How I Started On the Path of Travel
This is a special post, because it portrays my very first independent long-distance travel experience, which was a completely transformative one and got me hooked on travel for life. Bali for me was an otherworldly journey of mental alignment, hiking volcanoes, cultural exploration, and exciting cuisine. It all started in September of 2014, when I signed up for my first Under30Experiences trip.
It is rather difficult to summarize Bali in one blog post – the above image of a beautiful sunset is only a tidbit of what you would envision when the word Bali comes to mind. I included those sunsets because they became synonymous with Bali for me and serve as reminders of a truly peaceful and restful journey. And here is an infinity pool from where I shot that sunset
Similarly, it is rather difficult to summarize Balinese food comprehensively due to several factors.
1. I can only compare it to other cuisines I’ve had experiences with and
2. My experience was skewed due to the mere fact that I frequented a plethora of establishments geared to please the average tourist/expat. Non the less, I had an incredible experience with food in Bali which I’d like to share with you here.
Take the Time to Learn Where Your Food Comes From
Let’s start off with food sourcing because I think it’s important to know how your food got on your plate, where it came from, and how it was treated. Having seen first hand how rice, vegetables, fruit, and livestock are grown, I can safely say, everything is 100% organic. I did not pay a lot of attention at first to this particular aspect of the trip, but in retrospect, as I now reflect on this experience, I think it was a great component to add to the itinerary – to take the time to show us food production and sourcing. On that, I applaud Under30Experiences and Matt in particular, for providing that unique aspect to the trip and actively participating in the daily lives of local communities.
If I had to put a cultural association to Balinese food, I’d say it most closely resembles that of Thailand with influences of Indian elements sprinkled throughout. Lots of dishes incorporate rice, vegetables, and coconut milk in various forms, which manifest themselves in a plethora of curries. The spice levels (in the tourist-catered establishments anyway) are mild and really enhance the flavor of the food. But I digress, let’s get back to how rice is grown.
These, my friends, are rice paddies, which stretch on for miles and provide the main component to any Balinese dish. That bush up there is how rice grows. To harvest it, all you do is cut it, let it dry, and then smack the heck out of it until all the grains fall out. It’s quite fun for about 10 minutes!
Sustainability is Key
Bali is an island, and not a very large one at that. When it comes to the food chain, I think they’ve got a great process figured out on how to raise/produce sustainable sources of food and keep the circle of life in balance.
Let’s first address the issue of pesticides. They don’t need to use any because of these guys
They run around in swarms and eat all the bugs! That’s pesticide removal and entertainment all in one! Not to mention the fact that they’re on the menu too in most restaurants.
Speaking of poultry, meat, and other game, I have to mention the fact that the cows are grass-fed. Now, the island of Bali is Hindu, so they don’t really eat beef, except of course, in the restaurants in town, so they actually sell their cows to the other islands in Indonesia, which are Muslim, so that works out well.
The circle of life is so simple yet so evident in Balinese food – the rice and other plants are planted by people, the ducks eat the bugs, people eat the ducks and the rice, the livestock eats the by-product of rice production, and in turn provides milk and meat for people, who in turn plant more rice.
What’s On the Menu?
I will now share some of the dishes I’ve had that include ingredients I just mentioned, because let’s be honest, it’s about time I got to the food porn.
Let’s begin with the salads
Starting off with presentation – incredible. I would expect this out of a five-star restaurant in Manhattan. Moving on to, of course, the taste. This happens to me every time I eat outside of the United States – vegetables taste like real vegetables! What the hell does that mean? That means that unless you eat organic here, our veggies taste like what they contain, hormones and pesticides. These salads, simple to the core, tasted amazing because I knew they were made from vegetables freshly grown in a local garden. Most of these establishments, I will be brave enough to say, probably have their own gardens because given what I’ve learned, it just makes sense for them to do so. Could not get enough of these salads!
We visited a French fusion restaurant in Ubud where I had a Moroccan vegetable tajine and it was super delicious
Moving on to main courses, incorporating rice, poultry, and of course, the grass-fed cows
Ladies and gentlemen we have beef, chicken, and duck respectively. As you can see, they are accompanied by some form of rice and veggies, I got potatoes with the beef though. Again, reiterating the organic factor. Although a great taste enhancer to the veggies, I did not find this true for the duck or the beef. The chicken was delicious, however the duck tasted very “gamey”. Being used to the fatty, fall-off-the-bone American duck, this duck tasted like it’s been running around since it was born, which is probably true. It was so lean and tough that it was hard to find the actual meat to chew on. It also smelled and tasted like a dirty duck. I was very excited to try it, but unfortunately, it ended up being my most disappointing dish in Bali. The beef on the menu was pronounced to be Australian, now I’m not sure whether that meant that it actually came from Australia or that it was cooked Australian style. Either way, it was also on the leaner side, which was not bad at all actually, but it did lack in flavor.
Moral of the story – stick to the incredible vegetarian dishes and you will always have a great experience!
Let’s touch upon dessert and the plethora of fruit drinks I thoroughly enjoyed
What you see here is a green-colored crêpe with a sweet shredded coconut filling. Underneath is black rice pudding, accompanied by a scoop of chocolate gelato. These crêpes, I found, are a very common dessert in Bali. Super delicious, very much like the French ones, except that they’re green. A lot of people were really turned off by the black rice pudding, but not me; having had quite a delicious experience with black rice, I was eager to try it in a sweet form.
Continuing with the most delicious cup of hot cocoa I’ve ever had. I put this in the dessert category because it is. It was so thick and rich that you really didn’t need anything else to go with it. It was complemented with a touch of cayenne, which, if you’ve never tried spicy hot chocolate, you must drop everything you’re doing at once and go try it, it is incredibly delicious. The spice intensifies the flavors of the cocoa and complements its bitterness.
What I’m holding there is a cacao plant, something Balinese people commonly grow in their backyard. Amazing. If I didn’t live in NJ, I’d start my own cacao farm and make chocolate for the rest of my life.
Drink Fruits and Vegetables to Your Heart’s Content
Let’s finish this off with the drinks. First time I saw a menu, I was instantly excited because every restaurant in Bali offers freshly-made fruit/vegetable juice, smoothies, lassies, and everything in between. This white concoction above is a rose water and cardamom lassi, which was just as delicious as it sounds. I normally don’t consume dairy because of the nasty hormones in it, but I felt it would be pretty safe for me to do so in Bali.
You may have noticed that I did not mention any names of specific restaurants. That’s because I wanted to focus on the food and my personal experience with it rather than the establishments. If you are interested in some recommendations though, I’d be more than happy to make suggestions, just ask.
To end on a happy note that brings me back every time I see this, here I am drinking fresh coconut water that seemed to be never ending, followed by me jumping in the waves of the Indian Ocean.
Whatever your motivation is – praying, eating, loving, or simply enjoying the peaceful, awe-inspiring sights, Bali is a must-go destination for both aspiring and experienced travelers. I’d like to think I “found” myself in Bali, in many aspects of the word, so it will always have a special place in my heart and in my travel stories. It was in Bali that I learned to spend quiet evenings by myself and truly enjoy them, on this very bench on the veranda of my villa
Alas this blogpost has come full circle and I leave you with another epic sunset