A Taste of Denpasar, Bali
My trip to Bali began with missing my flight. Once on the plane, even if two days late, I set about soaking in every bit of food culture I could, beginning with the food on the Singapore Airlines flight originating in San Francisco.
I perused the dinner menu. It had Indian vegetarian, Korean or Western options. I was sorely tempted by the Korean Style Grilled Eel but instead chose Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes. It sounded bland enough to ensure no queasiness during the 20-plus hour flight.
By breakfast I was feeling ready to dig in to the taste of the East. The early morning in-flight service once again offered multiple world flavor options and I immediately opted for Indonesian Nasi Goreng Noodles with Fish. The dish was plump with shrimp and fish, seasoned by an array of spices that must have included turmeric, given the yellow sheen of the noodles.
My food odyssey was launched. I continued on for days, taking a cooking class at Ayana Resort and Spa where, in an outside pavilion, I learned to make Nasi Goreng, Gado-Gado Vegetable Salad with Peanut Dressing, and Tomato Sambal, all of which the class shared for lunch, along with icy cold Balinese beer and coconut water—still in the coconut. Dessert? Fruit, of course. Dragon fruit, passion fruit, mango, papaya and watermelon. I had never eaten dragon fruit and found the weird, sharp and lumpy red exterior hid a mild ivory flesh with tiny black, crunchy seeds; the flavor came to life with a squeeze of lime.
I had preceded the cooking class with an early morning visit to the Denpasar fish market, set right on Jimbaran Bay where fishing boats from the Indonesian islands were anchored, some still off-loading the fish. I learned that the resorts and restaurants had their own foragers who met the boats on arrival. They took the best fish and shellfish right away for their clients.. The men and women were packing them onto the backs of their scooters, along with produce from the big produce and spice market next door.
The next night, at a fish restaurant on the beach I ate some of that lobster, choosing it live from the seafood bins that fronted the restaurant. I ordered it grilled with different sauces and a perfect accompaniment of a Sauvignon Blanc, made in Bali with grapes from New Zealand.
At Dava, a white-tablecloth restaurant, I sampled the Degustation menu that included coconut jelly, crystallized chile with pink snapper ceviche, baby calamari stuffed with fish mousse—my favorite—and tamarind pork belly with grilled pineapple and roasted peanuts. That meal concluded with ricotta mousse on sticky black rice pudding with mangosteen sorbet.
As much food culture as I was able to expose myself to, it was only a tiny taste of this island’s extraordinary resources, traditions and talents. Now, with tomato season still going strong here at home, it’s time to cook up some of that Tomato Sambal.