Indonesia

The Passion of Agung Rai

As I passed through the leafy welcome arch of the Agung  Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), I wished I had come earlier.
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It was about four in the afternoon and seeing how shady the gardens were, I knew it was a place that invited one to linger.
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Get lost in the pages of a nook perhaps. Or just luxuriate in the shady ambience of the moment.
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The grounds contain a temple as well as an upscale resort.
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Three men were working on some woodcarvings in one of the small pavilions and I had a nice chat with them. Good way to practice my Bahasa.

There are two galleries that contain the personal collection of Agung Rai. An art collector with humble origins starting out selling paintings to tourists in Sanur, Rai’s collection is a virtual walk through of the history of Balinese paintings. It was a collection of a man who knew what he wanted. From old wayang style paintings to modern ones, it was a peek into Balinese imaginings.
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I had seen the works of the different art styles in the Puri Lukisan such as those by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Bali’s greatest visual artist. But I had not seen that of the German, Walter Spies. After going through the short exhibit on Spies the more I was intrigued. His works blew me away. I especially like how he delineated his figures. His paintings had a magical quality in them that evoked a quiet and sensual mood in them.

An installation.
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Paul Husner’s paintings were also on exhibit. They were playful and colorful depictions of Balinese everyday life, ceremonies, and rituals.
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The museum also housed antique textiles some of which are very valuable such as a gerinsing textile from Tengganan. Gazing at the textile from afar, you can make out the human figures woven into the design.

The ARMA, together with the Blanco Museum,  make museum going so much a sensory experience as it is visual. Where Blanco’s passion was the shapely figures of Balinese women, Rai’s was that of art as a whole. ARMA is a testimony to that passion.

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Bye Bali! Mabuhay Manila!

I’m standing at a very long line waiting to be dispatched at one of those yellow metered cabs. Maybe I should have gone up to the departure level instead. Too late now.

Thank God customs was such a breeze. The officer simply took the declaration form frpm me, took a quick glance at my two really large packs containing the musical instruments I bought a nd let me. In my haste to get away from him lest he decides to take a peek, I forgot to retrieve my passport from him. He chuckled as I went back.

The flight was very pleasant.  Very very smooth.  Just the usual shaking. No real turbulence.

I left Rojas Homestay just before a quarter to five in the morning and arrived at Ngurah Rai airport south of Denpasar at six thirty. The driver, who was dressed in long sleeves and tight jeans, was going a little fast, though. I was too sleepy to tell him “bukan terlalu cepat.”

Harry brought me my French macaroons all beautifully boxed with a ribbon.  There were also three macaroon lollipops!  I really adore Harry and Jessica of Caramel, my favorite dessert place in Ubud.

Anyway, back to the airport.  I really didn’t pay much  attention to the new airport at Bali when I arrived weeks ago. I guess, people don’t really  take note of arrivals areas as foremost on your mind is to get out of the terminal as quick as possible.

The new airport was really spacious and still needs a lot of work. Based on the steep prices for goods and services, travelers are the ones shouldering it. An airport usage fee of IDR 150,000 (roughly USD 15)? Baggage wrapping at IDR 120,000 (roughly USD 12)? A $5 tuna sandwhich? They gotta be kidding!

The crowd was light around that time and I breezed through check-in and immigration in 15 minutes. Cool!

Nothing really to occupy time at the gate excepy avail  the strong free wifi. At around 7.30, the waiting areas at the gate started to fill with people. There were hardly any seats available.  Fortunately,  just before it got insanely crowded, we boarded our flight.

Finally back home.

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Caramel: Where Life is Made Even Sweeter

I could not get enough of this place during my more than two-week stay in Ubud. I’m such a dessert lover and discovering this tiny shop made my stay even lovelier.

