Saturday, October 31, 2009

Highlights from Bali

With nearly 300 foodie pictures from our seven-day Bali trip, it was tough to select my favorites to showcase for the blog, but I've done my best to give you the culinary Kodak moments from our adventure. Our seven-day trip included stay-overs in three towns along the east, north, and central areas of Bali. Exploring different foods is one of the best ways to learn about and appreciate a new culture, and so I did my best to try new and different items throughout our trip.

Days 1-3. Our first night in Bali leads us to Candidasa, a quiet beach-front town on the eastern tip of the island with a small handful of resorts all situated in lush tropical landscapes along the beach. Both picturesque and busy, Candidasa was a great landing spot for us with its tame "main" street, quiet beaches, and multitude of small shops and restaurants. Some pictures:

Our hotel

Sunrise view from beach, just in front of our hotel

First meal in Bali is at Vincent's, a placed labeled as "Candidasa's best" in our Lonely Planet guide, and which was just a 10-minute walk from our cottage:

Interior was welcoming, spacious, and comfortable.

Geckos were hanging out all over the island. In our rooms, in stores, at the pool, etc. I guess they must love the warm, humid climate. Here's one on the wall beside our table.

Storm beer is locally produced in Bali. Import beers such as Budweiser and Corona were readily available and inexpensive, but please, you can get those at home! Besides, I feel so much better buying something produced locally. Here's my Storm Pale Ale and it was very satisfying after twenty hours of traveling.

Vincent's menu consisted mostly of Balinese fusion dishes. Fonda orders grilled chicken served with a mild curry sauce.

I go for shrimp cooked with a spicy curry and fried potatoes. Variants of this dish seemed to be very common on the menus throughout our Bali stay.

For our second day of Bali, we head to Legong restaurant, which was recommended by our book and by our guide. My beer of choice this time is Bintang, which is Indonesia's most popular brew. It's similar in taste to Heineken and in fact the brewery is owned by Heineken. A large bottle here set me back $3 US.

Here's a dish from Legong, chicken satay served on a mini charcoal BBQ.

Later that night we headed back to Vincent's for some house-made ice cream, which was extremely good and on par with some of the better ice creams I've had in the US. I love the presentation, but with the sweltering heat--even at around 10pm at night--we had to eat quickly before this became a sweet soupy mess.

I also ordered a coffee with Kahlua and whipped cream, labeled on the menu as a "Mexican Coffee" (I know, fitting, right?). It was fantastic with just the right amount of liquor--not too much like I've witnessed at so many other places. I watched as our server concocted this--he used freshly-ground beans and house-made whipped cream.

I finished this in very short order!

Day 3. On route from Candidasa to Lovina, we make a few stops and one of them is at a huge coffee plantation in Catur, central Bali. In addition to coffee and tea, the plantation harvests vanilla, fruits, cocoa beans, and spices. The plantation gives tours and offers guests a chance to sample the different coffees and teas produced on site. This is the place where I try the famous Kopi Luwak coffee.

Above: An employee above prepares four different drinks for us to sample. Below: Left to right is Balinese coffee, ginger coffee, ginger tea, and hot chocolate:

For an additional fee, you can enjoy a cup of the famous Kopi Luwak coffee. The beans are "processed" by an Asian Palm Civet, a cat-like animal which consumes the beans and then passes them out. The digested, "passed" beans are used for roasting and are then ground for the coffee. Supposedly, the digestion of the beans gives them added flavor.

The taste is very deep and intense--easily the richest and strongest cup of coffee I've ever had, but I can't say it's the best ever as that title still remains with Intelligentsia in Los Angeles. A little cream and sugar do a good job of taming the bitterness for an overall balanced taste, which becomes increasingly bitter as I get to the bottom of the cup. Note that is the world's rarest coffee, and it comes with price. I believe this cup was $20 US. Maybe I got ripped off, maybe I didn't. But who cares! I'm enjoying this!

