Saturday, June 30, 2007

the trouble with reality

I’m finding it very difficult to get back into cooking. It was only a couple of weeks, but the effect of not having to lift a finger to be fed three times a day can be very debilitating. Add to this the loss of one night’s sleep thanks to the joys of air travel and I am pushing it to even scrape together breakfast.

Dinner tonight is done already, whilst putting together a lunch of basmati rice with canned salmon and rocket (unimaginative I know but I had gone into rice withdrawals and a curry was far too complex to consider) a vegetable soup can be knocked up in the time it takes to boil rice.

So all I need to do is to count down the hours til the new Dr Who is on telly and to add a little gentle heat to the pot.

…though in my head I am lounging by the pool wondering where my next gado gado will come from.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

eating Bali and Gili Air

Rocket fuel! Benzin flavoured vodka

Food and drink highlights:

The first gado gado is the best gado gado! At Vila Shanti, on the beach, while sitting at the bar having the best beer Bali has to offer – Storm Golden Ale. which is naturally brewed in the bottle with no chemical additives. But back to the food. A smorgasbord of delight featuring rice, tofu, tempeh, cucumber, tomato, and a roll of steamed greens (likely water spinach), the peanut sauce has more than a hint of lemongrass. The most expensive version in the trip (at Rp 25,000 about au$3.30) but certainly worth it.

Pregina a better than average warung, on Jalan danau Tamblinghan, quickly became our favourite and we had a return visit. I loved the tahu isi, fried cubes of tofu filled with vegetables served with a spicy soy based sauce. A serve of 3 was meant to be an entrée but filled me up (Rp 12,000/$1.60). The grilled whole fish in banana leaf came with sambal and rice, was beautifully fragrant (Rp 40,000/$5.30).

This is a town you either love or hate. I fall into the less favourable category. It’s a good introduction to Sasak food, the predominant culture of Lombok just across the water. The small establishment in the main street where we had seafood satays (with chilli sauce - Sasak style) was our first questionable meal in Bali. We thought the hygiene would challenge our digestive fortitude. What made our dinner in this town most memorable is that we came through it with no ill effects!

Topi Inn, a café and guesthouse at the Blue Lagoon end of town, was clean and had good Balinese and Western food. It got my award for the best Nasi Goreng (see photo in previous post).

Best place to drink in town hands down goes to the Zen Inn (opposite the port) run by the extraordinary Ronald, a Dutch ex-pat. A good crowd of both European travellers and locals.

Gili Air
It is hard to have a bad meal on the island, the worst you will get is average. Sasak food is the traditional fare of Lombok and the islands. To me it seems Chinese influenced (actually the Sasaks are decedents of the Burmese), with 3 standard sauces on offer – chilli/tomato (the cuisine is supposedly high in chilli but to our heat tolerant palate it seemed rather mild, so we’d always ask for it spicy), sweet and sour or garlic. For example, cap cay - a typical vegetable dish, is basically fried vegetables with a sweet and sour sauce. For wary travellers, the Gili’s have an added bonus – with no natural fresh water on the island all the ice is made from imported clean water.

Breakfast: this is where I acquainted myself with the joys of freshly picked, green coconut juice with breakfast. One of the guys running the guesthouse would climb 10 metres up a tree for me each morning. It is reputedly good for those recovering from Bali Belly or hangovers, of which I had neither on the island. Typical breakfast is a choice of: banana pancakes (or pineapple if you prefer), banana fritters (dainty lady’s fingers in a light batter) with runny honey, jaffles (egg or fruit) or a savoury omelette, with Javanese coffee. All this, while lounging in a baruga (covered platform) staring out over the pristine water.

My best 2 meals on Gili Air were - Abdi Fantastik just a shack on the beach, this was the only place on my travels I found gafé dishes. The calamari came with a rich, brown coconut sauce. I wish I’d had more! Santay Bar also cooked up a mean meal. At night, like most other establishments there was a range of freshly caught fish you could choose to have barbecued. We had red barracuda (not the blue boned one we’d had elsewhere which had pesky, fine bones) with garlic sauce, rice, vegetables and fruit to follow for Rp 50,000/$6.60). I also had a green vegetable curry, still distinctively Indonesian with the flavour of white turmeric.

Drinks: Though “Crazy Ary’s” on the south west side of the island boasts being the sunset bar (it serves only cocktails and only operates for the 2 hours around dusk – within half an hour of sunset the place is pitch dark and only bars like Star, Santay and Legends seem to have much going on), Legends at the northern end probably gives the most stunning view of the sun going down. However the young guy tending the bar at Crazy Ary’s will make you a mean pina colada and once you get to know him he’ll use the good grog, not the cheap local knock off they tend to palm off on you. He also spins a good line about black magic.

This town is a different kettle of ikan from the other places we travelled. Here you can chow down on fine fusion food, pasta or sushi. Just watch out for the tax that ranges from 10 – 20+%. Despite that you can still find a good warung.

My favourite was Sura’s just a little walk up the hill on Jalan Kajeng. We liked it so much we went back many times, first just aiming to stop by for a fresh juice (soursop became a fast favourite) then getting seduced by the menu. Dishes are very cheap (mie goreng about Rp 14,000/$1.90 plus 10% tax). The vegetarian food was fantastic here. My partner even had a steak, a steal at Rp 30,000/$4. Service is slow, which they make a joke about in the menu. Yes they really do make each order up from scratch, often with the daughter getting on her motorbike to get fresh ingredients, repeatedly through the night.

Casa Luna is at the other end of the price spectrum but by Australian standards still incredibly cheap. In this, and other western owned restaurants, I found the flavours subtly different, maybe saltier and with a different complexity to a warung meal. The Balinese Paella was pretty special.

These are the people behind the cooking course at the Honeymoon Guesthouse, which will feature in my next instalment of eating my way around Bali.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

coming soon to a blog near you

Boy, I love Indonesian is a vego/piscaterian paradise.

While I sit in an anonymous transit lounge in yet another asian country (note to self: tell travel agent that transiting in KL for 5 hours, when we could have flown direct was a really dumb idea...and I haven't even begun the nighttime haul of the journey)..I am dreaming of gado gado, nasi goreng, wonderful Sasak bbq fish and even the Padang style "point and shoot" food (you point to the delicous morsels in the case, you eat and if you are unlucky it shoots straight through you shortly after, again and again..)

I've been to cooking school, well for half a day at least and what we cooked was the most fantastic meal of the whole and more on that later. But for now it's time to explore what's on offer in the refreshment bar.

See you back in the cold city!

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

holiday time!

As I mused a while back, it's time to get a little inspiration in the kitchen (and elsewhere!) and take a short break. Hopefully I will not feel any strong inclination to get near a computer over the next couple of weeks - while I sun myself on a pleasant little island a few degrees away from the equator.

In the meantime, just talk amongst yourself or cruise some old posts to whet your appetite.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

rose petal cordial

Reading an old travel diary I came across the recipe for one of the most beautiful drinks I have ever had. I drunk it high up in the mountains on a summer’s day. Try it, at least once, before you die!

Ren’s Rose Petal Cordial

Pack a clean jar with freshly picked roses. Choose blooms that are fully opened, almost about to drop. Pluck each petal and pack them vertically in the jar. Cover with vodka. Once a day, for 3 days, strain the vodka and discard the petals. Replace with fresh petals and cover once again with the same vodka. Sweeten to taste with sugar syrup.

I’m still waiting for a good supply of organic roses, grown away from the city air – to make it myself. For those of you in the North lucky enough to have roses in bloom, enjoy!

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