Nowhere have I met owners so candid, friendly, and fun. The young couple, George and Jessica are originally from Jakarta where they worked in the Mandarin Oriental. George is a sous chef while Jessica is a pastry chef having taken a course at the Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. Moving to Ubud to escape Jakarta’s frenzied city life,  the worked at the famous Mozaic then finally set-up Caramel.
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They’re never too busy to engage in conversation with any of their numerous customers.   This is a place that actually makes you want to stay. They’ll even give you the scoop on the best places to eat. Nope, I’m not telling you.  You gotta go there and get it from them yourself. Hehehe.
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I’m flying back home tomorrow morning and their closed today. But since they both know how much I love their French macaroons,  they gave me their number so I can just give them a call and they’ll drop by the store so I can pick-up the box I already pre-ordered. Now THAT is unbeatable service.

I even got to meet Jessica’s mom and sister who were visiting from Jakarta!

Dropping by Caramel is always a surprise because aside from the regular offerings, you wouldn’t know what’s on offer. One time there was a delightful lemon cake called Citrus. It was a very light cream-like cake on a buttery crust. I like citrus-based desserts and this one was so refreshing.

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Red velvet is very popular nowadays and Jessica’s version in a cake has none of the over-sweetness and too-red coloring you see often. The cakes are actually very mild in their sweetness so it doesn’t leave you in a sugary daze. The Ubud Cheesecake is unusual because of its hint of caramel. The texture was very smooth and just had the right density.

 

If you’re looking for something more traditional, there’s Indonesian kek lapis that divine cake made of thousands of layers. Kek lapis is an art and culinary form that is most associated with Sarawak but it originated in Indonesia and was brought there by Indonesian housewives. It’s a simple cake (but not simple to make) and delicious. The cupcake made from tapeh or cassava was most unusual. I thought it would be made with cassava flour but it was actually made of raw cassava. It was buttery and yummy.

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Everything I tasted was delicious!!! I’m not very partial to chocolate-based desserts so I didn’t try them but they looked very tempting especially the Choco Nut which I’m sure my sister would love as it’s made if 56% pure chocolate. The same goes with the chocolate drink of pure milk and cacao. Absolutely undiluted with water.

But the piece-de-resistance for me are the French macaroons. They may not be as round and shiny as the others but that’s because of the correct balance of almond milk and sugar. Those shiny round ones actually have more sugar than milk. Caramel’s French macaroons have just the right amount of sweetness and chewiness.
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The flavors are varied: Java Tea, Chili Chocolate, Rosella, Passion Fruit, Lemon, Pandan, and Vanilla. My favorites are Black Sesame, Red Velvet, and Salted Caramel. The latter is especially good. Perfect perfect combination of saltiness and sweetness. I’ll say it again. Perfect.

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Almost everyday of dropping by I’ve grown really fond of the patisserie. More so because of Harry and Jessica’s friendliness. They run the place themselves. At Caramel, you don’t simply buy. You partake of an experience that makes life sweeter.

P.s. If you’re wondering why I don’t have much pics of the goodies it’s because I mostly take it out so I can savor them at my front porch.

Check them out at http://www.caramel-ubud.com

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Life as Art

For more than two weeks in Ubud, I walked the same paths each time I go to my gamelan lessons at Pondok Bamboo. It’s more than a kilometer of walking but it never bores me.

There are quiet old moss-covered temples.
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Narrow lanes.
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Cute sculptures that greet you at the entrance of family compounds.
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Interesting stuff for sale such as these stone sculptures.
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Beautifully carved doorways that lead to equally beautiful houses.
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And interesting foot paths.
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In a monograph on Balinese painting, I read that the closest word there is to “art” is “life.” Why not? The Balinese, especially those in Ubud, live it and breathe it every single day of their lives. They just don’t call it “art.” It’s just is.
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It comes as no surprise that everything is just so beautifully decorated.

Gamelan frames have relief sculptures.
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Walking down the street, you see beautiful woven decorations such as these.
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Tucked behind the Ubud Market is a narrow lane made bright by the colorful paintings on display.
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The entrance to the compound is like an art gallery.
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Even the entrance guardians have p a in paintings.
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The Balinese love their gods and they express this through colorful offerings.
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Shrines are as gaily decorated as legong dancers.
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I never got bored walking around Ubud as the streets are one big canvass.

