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Bali - a first recipe

"I've been to Bali too" Redgum

Yes I have been to Bali and that's how I got this book. In fact I have been to Bali twice, maybe three times, I cannot now remember. And each time I was there on a paid for trip courtesy of my husband's work. And so I stayed in plush resorts, on the coast, and therefore did not see a lot of the 'real' Bali. Other than a tourist trip to Ubud and surrounds that is. And tourism is how I come to have this book too. It was a 'gift' from the Grand Hyatt, in which we were staying on one of those trips. For the book is basically a production from the Grand Hyatt itself, with the recipes being written and photographed by a couple of their chefs.

Tourism is dilemma is it not and that is becoming extremely clear at the moment. Indeed Bali, has had a few major setbacks in the past few years - erupting volcanoes, terrorist attacks, and now this. Last night's depressing ABC documentary on modern history included a reminder of the terrorist attack, so I guess it's apt that I should write about it.

As I said, when I went to Bali I stayed in Nusa Dua - a sort of gated tourist compound full of luxury hotels. We did visit Kuta which I guess is the 'low' end of tourism in Bali - full of mostly Australian tourists and shops selling tourist stuff - gorgeous clothes to my mind, and lots of gorgeous knick-knacks too. One is always sort of attracted and simultaneously repelled by all of that, and ditto by the luxury hotels. Douglas Adams puts it well:

"It was just the tourist area, i.e. that part of Bali which has been made almost exactly the same as everywhere else in the world for the sake of people who have come all this way to see Bali." Douglas Adams

He is kind of right, but he is also kind of wrong. The climate is different - well different for most of the tourists anyway. The people are different and even in the midst of all of the tat you are aware of a vibrant culture just outside your vision as it were. And the people of Bali depend on we tourists. Like heavily touristed places the world over - here too - these people are currently suffering. Do you think it is possible to retreat to a world without tourism? What would Venice do? How could it possibly survive? And Bali too.

Is it right to present a sanitised view of the culture of the place your are visiting? Because that's what happens isn't it? And I guess this book is an example of this. One of the special dishes of Bali is something called Lawar which is:

"Basically the firm-textured parts of a pig or turtle cut into slivers, mixed with pounded raw meat and fresh blood, and combined with a range of vegetables, seasonings and sauces." Wendy Hutton

So not really for Western taste. But here in this book we have an extremely tempting looking dish of lawar which is made with chicken and beans and various spices and flavourings, but with no blood or other scary stuff. Indeed the Balinese also eat a whole lot of things we would not be tempted by - insects, frogs, bats ...

So is it a good thing to compose a recipe that is not the real thing but based on it, or is it a travesty? Personally I think that such a dish might serve as an introduction to the real thing, and even if you never get to eat the real thing, you will still have eaten something quite different to your normal food. Some, of course, might not be repelled by the blood thing - what about blood pudding and the various sausages made in France and Italy with blood as a component?

The other thing about the food of Bali that intrigues me is how it differs from the food of Indonesia. Well it seems the main difference is the widespread use of pork - Bali is Hindu, not Moslem. They don't eat much fish as the sea is regarded as the home of evil, and their ports are not good. Indeed they don't eat a lot of meat and fish at all on a daily basis - they save it for festivals.

Although one of the authentic Balinese dishes is a fish satay called Sate Lilit for which the fish is minced and shaped around skewers made of lemon grass.

Rice, of course, is the basic food, with lots of crunchy things like fried shallots and nuts and vegetables of course. They use a lot of coconut in their dishes, and being Hindu there is a lot of ceremonial food with very specific foods for different festivals. And there seems to be another difference between the everyday and the festival.

"Daily meals, which are eaten only twice a day ... are not sociable affairs. The Balinese normally eat quickly, silently, and alone, often in a corner of the kitchen or perhaps sitting on the edge of one of the open pavilions in the family courtyard."

The ladies of the house prepare the food in the morning and leave it for others to take when they want to eat it. And they do this in very simple kitchens with very simple equipment. On the other hand festivals are communal occasions. Everyone lends a hand with the preparations and everyone eats together.

This book is rather beautifully produced, in that the photographs, unlike in Falastin are evocative. Take this double-spread of a market scene for example.

You could say the photographer just pointed his camera - but not really. He has taken it from a viewpoint above the scene, which gives it a kind of perspective and framed it with the big umbrellas on the right and the smaller ones on the left. Fortuitous perhaps, but it's such a lively scene.

And the landscape of the 'real' Bali, is just as evocatively shown. I bet if I had tried to take this photograph it would not have been anywhere near as good. You always think beautiful scenery = beautiful photograph. But it never works like that. I actually think a landscape photograph is one of the most difficult of all to take. I have so many disappoint ones.

But this is a 'first recipe' post, so what is the first recipe? Well it's actually a spice paste. The first section is composed of recipes for various spice pastes, sambals and condiments like fried shallots and fried shredded coconut. I guess if you have the spice pastes then you can do anything.

The book gives five spice paste recipes and the very first one is Base gede - basic spice paste. On the left are the ingredients, on the right is another paste - one for seafood which contains tomatoes as well as a few different things.

As you can see the Balinese use a mortar to prepare their pastes, and a shallow one at that. The pestle has a sort of right-angled handled so that the spices and nuts are ground rather than pounded. It is made by pounding all the ingredients until they are blended together in your mortar, and then frying them in oil over a high heat, stirring all the time, for 5 minutes or until golden. These are the ingredients:

25 shallots, peeled and chopped, 12 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, 7 large red chillies, seeded and chopped, 5 cm laos/galangal, peeled and chopped, 5cm kencur root, peeled and chopped, 10cm fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped, 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 6 candlenuts, 2 teaspoons dried shrimp paste, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg, 3 cloves, 4 tablespoons oil.

Now you might have to seek out your nearest Asian food store for some of those things - but you can use macadamias instead of the candle nuts. Give it a go. You can use a food processor to do all the hard work. I am sure you can also find a multitude of variations on the net. It's one of those grandma's secret recipe kind of thing.

I should use this book more - well there's always the problem with chilli and coconut that I have. I'm not throwing it out though. A little surprise package really. And if I ever go to Bali again I should really stay somewhere else in Bali, even if it's only Ubud, which is probably as bad as Nusa Dua now.


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