So anyways, we got lost again.
This time, my third visit to Bali Asli (see this post ), I was prepared with screenprints, directions from Amlapura and phone numbers…just in case… That doesn’t help when your driver has no idea where he is. Nor does it help that he diverted to his village near Klung Kung ostensibly to pick up a jacket he never got.
‘Just head towards Amlapura,’ I said from the back seat.
‘We just need to find the main road from Amlapura to Tirta Gangga,’ I said from the back seat.
‘I ask this man where Gelumpang Village is,’ he said.
‘Just get us to Amlapura and the main road to Tirta Gangga,’ I repeated from the back seat. ‘The map is good from there.’
The map is good from there. Clear. Find the football ground and the school on your left. Check.
There should be a cemetery on your right. Check.
At the next traffic light (thank goodness there are now traffic lights) turn right and drive until you see Mt Agung. Aaaaah Mt Agung…
Then make a right and you’re there. Easy. Seriously, how hard could it be?
Bali Asli is the creation of Aussie chef Penny Williams, and sets out to provide visitors with real Bali flavours- not the watered down version of lacklustre nasi gorengs that populate the menus of the pubs along Jalan Padma.
The menu changes daily- depending on what’s fresh at the markets, fresh from the sea, or fresh from someone’s garden. You can’t get any more local.
The cooking is simple and immaculate, as is the kitchen. All dishes need to be able to be completed in traditional ways- using pestle and mortar and wood fired ovens- fortunate given the rather variable reliability of the power supply.
This means that the restaurant is whisper quiet- just the soothing sounds of running water and the repletion of the gamelan (the Indonesian instrument thing- sort of like a big xylophone).
I’m not sure that you could get any more authentic…which brings me to the meaning of the word “asli”- original, or real. The Real Bali. Original Bali. Food with the stories still attached…but I digress…
The Bali Asli experience begins with the view across the valley to Mt Agung. Today it’s clear…and impressive. So impressive that it distracts from the welcome drink- at least until you take the first sip. Penny, if you’re reading this- can I have the recipe…please?
Apparently it’s spicy salak. Salak is the Balinese word for a fruit more commonly known as snakefruit- because it’s skin looks like that of a snake. Inside it has the consistence of an apple and the taste of a pear. In fact, we passed through a village on the way here that’s called Salak- because it’s primary output is an arak that’s made using the fruit…but again, I digress…
I overheard the girl on the table beside us ask what was in it. ‘It’s snakefruit poached in cinnamon and star anise,’ the waiter replied. Given it’s ability to lower our body temp and immediately remove the stress caused by our driver, I’m sure it’s more complex than that…
Then there’s the menu itself- printed on palm leaves using a traditional manuscript technique known as lontar, and dramatically presented in a wood box.
It’s not so much a menu as details of what we’ll be eating, and where it all comes from.
Essentially the dishes on offer can be eaten two ways: a selection of four in the style of a nasi campor, or as a megibung.
The megibung, where side dishes for all to share are arranged around a central pillar of rice, is unique to the regency of Kerangasem. Penny told us that it dates back to a celebration marking the end of hostilities between Bali and Lombok- a feast that everyone could share regardless of culture, religion, status or tribe. It’s just as impressive between two.
I ordered a cocktail appropriately named “Eye of the Dragon”- a concoction of arak and lychee- while hubby experimented with some of Penny’s boutique fruit beers.
First out was a bowl of home-made crackers- I could taste prawn in some, and what I think was sweet potato in others,
assorted sambal, and peanuts presented as theatrically as the menu.
Then came the soup- Tukit Kelor Meliklik- made from sweet corn, young coconut and leaves from the kelor tree. Legend has it that if you’ve been practicing black magic, eating kelor leaves will make you violently ill. Medicinally, the leaves apparently help with blood glucose and blood pressure levels and help new mothers with lactation. Just saying.
If I had to pick a favourite for the day, it would have been this.
Following the soup, the platter, “gibungan”, was presented to the table. Todays held (apologies in advance if I get the spelling wrong!):
Salad of young jackfruit from Pak Dewar’s garden with grated coconut, Bali lime and shallots.
Steamed kangkung (water spinach) from Wayan’s garden, shredded and mixed with a fragrant tomato sambal and fried peanuts.
Sate lembat be pasih
Minced fish with young coconut and garlic, bali lime, kencur (aromatic ginger) and shallot wrapped around palm leaf sticks and grilled.
Paran cumi cumi dan telengis
Squid and coconut curd flavoured with garlic and kencur, wrapped in banana leaf and grilled.
Be siap mesanteri
Organic chicken marinated in garlic, turmeric, ginger and lime, and poached in coconut sauce. Hubby commented that most chickens you see in Bali are organic…
Also on the platter was the ubiquitous Sayur Urab.
After a wander through the kitchen garden,
yet another plate was brought out- this time containing some Balinese sweets and fruit.
After that? Well it was time to settle down to some serious view watching.
Did I happen to mention the view?
And the green?
My only disappointment? The loo with a view doesn’t have so much of a view anymore- the plants have grown too high!
Bali Asli…make the trip- it’s so worth it. Just remember to allow more time than you think you’ll need, take the directions from the website, and be prepared to get lost…it’s all part of the adventure.
Oh…the details? Bali Asli is located in North East Bali, near the town of Amlapura in Karangasem regency. Allow about 2 hours if you’re coming over from Kuta and Legian, or 30 minutes if you’re staying around Candidasa. Leave your accommodation and make a day of it- there’s plenty to see over this side of the island.
How to book? I generally just send through an email. Make sure that you let them know if you have any dietary requests, but these guys are pretty adaptable- a group arrived just after us who didn’t eat seafood and the team was able to come up with something totally yummy.