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A House in Bali

During my course of stay in Ubud, I lived in two homestays— Taman Mesari at Jl Sandat and Rojas Homestay at Jl Kajeng. There are heaps of guest houses, villas, and hotels but living in a homestay is a unique experience. For  one, you are staying in a real family compound with a real Balinese family.

I found Taman Mesari at AirBnb while I found Rojas by simply going to Jl Kajeng when I cancelled my trip to Lombok and extended my stay in Ubud. Rojas was the first place at Kajeng and it was cheap. I know, I should have checked others out but I was too lazy then.

The Balinese don’t live in stand-alone houses. They stay in large compounds with several bungalows with their extended families. Entering one is getting a quick introduction to their spirituality. Like the rest of their lives, orientation of the different structures are governed by their Hindu beliefs.

Outside the entrance is a small shrine where offerings are placed.
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Main entrances are always narrow but are beautifully adorned with carved lintels and doors.
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These statues of stones welcome you as you enter.

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Because of the belief that malevolent spirits travel in a straight line, there is always a wall to block their entrance. Nope, spirits can’t climb walls.

A statue of Ganesh for added protection.
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Another shrine is also by the entrance to ward-off evil.
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The placement of all structures in the compound are of utmost importance as there are cosmic implications. North (utara) and east (timu) are the orientations of choice. The temple have to be aleays north so it faces Pura Besakih, the mother temple. In fact, temples all over Bali are oriented towards Besakih.

The different bungalows which are the sleeping quarters of the family members are oriented as follows: the parents are in the north while the rest are in the west and east.

The structure on the left is where the Pak or the old man lives. To the right is the family temple.
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All compounds must have a family temple.
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If a house is small, the temple could be up on the roof.
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Once the eldest son gets married, he moves to the back of the compound and builds his own bungalow.

The younger one gets his own bungalow.
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The kitchen is considered a dirty place so it’s in the south.
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You will also see a pavilion with a bed. This is the bale danginwhere ceremonies are held.
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It’s cool having your own bungalow.
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At Rojas, I’m in a two-level purpose built structure with 2 rooms per level and a veranda.
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Here’s my room.
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And this one in Taman Mesari
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At Taman Mesari, I had my own bungalow, which is  usually the case in most homestays. I really  relished staying in one of those because it was like having your own little cottage with lots of privacy plus a cute veranda perfect for coffee or simply passing away the time.

Balinese family compounds are really interesting places and sometimes I would peer into one to just look at the little gardens and courtyards and admire the architecture. They’re also very leafy with lots of plants and flowers.

Even the tiles are decorated.
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You can simply enter any compound that has been turned into a compound. They will gladly entertain you. You are, after all, a potential guest. A family member, usually the Ibu (mother) will show you around.  “If you want to take pictures of my house, it’s okay,” one pleasant lady told me.

They’re usually located in small quiet streets away from the traffic and crowds of the main commercial roads. Often these small streets and even lanes are purely residential. At the end of Jl Sandat where Taman Mesari is, I would sometimes here the neighbor practicing on the tingklik (a bamboo xylophone). Many nights I would sleep to the sound of a gamelan echoing probably from some nearby temple or family compound celebrating something.
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This one is just off the art market and the entrance is an extension of the shop.
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Aside from the all-over feel of the place, staying at a family compound lets you interact with the locals. At Taman Mesari, the owner’s cute kids would sometimes get their procession banners and march around the compound pretending they were in a ceremony.

I like to be as close to local life as possible as homestays let me do that while still allowing me my small comforts such as a Western-style toilet and free wifi. Plus of course, ranging from IDR 150,000 to 250,000 it’s really budget friendly. Some like Rojas even include free pancake and fruits breakfast plus all day tea and coffee at your veranda. Can’t get any better than that.
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Everyday is Market Day