As I approach the last few slurps, the taste and texture become about as bitter and strong as the picture above exemplifies. I love strong, rich coffee and I usually drink mine with little or no cream and sugar, but I'm cringing just trying to finish these last few drinks. I added a little hot water to dilute the mixture.

A close-up pic of the processed Kopi Luwak beans. These have been cleaned up and I don't think my readers want to see a picture of, well, cat poop.

The Asian Palm Civet. Nocturnal animals they are, so not much excitement happening here.

Fonda enjoying some very fresh mangosteens at the plantation, which are a bit messy to eat but so delicious. The taste is similar to a lychee (which is similar--in my opinion--to a grape) but the texture is meatier.

Days 3 - 5. Later that day we arrive at our beach-front room in Lovina, a very quiet dimly-lit town located near the north tip of the island. Some pictures:

Hotel grounds.

Beautiful sunset at Lovina beach.

Probably the ONE time we're not sweating!

Yep that's a sea urchin! There were quite a few on the beach in front of our hotel property.

A quick dunk in the infinity pool and some dinner of freshly-caught fish at a nearby restaurant cap off the night. While at the restaurant, the staff invites us to a private cooking class for the following day, and we happily oblige. Our class begins at 8am sharp the next day with a trip to the local market to select some items for our cooking class.

Fonda and our instructor shopping for some of the ingredients.

This was a huge open-air market with all types of spices, vegetables, fruits, and meats.

A worker prepares a duck for a customer.

The people at the market were extremely friendly, and constantly offered up samples for us to try.

Huge donuts at the market! Actually they were just cakes shaped and decorated like donuts. Of course I bought one and it was quite tasty.

At the cooking class, which was held in the kitchen of the restaurant, Fonda and our instructor mix rice infused with coconut and tamarind.

Preparing fish satay. That's actually ground fish with chilies and other spices, then applied to lemon grass sticks.

The satay sticks are cooked on the restaurant's grill, located out back.

We made a total of eight full dishes, and nearly finished all of them!

For dessert, more fresh mangosteens.

On our second night in Lovina, we decided to try a Chinese restaurant near the main strip. Above is Fonda's banana pancake, which she is still talking about. I tried a piece and indeed it was damn good. Also consumed were a egg and tomato sandwich, and some grilled fish. Neither of us is sure how some of these items qualify as Chinese food, but we're very happy nonetheless. We had wanted to get a fresh lobster, but the only one they had was quite large and would have set us back nearly $50. For that I can get 4 or 5 hour-long massages!

On route from Lovina to Ubud, we stop by a temple near Mt. Batur, an active volcano. On the temple grounds, I got this snap of locals preparing a feast (I asked for permission before taking the pic)

Also along the way, we make a stop one of the many durian stands so that I could finally try the world's stinkiest fruit. Our guide picks a fruit and haggles over the price with the "sales girl" pictured above. After a few minutes of bargaining, I have my durian in hand.

The interior of the fruit; you can see the flesh on the right of each half. Looks like an artichoke to me. And the smell? I kept hearing about how it smells like feces or a corpse. The smell was extremely pungent but nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.

The taste, however, is pure deliciousness. The flavor reminded me of a mangosteen, though not as sweet. It's tough to describe the texture, but think of a mushy, canned artichoke. Now think of that artichoke as being sweet and juicy, then throw in an intense smell that I simply cannot describe, and you have yourself a durian. I finished the whole fruit with our driver, and I offered some to the stand worker, but she couldn't stop laughing at the whole situation. After finishing the durian meat, our guide pours water in the pit area and has me drink it. By the way, the smell of the durian stuck with me throughout the day.

Days 5-7. We arrive in Ubud after an exhaustive and fun-filled drive from Lovina. Ubud is located centrally within Bali and is by far the busiest and most touristy of the three towns in which we stayed.

Infinity pool at our hotel

Busy main street in Ubud.

At the spa

Our dinner that night took place at Bebik Bengil, a place famous for its "dirty duck"

Pictured above is my dirty duck dish, which is deep-fried duck that's been marinated for several days. It was good but not as moist as I was expecting. My piece was mostly bones and skin.

