At the risk of sounding all ‘been there done that, I’ve been to Bali too’ about all this, I’ve been to Ubud Markets before…as part of the Bumi Bali Cooking Class I did last time I was on the island, and which I’ll also be revisiting in this blog just as soon as I get all my photos uploaded.
Markets, though, are never the same. I love that about them- how you’re always finding something different, something a little offbeat, something new to, well, to write home about.
I often think that to really get under the surface of a place, you have to see what the locals eat, where they shop, how they prepare their food and just what it means.
In the case of the Balinese, everyday food is fuel- and very often eaten alone when hungry…even when there are other people or family members around. Ceremonies and special social gatherings are, of course the exception. Even though women prepare the every day food (usually just once a day for the whole day), cooking for ceremonies is man’s business- much like the barbecue is here, I guess!
The staple is rice (anything else is treated as a snack), and the vegetable component is whatever is in season,
and whatever can be foraged (depending, of course, on where you are). We ate a lot of water spinach, as well as various leaves and what would be regarded as weeds back home.
Fish is a popular protein, but for the best of the catch, you need to come early. Mackerel (in the picture above) is salted to preserve it for longer. Meat is expensive, so served in small portions, usually as part of something like a nasi campor, or mixed rice. Leftover rice often becomes nasi goreng the following morning.
Then there’s things like banana flowers (for salads), banana or pandan leaves (for steaming food, containers, and plates), and coconut which finds itself in everything- in one form or another).
At the base of it all is the bumbu. This basic spice paste is a flavourful mix of shallots, garlic, chillis, galangal, turmeric, coriander seeds, candlenuts, dried shrimp paste, peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, sesame seed and coconut (or vegetable) oil. Phew.
Spices are also important medicinally as well. As an example, cinnamon is used to assist with digestion, manage blood sugar, plus more. Lesser galangal is used as tinctures, to heal and warm the blood, while turmeric helps with bleeding and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
You can either buy your spices individually, or buy paste pre-made by weight. Many stalls sell little packs containing the raw spices.
The same applies to the offerings that need to be made by each family multiple times a day. You can either buy the makings,
or save time and purchase pre-made offering baskets, adding your own extra touches at home- a water cracker or two, maybe a few grains of rice or a cigarette,
or perhaps a combination of the above.
Aside from having the practicalities of life covered, the local markets are also a place for socialising, and gossip…as you do.