Early in the morning, Ubud’s pasar seni plays its traditional and time-honored role in the everyday lives of the Balinese.  As a traditional market, it’s locals purchase all their usual needs, especially food.
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Long before Western-style groceries and department stores set-up shop in developing countries,  morning markets have sustained, and still sustain, village life. For visitors like me, it provides a colorful and lively glimpse on sundry local life and the chance to get some cheap delicious grub. Where else can you get hot-off-the-grill sate for a measly IDR 1,000 (Php 4.00)?
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During my cooking class, we were toured there by our chef who pointed out all the different fruits, vegetables, and spices used in Indonesian cuisine. My favorite vegetable is this basket of smooth white eggplants.
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I’ve never seen such eggplants before. All the other vegetables suddenly seemed so ordinary.
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At the front of the inner courtyard are women selling all sorts of ready-to-offer canang for the busy Balinese.
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Or if you have loads of time or really want to make your offering truly personal, all that you would ever need is there.

Palm leaves to make the frame with.
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Flowers to fill your little basket to the gods.
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Of course, what’s a market without food?

There are a variety of little snacks such as colorful kue selling for IDR 1,000.
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Downstairs,  at the peripherals are a few stalls selling freshly-cooked food such as roasted chicken, smoked duck, steamed rice, grilled sausages, sate, and other viands. A few tables are set-up for makan sini (literally to eat here) but most go for bungkus (literally to wrap). I bought a serving of rice and sausage for IDR 15,000 (Php 60) which I think was harga wusata (tourist price). The sausage was meaty and flavorful. I wish it was spicier,  though, like the northern Thai Isaan sausages.
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This duck stall had a queue of patiently waiting locals. The bebek (duck) must be enak (delicious).
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And because Bali is Hindu, babi (pork) is everywhere! 

How about some cracklings?
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And the pride of all Balinese babi, the delicious (drum roll)  babi guling!
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My aim really was to buy some spices to bring back home so I can cook those wonderful makanan I learned at cooking class.  I bought three kinds of ginger (dried of course)— galangal, lezaro galangal, and a really aromatic one, zengleo.
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These were going for IDR 20,000 per pack but bargained it down to IDR 13,000 because I bought a lot.  A small pack of saffron was at IDR 20,000 but got it at IDR 15,000.  I probably paid harga wisata but it was still quite cheap considering those types of ginger aren’t available back home.

There were lots of other things such as cinnamon,  cardamom,  vanilla, turmeric, black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, and many more. Candle nuts (macadamia to you and me) were cheap. Still gotta check though if customs will allow it.
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Another item I wish I could bring home was tempe, that ubiquitous fermented soya beans formed into cakes. Very very good fried or cooked in curry.
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Once you’ve cooked your food, you gotta offer some to the gods. Be sure you cover them nicely.
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It’s not all food. How about some second-hand clothes?
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The traditional market is nice to browse around especially if you have a keen interest in cooking. It’s busy around 7 when most locals shop. Refrigeration is a luxury to most of the people so they market almost evetyday. That means you get fresh from the market ingredients in your meals. Everyrhing winds down past 8 as the vendors pack-up and the tourist stalls open.

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Ubud Enak: Makan! Makan! Makan!

Beyond art, Ubud is food paradise especially if you’re like me who loves his nasi goren, sate, and curried.

Just like the Balinese concept of good existing alongside bad, there is a fair share of good warung and bad eating places and food in Ubud. Of course, you can’t really judge an entire place based on one order so my biases are based on what I simply ate. Also, whenever I travel, I almost always stick to local food so you won’t findy non-Indonesian eats here.

Down by the Road.

Really delicious food doesn’t need to come in fancy packages. The best meal you can sometimes have is served in a little shack by the road.

My first taste of pepes and sate lilit ikan was at a little stall by the road on my way to Julah up in the north. It was way past lunch and I was really hungry. Both the pepes and the sate had just been grilled. I liked the sate most especially, I ate 5 sticks with a plate if nasi putih all for just IDR 7,000! As local as local could get.
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My driver also took me to a warung in Singaraja to try siobak, a soecialty of the north. It was a thick gooey stew of pig ears, organs, and fatty cubes. It tasted sweet with a hint of spices. I didn’t like it very much. It only cost IDR 5,000.
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While waiting for our orders, I had some sati babi which was grilling just outside the warung. Really delicious.

