For those who know my family, they know my husband is the cook. I can cook…if I have days to plan, shop, prep, and have all the ingredients in front of me and plenty of time to do it. My husband can make a meal from the ingredients of the kitchen in 30 minutes. Since we’ve been together he’s always been the main cook and I just eat and cook when absolutely necessary (but I do love to bake!)
When planning out our vacation with Audley Travel, my husband mentioned his love of food and cooking, so they set us up with a private cooking lesson with a chef from the Bali Pesto Café. Held in the home of the owner, our teacher brought us to the traditional open kitchen in the family compound to help us make a soup, chicken curry and pepes for a meal to serve a king.
As we walked into the compound, we were greeted by exquisite beauty. Turns out the café was just one of their businesses. They were also in the art trade, and had amazing pieces all over the home. Every piece of furniture was a work of art, and the decoration work on every building was amazing. Outside were detailed hand carved doors work $20,000 – $30,000 in US dollars each! I wish I could have brought one home but, a bit out of my price range and it would count as oversized luggage.
We were greeted with coffee and sweets. Then when we were done, we walked back to the kitchen to get started. We started with the process of making our own coconut oil. We were shown how the coconut is grated, squeezed, and then cooked to create the coconut oil that is used for cooking. We were given a chance to get our hands in and try each step to see how labor intensive it really was. At the end of the process we had coconut oil for cooking, coconut milk for the chicken curry, and coconut pulp used in a soup. It was amazing how much could come from one coconut!
Afterwards we were givens many many MANY different types of vegetables to cut up. Eggplant, carrots, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and even two chilis. All were fresh from the market that day. Each were to be cut into very small pieces. The kids and my husband were all given knives to be put to work (today, we changed roles and I was the photographer). The kids enjoyed working in the kitchen, chopping and being helpful. Then, once they were all chopped, they went into a mortar, where we used a pestle to grind all everything together. This, was the Balinese spice base that went into everything we cooked.
From there we moved to the stove. We cooked over a gas stove, but in the villages, they still often cook over a wood burning stove. Here we made the soups and curries, cooking with the bases and the broths we made. Then, we took out a pan to fry eggs, a staple in many Indonesian dishes. The kids loved cracking the eggs into the pan, and even getting a chance to try and flip the dish.
The final dish we made was pepes. This is when you mix the leftover ground coconut, with the Balinese spice mix, then wrap them in banana leaves. The little satchels are then boiled, then served to you to unwrap and eat.
After our lesson was lunchtime. We sat at a table and were served all the dishes we made, rice, eggs, coconut curry, soup, and of course the pepes. The kids had loved being apart of making the dishes, so they enthusiastic dug in. My son and husband proclaimed it the best meal yet in Bali. My daughter got one bite of spice and went back to just eating rice and eggs. I enjoyed the food, but it was a bit on the spicy side for me (somehow I managed to avoid spice most of the trip). But I must say that the dishes were incredulous complex in flavor, and I was amazed at how much work goes into each and every dish. The ingredients are simple, and fresh, but the result is such an explosion of flavor, textures and smells.
We may have left Bali, but our appreciation for the food has not. And the lesson has stuck with us. My husband just the other day, went out and bought an array of fresh ingredients, and the kids got to work in the kitchen chopping and grinding, to recreate the delicious Balinese chicken curry once again (though, without the chilies this time so my daughter and I would eat it). And that’s what I love about learning new things in new cultures. You may leave that place, the memories, the lessons they stay with you. And get incorporated in your every day life.
This trip was part of our series Robin Turns 40 – Celebrating in Bali, Indonesia
*Stared photograph taken by Atma Photography