On our walk back from Bebek Bengil, we stop by a cafe for some desserts. The display case had about a dozen different items up for consumption, but we go for the Napoleon and chocolate mousse cake. Both were very delicious. In fact, most of the pastries and sweets in Bali were very good.

Another food that consistently impressed us were the egg dishes. Fonda's sunny-side-up eggs were a hit at our hotel in Ubud.

Above is my double espresso with steamed milk, served with a small jug of cane syrup. Fonda goes for a lemon-infused tea. Both were excellent and so refreshing on yet another hot and humid day in Bali.

A popular Ubud restaurant--Ibu Oka--is well known for its suckling pig. These piglets are slow cooked over charcoal for many hours to allow the meat to build up incredibly flavor and tenderness. The resulting meat is tender, juicy, and full of pork flavor, covered by a skin that breaks off like thin sheets of hard candy.

For about $2.50 US you get the "special" which comes with rice, crispy pig skin, suckling pig meat, and some pork rinds. Delicious! One of the best meals I had in all of Bali.

Ibu Oka was very busy, with some people waiting outside for tables.

We also checked out a spa for a wonderful massage (quite possibly the best of my life) and after our hour-long treatment we were treated to some ginger tea and fresh fruit. Massages in Bali were very good overall, and the prices were of course a fraction of anything you can get in Los Angeles.

On our final night in Ubud, I had wanted to try a Balinese-French fusion place called Mozaic as I had read of it fabulous prixe fixe meal with wine pairings for $60 US. However, when I called the restaurant to confirm our reservation, I was told the prixe fixe price had risen to about $70 US with NO wine pairings. I couldn't justify this expenditure for a restaurant when I knew there were so many other inexpensive options to be had, so we went with our backup plan, dinner at Kafe Batan noodle house.

My dish at Kafe Batan, house-made noodles with pork. Not bad.

Fonda's plate of fresh prawns, which I picked out from the tanks located in front of the restaurant. These were decent, but the chili sauce lacked the spiciness which I was hoping for (and which the menu claimed).

And of course our night wouldn't be complete without some dessert. Above is a piece of chocolate cake with some chocolate sauce. Fonda didn't really care for this, but I liked it.

Our final meal in Ubud took place at Three Monkeys, located just across from our hotel. I was craving a sandwich so that's exactly what I got. Above is a ginger-steamed chicken sandwich with lemongrass mayonnaise. It was very good as were the accompanying fries. Notice the portion size. You realize this would be doubled in the states.

Fonda loves black rice desserts, so that's what she got.

French-press coffee infused with cardamom. Again, another excellent coffee creation in Bali.

While at the airport waiting for our plane to Hong Kong, we couldn't resist a stop at McDonald's for some soft-serve ice cream, especially with the incredible heat and humidity weighing down on us (we're just not used to it!). I don't have a picture of the soft serve, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of something I don't think we have in the states. A triple cheeseburger from McDonald's?

That concludes the Bali highlights from our trip. Looking back, my most memorable moments have to be the suckling pig, durian, and of course the Kopi Luwak. One food I couldn't readily find was oxtail soup, which is something I enjoyed recently at an Indonesian restaurant in Culver City (review here). We asked our driver and another local for this delicacy, but both mentioned that this was not a common item in Bali. The restaurant next to our hotel in Ubud had it on the menu, but when I asked the staff about it, they replied that they weren't serving it that day. We also didn't get to try duck tutu, which is duck that's been marinated for a full day and then steamed. It seemed to a popular item at many restaurants, often requiring a 24-hour notice, but we just couldn't squeeze said duck into our busy schedule.

Nonetheless, I have so many more pictures of all the good eats and I think the best way to show them is through my Flickr page here, so check that site once in a while for new pictures; I just posted a set with all the coffee plantation pictures.

Next up on will be the highlights from our Hong Kong visit. Stinky tofu, dim sum, a Peking duck carved table-side, and a home-made Taiwanese-style moon cake are just a sampling of what's coming your way.