Padang Makan

Probably one of the cheapest eats around and we gotta thank the Minangkabau of Sumatra for the concept and the recipes. These simple eateries are all over Indonesia and there are two in Ubud. One in Jl Hanoman and the other in Jl Raya Ubud a stone’s throw away from Ganesha book shop.

For about IDR 20,000 you get a plateful of rice, vegetables, and two viands of your choice. You can choose as much viands as you like and just pay accordingly.
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Yeah, the food is pre-cooked and has been sitting at the counter for some time but fear not as the kind of dishes displayed and their cooking techniques aren’t the type that spoil easily. Lots of locals eat here too. Try the chicken dishes which have been marinated in spices.

Warung Here Warung There

In central Ubud, a warung doesn’t automatically translate to cheap pit stops where the locals eat. It’s simply a place, any place, for tourists to eat. Real warungs do exist but you certainly wouldn’t find them along the main tourist areas.

Near the corner of Jl Raya Ubud and Jl Sandat where I’m staying at is an all green warung imaginatively  named Warung Sandat.

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Took a seat at the second level overlooking the street below and enjoyed my nasi campur.

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On another occassion, I had a gado-gado and a nasi goreng. The food is very good value for money, tastes homey and very filling. If you like your food good and simple, then this warung is for you.
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Thank Brahma, Vishnu, and Siwa for restaurants that live up to their names. After a barong performance at nearby Agung Rai Museum (which, by the way, has a splendid collection housed in two galleries) I headed to Warung Enak, took a seat outside and ordered a nasi campur. It was simply enak.

Everything from the freshly fried kropokto the urab sayur to the nasi and everything in between was simply flavorful. The curries were simply the best I’ve had. I was tempted to ask for a full order. The rice was interestingly presented as the bottom layer was nadi putih and the top nasi kuning. Maybe next time I should have riijastafel all to myself. By the way, service was gracious and excellent.
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It’s a bit on the expensive side as the mains were around IDR 40,000 up. Worth it though. The welcome drink, a concocotion of tamarind and lime juice was simply divine.
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Warung Lokal at Jl Gootama serves more than local food. There are pancakes and pasta.
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It’s a small place with only a few long communal tables and devoid of any decoration.
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The nasi goreng was very good though it could do a little less kecap manis. The krupuk however, was as stale as the server who didn’t want to be bothered from sorting a bunch of string beans.

Sitting amidst the quaint shops at Jl Dewi Sita is no-frillsWarung Kacu.
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The lumpia, gado-gado, cap cay, and nasi goreng are delicious.
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I’ve heard much about Fair Warung Bale so on my way to Warung Schnitzel, I detoured there instead.

The place had a friendly atmosphere as the staff was all smiley. Unfortunately, that was what they were just mostly good at. Service was slow as they seemed to be more intetested chatting or hanging around the counter.
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I ordered a chicken curry and their 5-minute Heavenly Cake. I’ve already written about the cake that turned out to be a burnt pancake in a previous post. The curry was of a generous size and quite good. However, at IDR 50,000 it wasn’t good value as you could get the same quality at other less expensive places.
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I’m kinda ambivalent about this place. I’m not sure if I’m gonna like it or not. I kinda feel it’s just all hype. The owner, Alex, was a nice guy who greets customers and even clears the table as his staff is too busy chatting or trying to be cute.

The nasi goreng urutan at Warung Biah Biah at Jl Gootama was such a let down after all those reviews at Trip Advisor. Urutan is Balinese pork sausage which is delicious. Having tried one at the Ubud Market in the morning. Mixed with nasi goreng you can’t go wrong. However, it tasted just like ordinary fried rice with a little sausage mixed in. The pork in sweet soy sauce was just as average. Both dishes just didn’t have any hint of spices. The place was packed for dinner and I was fortunate to grab a single table at the back. It took some time for my order to arrive maybe because of the large crowd. The prices are reasonable and you can order small plates (IDR 8,000) which were really small like the equivalent of two tablespoons to create your own nasi campur or add it to your existing spread like what I did with mine.

