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Bali, day two

August 27, 2008

Day 2: After my workout (just elliptical and weights), I was starving! I ate way more than I should have for breakfast, but I did work out for more than an hour… I had a cappuccino, an egg white omelette, oatmeal, muesli, pumpernickel bread, fruit, and some of my mom’s smoothie.
And I still didn’t feel too full… I think my metabolism is speeding up, because I don’t feel like I’m gaining weight.

Still, I think all that food made me lazy, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, so I snagged one of the beach-side beds and fell asleep. Yes, the lump under the sheets is me.
By the time I woke up it was already lunch time, which is around the time Mr. Tek and Michelle wake up. They decided to take us to Ubud, which is further north (we were at the southern tip of the island, far away from everything). I thought that we were going to be seeing a lot of temples and the kind of educational places that we usually go to on our vacations, but it seemed like what there was to do on the island was just look: instead of famous, glitzy temples, there were family shrines and black and white checkered cloths everywhere (this has to do with the same principle as Yin and Yang). Still, Michelle and Mr. Tek preferred eating to be their main activity, which was just fine with me… the places they took us to were so local that we felt like we got a sense of the island. We went to lunch at a place called the Dirty Duck Diner (the menu said that the name comes from when there was a thunderstorm and a flock of ducks tracked in mud from a nearby rice field. They left out the part where they fried them afterwards).

This was the kind of place that would be featured on the Asian version of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in the sense that their menu was limited to their specialties (which is normally a good thing). However, unlike a cramped, dark, American diner, this place was possibly the biggest restaurant I’ve ever seen in my life… The waitress took us further and further back. Outdoor space, indoor space, upstairs, downstairs, tables, Japanese-style booths where you take off your shoes, all covering what seemed like thousands of square feet. Surrounding it were more rice fields and rows and rows of palm trees.

We sat down at one of the Japanese tables (I forgot to take off my shoes). My dad ordered beer (no surprise there) and the rest of us got lemon juice, which turned out just to be overly sweet lemonade, sadly. I should have gotten avocado juice, something I’ve always been curious about, but I felt that it would be too filling.

As for the menu, there was very little on it: the famous duck is first steamed, then fried and served with coconut rice, Balinese vegetables and sauces, and watermelon. I ordered a simple fish dish in a spicy coconut sauce, and we got a gado gado to share, which is a typical Indonesian salad of tofu, egg, tempeh (awesome high protein fermented soybean product), vegetables, and peanut sauce.

My fish was decent—the sauce wasn’t too creamy at all. The coconut acted more as a flavoring than a sauce base, and instead, the sauce was more like a Vietnamese dipping sauce of sugar and chili flakes. It came with zucchini and potatoes, which were fine, but it would have been much better with rice (my mom let me steal some of hers, which was perfect, long-grained and fluffy with that wonderful coconut aroma). I was hungry and ate, but I couldn’t expect much when I hadn’t seen a single person in the restaurant besides me who ordered the house specialty.

The ducks were incredibly scrawny—apparently, despite being deep-fried, they had no fat on them at all. My mom made a reference to an episode of Buffy that we watched together where some students get possessed by hyenas and eat the principle, saying that she felt primitive and animalistic gnawing on the bones and munching the crispy skin.

The vegetables were great—salty green beans and bean sprouts cooked in a little more coconut milk, then topped with fried onion shreds.

The gado gado was good, but the best part was the sauce. Apparently every single restaurant has its own way of doing this dish. This place’s gado gado had cooked napa cabbage and carrots, bean sprouts, hot peppers, prawn (or rice) crackers, and green beans. The sauce was incredibly addictive, and I have to find out what’s in it! My guess is ground peanuts, sugar, soy sauce, a little vinegar, and chili paste?

Although there were only four people eating duck, Mr. Tek ordered six of them, and by the time they were done, not a single piece of duck skin remained.

After lunch, we wandered through the streets of Ubud, looking at shrines, little shops, and we saw a bunch of parades for the Hindu new year! Little boys were marching with drums and flags, and some were dressed as some kind of cow/dragon/lion-like animal… couldn’t figure out what it was. They were supposed to be collecting money as a new years’ tradition.

