goods, our guides stop to explain some key Balinese ingredients – we even sample some of the more unusual local delicacies and some weird looking fruits.
Amazingly, all this is done before 8.30 a.m. and all that
cycling (especially the uphill bits) has worked-up an appetite. We head across the road to a street side warung for a tasty, albeit simple, market-style breakfast – a selection of nasi campur dishes and freshly squeezed orange juice, which all certainly gives us a taste of rural west Bali’s daily life.
Fueled with sustenance, we cycle along a narrow dirt track running alongside a river skewering the fields, trying not to crash down into the water below as I keep glancing upwards at distant volcanoes. We eventually stop at Pura Dalem Tungkub, a village temple secluded amongst coconut trees, where, appropriately attired, we are guided through a brief Hindu temple ceremony and discover just what goes into those canang sari offerings. The refreshing young coconut, procured minutes earlier by a local shinning-up up a nearby palm tree, is most appreciated in the heat.
We’re back at our starting point at around 11 a.m. and enter neighboring Puri Taman Sari Resort, a boutique hideaway encircled by terraced rice fields, which reveals a swimming pool, bungalow accommodations, lounging area and dedicated open-air cooking school and kitchen. Armed with an icy cold drink at the mock-up traditional kitchen, we’re first given a crash course in preparing one of Bali’s most beloved dishes, Ayam Betutu – and it was such a joy to observe Chef Will lavishly marinate and stuff a whole chicken with aromatic herbs and spices, before slow cooking it Dutchoven style under mounds of rice husks and burning coconut shells.
MY KITCHEN RULES
Now the “hard work” and our class begins. We wear aprons and take our position at impressively organized, individual cooking
stations equipped with gas stove, table, diverse kitchen implements and large basket brimming with ready-prepared fresh veggies, herbs, spices – even duck meat and prawns. Under the guidance of the amiable chef, we work off idiot-proof recipe cards (kept as souvenirs afterwards) for today’s Balinese dishes: Duck Sate Lillit (minced duck leg paste grilled on bamboo skewers), Karangasem Sambal Udang (prawns simmered in coconut milk, lemongrass and spices) and Lawar Kalasan (a traditional fern tip, beans and jackfruit salad, besides several bumbu and sambals – spice-based cooking pastes and condiments.)
I say “hard work” but actually, it’s not. At some cooking classes, I’ve ended up feeling under pressure, almost competing against other participants. Here, the concept is a relaxed cooking experience, working at your own pace and learning about the recipes, ingredients and culinary heritage. Better still, there’s an ever-present team of (handsome) young chefs on hand to assist with cutting, stirring, steaming, chopping and endless pestle and mortar pounding of chilies, shallots, garlic, galangal and other spices. In fact, these young men are so helpful that I even have time to enjoy a glass of wine as they take over navigating the recipes. Now this is what I call a cooking class!
After a whir of activity, we’re rewarded for all our hard work (well, not so much in my case) with our individually prepared dishes assembled together – along with a succulent Ayam Betutu cooked for hours – in an open-air pavilion surveying the rice fields. Here, bathed in sunshine, we enjoy an idyllic lunch with, though I say so myself, quite delicious food, as this cooking class – and brilliant Tabanan day out– concludes.
Hujan Cooking Class costs Rp. 1,500,000 nett/person. For bookings and enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +62-857-3949-0333. Log on to www.hujancookingclass.com for more details.
Learn to cook Balinese cuisine at Hujan Cooking Class.
Cycling around the lush greenery in Tabanan before the cooking class began.
A visit to a traditional market to pick the freshest ingredients.