A Warung by Any Other Name
Nothing really distinguishes a restaurant that calls itself a warung from one that calls itself something else such as a cafe or a restaurant.

Everyone loves Cafe Wayan and who wouldn’t?  The service is warm, the setting beautiful, and the food plentiful and delicious. 

The Sunday dinner offered a good sampling of Balinese and Indonesian favorites like nasi kuning, gado-gado, sate lilit, curry, and many more. Good value at IDR 150,000.

The New Year’s Eve dinner was quite expensive at IDR 275,000++ but I enjoyed it. Considering that other restaurants were offering sit-down dinners for IDR 250,000 it was good value.

The babi guling wasn’t very tasty though and the skin wasnt crunchy. Super delicious sate babi and seafood curry. The dinner came with a glass of complimentary wine.
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I’ve also ordered ala carte— gado-gado, and spring rolls.
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The nasi campur was very good value for money as it was very filling though I found the opor ayam quite bland.
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I really enjoy dining at Cafe Wayan because not only do they have beautiful surroundings, the staff really make you feel at home.

Dapar Bunda. It seemed newly opened and had very nice interiors.
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The place was spacious and very clean. With retro furnishings such as old typewriters and television sets, it felt like being in someone’s house circa 1960s.
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I loved this wall of mirrors.
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Alas, what would have been a nice morning enjoying the place was cut short when my food arrived.

Servings were so small!
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The concept was to create your own nasi campur. So I chose nasi kuning, jackfruit curry, and potato fritters. It amounted to less than IDR 20,000. Cheap. For such a huge cup of rice, the portions of the viands were so small. Jackfruit curry was only two spoonfulls and was so bland I had to put salt. The potato fritters were the size of a coin.

I was so disappointed I finished my food quickly, got my stuff, paid, and left. Never to return.

Babi and Bebek

Any tourist to Ubud has two items on their culinary bucket list– babi guling at Ibu Oka and bebek bingil at Bebek Bingil.

On my first visit to Ubud a couple of years ago, I enjoyed Ibu Oka’s babi guling so much I had it almost everyday. This time, I ordered a special for Christmas lunch and it was disappointing. Not very savory and the skin wasn’t crunchy. Three locals have already told me the taste of Ibu Oka isn’t very Balinese.
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Bebek Bingil is to crispy duck what Ibu Oka is to babi guling. Ordered a set meal and came out satisfied. The bebek was crispy and tasty. I could have eaten two.
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Food with a View

There’s nothing like Bali’s rice paddies, no matter if it’s just a few hectares, to bring people in and raise prices up. Often, it’s the only thing the warung, cafe, or restaurant has got going for itself. With tables placed literally alongside the rice paddies, I wonder how it look come planting or harvest season when people actually work the fields?
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Cafe Angsa at Jl Hanoman has lovely wooden tables and chairs and a gorgeous view of rice paddies at the back. Your table is literally beside the paddies just like in Three Monkeys.
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Service and prices are equally friendly. The kari tahu (vegetable curry) was soupy but tasty. They also have one of the cheapest kopi bali around for only IDR 10,000 a pot.
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Located just beside the posh Three Monkeys, Roi Pasti is easy to miss with its small entrance. Once inside, you share the same paddies with its more expensive neighbor but you dine on more affordable food and simpler surroundings.
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But you came for the paddies and the free wifi, right? So choose cheap and enjoy them at Roi Pasti unless you have a deep pocket.

Had a tempe in kecap manis. Cheap, filling, healthy, and yummy.

If you want bigger rice paddies, take the short flight of steps to Tropical View Restaurant where the Greek Salad tastes nothing like Greek Salad. Think cheap pseudo – mayonnaise with vinegar.
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Come here for the view.
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There is so much food to enjoy at Ubud. I hadn’t even tried others that come highly recommended such as Melting Wok for their curries and Warung Pulang Kelapa for their prok ribs. If you tire of local fare, Pizza Bagus and Scannapoli score points based on internet reviews. There’s even a taco joint!