After we had wandered for a while, Mr. Tek wanted to take us to the hotel he would have wanted to stay at, but it had been completely booked. Funny that a completely occupied hotel would be empty! I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a vast, peaceful, zen-like place in my entire life. Imagine a hotel hidden located between miles of shrubbery and asymmetrical terrain. The lobby, a completely white room, leads into a huge area of smooth grass bordered by white staircases and cabins with straw-thatched roofs. Once up the stairs and on the platform of the hotel’s restaurant, you see how high up you are, and how the landscape is craggy, mountainous, and laced with pathways that seem to lead vertically down. Feast your eyes.

After we had gaped at this sight for as long as we needed to, we decided to sit down in the café-restaurant, which was a macrobiotic kind of place called Glow.

Mr. Tek and my mom ordered coffee, which came with all sorts of divine cookies: buttery oat biscuits, crispy sugar cookies, and spicy ginger snaps which were so good we asked for another plate.

My dad ordered an herbal tea called Triple-E, with liquorice, peppermint, and fennel. We had some hilarious pun problems… everybody (expect my mom and me) thought that “liquorice” and “rice liquor” were the same thing, and that the tea was alcoholic. Since I hadn’t read the description of the tea, I was taking little sips of it trying not to have too much alcohol!

Michelle ordered a wheatgrass shot, which was brave of her. I’ve been afraid to try it ever since I had kava in Hawaii, which is a relative of black pepper and has relaxing properties. It tastes exactly like drinking mud.

The juice menu was huge, and I thought it would be lame to just order fresh-squeezed fruit juice, so I went for the weirdest one I could fine. It was called Stress Reliever (calms the nervous system and balances hormones): carrot, apple, red grapes, ginger, spinach, fennel, beetroot and leaves, celery, and sweet potato. Sadly, you couldn’t taste the sweet potato at all, and the drink was dominated by the apple, ginger, celery, and stained by the beets. It got better as you sipped it, but I couldn’t finish it and I felt a little bit sick afterwards.

I was so excited looking at the dinner menu. Too bad we weren’t eating dinner there! They had a raw foods section, something I’ve been dying to try, and almost everything else on the menu seemed either vegetarian or organic.

Still, after thinking about it, we realized that we were better off staying at our resort—this hotel was a bit too isolated and monastic for a populous island like Bali, but it was definitely worth visiting!

Because it was already almost six, we decided to meet at eight for a late dinner (We weren’t even sure if we were going to have it!). We decided to go to the hotel’s “modern Indonesian” restaurant, Mayang Sari. I really wasn’t even that hungry and was planning just to order soup and a vegetable skewer (take a break from seafood for once), but Mr. Tek decided that it he disliked the pretentiousness of ordering Indonesian food western-style, so he decided to order a bunch of entrees and split them. The food all ended up being extremely good, but it definitely had that snooty, “foie gras foam” restaurant quality. The restaurant was entirely empty except for us and one other table, who seemed to be getting the set menu.

Before our appetizers, they gave us one of those bite-sized hors d’oeuvres: sprouts wrapped inside a piece of furled tempeh (score!), on top of a small patty of fish. At least, they said it was fish, but I got into one of my more neurotic modes, feeling convinced that it was actually chicken, so I didn’t finish the fish part. I think I forget what chicken tastes like, and to think it hasn’t even been two years!

All of us except Michelle ordered soup, either oxtail or tomato broth. RIP OFF—the bowls were twice the size of dinner plates, yet the indented area where the soup was poured was smaller than an apple. That being said, my broth was great: light, flavorful, and exactly what I was in the mood for. Unfortunately, the so-called “crispy vegetable parcels” were really just vegetarian egg rolls that were oily and became soggy as they floated around in the soup. Hey, maybe I’ll drop a breadstick in a bowl of soup and call it “crunchy semolina baton.” Apparently the oxtail wasn’t that great.

As though our palates needed to be cleansed after such heavy appetizers, the restaurant sent us bowls of complimentary mango sorbet, topped with strawberries and a sprig of mint. I love sorbets during meals, but I prefer them to be more unusual flavors so they can be followed by something savory (I’m imagining something like fennel, avocado, or even blood orange). Still, the sorbet was definitely house made and completely worth eating, probably since the fruit was so fresh.

Shortly after (actually, really quickly), our main courses arrived: I had ordered the vegetable and tofu skewer, but once I saw it, I was glad that we were sharing: as beautifully presented as it was, I knew it wouldn’t satisfy my insatiable appetite (I know I said that I wasn’t hungry, but once I saw the food, I changed my mind). We also had a curried coconut lobster, a duck (these people weren’t sick of duck yet??), fried rice that we didn’t realize also came with lobster skewers, a fish special (I don’t have a photo of it, for some reason), which was supposed to come with vegetables but didn’t, and some tempeh that he nicely ordered for me. Everything was good, but what was really outstanding was the curried lobster—the sauce was fragrant, full of turmeric and coconut milk, and even better with a squeeze of lime.

I was much too full for dessert, but I was so intrigued by the choices that I was happy that my mom and Michelle decided to order it. My mom ordered out of curiosity: she ordered the semi-freddo because she had no idea what a “passion fruit mirror” was, and Michelle ordered the red mountain rice, which is what I would have ordered.

So what’s a “passion fruit mirror?” The same principle as a “crispy vegetable parcel,” only much tastier. Basically, a puddle of passion fruit pulp arranged tastefully underneath a scroll of white chocolate, inside of which was a fragrant mango semi-freddo, like ice cream, but with a softer texture.

Michelle’s dessert was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted, for a number of reasons:

1. It had red rice (also known as Bhutanese rice, I think). Red rice is a whole grain.

2. It had a porridge-like texture. I like oatmeal.
It was topped with jackfruit, a close relative of breadfruit, which I have wanted to try since I was six (due to lots of fantasy books about deserted islands).

It was also just amazing! Like rice pudding, but soupier and not as sweet—the rice gave it some chew, but the coconut milk gave it its signature creamy flavor and texture. As for the jackfruit, it was served as a garnish in caramelized strips and could even have been mistaken for apple (if I try to replicate this at home, I’ll probably use that). Interesting, since breadfruit is supposed to be extremely starchy—I heard you can even substitute it for meat in a stew. The cassava ice cream was definitely vanilla. I think they must have run out.

Although nobody else got dessert, Mr. Tek cranked up the portable coffee machine to brew some of the palm-civet coffee I promised to tell you about. Here’s what the box says:
“Taste!! The rarest beverage in the world, Kopi Luwak. Kopi Luwak or Civet-Coffee is coffee made from coffee cherries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract fo the Asian Palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). After collected, the beans are processed hygienically, and given only a medium roast so as not to destroy the comple flavors that develop through the process. This Kopi Luwak process takes place on the island of Bali, Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian Archipelago, producing no more than 300 kg per year to be distributed throughout the world.”

Although it came pre-ground in packets, the coffee was like nothing I’ve ever smelled. Sadly, it was much too late at night to even consider drinking coffee, so I basically let a drop of it touch my tongue—less than half a sip. In that tiny drop alone, the taste was overwhelming! My first thought was that it was way too bitter, but the aftertaste made me realize that the coffee I’ve been drinking really isn’t coffee at all. The tastes don’t even compare! They don’t even seem like the same plant…

Just look at how black the coffee is, like some haunted lagoon with impenetrable depths.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. leucippe permalink
    August 27, 2008 5:54 pm

    I have a lot of comments this time around. last things first: the story of the civet coffee is, well, what should I say, not something I would tell EVERYONE, even if it is delicious and cost a zillion dollars a pop. But then who would believe it anyway?
    Second, I take it that you didn’t come across Rijstafel, Rice Table, so dear to the Dutch. Never my favorite and after a renewed visit in Amsterdam last March, saw no reason to change my mind.
    Third, a pity you didn’t get to see any of the famous Balinese shadow puppets. Ken Gross, the friend you met in Berlin, working on puppets, actually spent 10 days in Bali this spring and interviewed puppeteers and got to see lots of wonderful things.
    bye for now

  2. Lida permalink
    August 28, 2008 12:34 am

    what can I say about the coffee? the box made it sound good. I guess you just have to smell that amazing aroma to ignore the science of it.
    Actually, i did see some Rijstafel, but I don’t think it’s something you see everywhere in Bali, which has its own language and cuisine.
    We saw some puppets in stores, and my dad bought one for my aunt.

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