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Ubud Enak: Coffee and Dessert

Going on my 12th consecutive day here in Ubud and my taste buds, not to mention, my visual senses, have not yet been satiated. As the cultural heart of Bali,  it will come as no surprise that eating in Ubud can be as delightful as watching a legong performance. Though some restaurants, appropriating the term warung, are more atmosphere than food, Ubud is still generally a good place to eat. After all, if you’re unhappy with whatever you’re having at the moment, good food is just a skip away.

Coffee and more coffee
I love a strong brew and Balinese coffee is the best with its rich and earthy taste. It’s so dense that as you near the final sips from your cup, you can taste the fine granules. It’s best with a stick of cinnamon and palm sugar. The best Bali coffee was at China Moon at the of corner of Jl Hanoman and Jl Monkey Forest. They serve it in a French press and you stir your cup with a cinnamon stick as you chill-out on the comfy outdoor lounge.

Beyond Bali, Anomali Coffee along Jl Raya Ubud has heaps of single origin coffees from the plantations all over Indonesia. I tried a French pressed Torajan coffee. Soooo goooddd! Paired it with a yummy chocolate tart and spent the afternoon at a table at the back working on my notations for my tingklik lessons. The staff was very friendly too.

I’ve made many a stop over at Cofee $. Had an iced ginger tea and a cup of Americano. Nice balcony seating accessed by the steepest stone steps ever! Very very good Wifi too for updating your status at FB.
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Dessert Heaven
Who would have thought Ubud would have some of the best pastries?

Top on my list and the BEST ever for consistent deliciousness and quality is Caramel at Jl Hanoman. They’ve been open for less than a month and I hope they remain open forever! The French macaroons are absolutely to die for especially the red velvet and salted caramel.
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The young chef-owners (who happen to be a couple) are from Jakarta and are uber friendly. Chat with them as you bite into a lovely cheesecake or cupcake made from cassava. Sometimes, I drop by the store to buy a couple of macaroons to eat while walking.

A big disappointment was Localista. The driest cupcakes ever. Tastes like grocery cupcakes you give out during wakes. It would have been a nice spot to relax after gazing Rio Helmi’s wonderful photographs at his gallery next door.
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At Fair Warung Bale, intrigued by its name, 5-minute Heaven Cake, I ordered one. It was nothing but a BURNT pancake topped with whipped cream, jam, and butter. Guesthouses make better pancakes.
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Another disappointment was the Super Lemon Cupcake at Three Monkeys. the large cupcake had been sliced in two and a layer of whip cream and strawberries placed in between. Dry cuocake (maybe Localista supplies them). Uninspiring dessert amidst inspiring rice field views. Tragic.

I love dining at Cafe Wayan but the only time I tried one of their cakes, Mocha Nut cake, I hated it. The sponge cake tasted like cardboard. Stick to the meals. Can’t go wrong.

Café Luna’s Lemon pie was spot on with its perfect balance of sugar sweetness and lemon citrus.

Friendly to your health are the offerings at Kue. I tried the Raw Chocolate Caramel bar (really heavenly, especially the caramel) and the Red Beet cake with Raspberry (berrylicious). The bakeshop bandies its whole and natural food approach in its products. The breads look delicious too.
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Gelatto is everywhere and Gelatto Secrets with its many stalls rule them all. I had the cinnamon which was yummy though the texture was too dense. The Caramel owners said that Gaya Gelatto was so much better. Along Jl Hanoman was a gelatto stall outside a small store selling beauty products. Had the Black Rice twice. Smoorh gelatto with chewy bits of black rice.
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Coffee and Ceremony

Lucky night. While walking along Jl Raya Ubud after an early dinner at Fair Place Warung,  I saw droves of Balinese in formal attire walking and gathering in groups. The last time such gatherings took place, the procession with the ogoh-ogoh took place.

A group of  women had taken post at the corner of Jl Raya Ubud and Jl Sri Wedari. Sensing a procession, I went to nearby Warung Schnitzel, ordered a kopi bali and took stock of the scene from the warung’s balcony. Just as I was finishing what was left in the coffee press, I noticed the crowd had gone bigger and young women with offerings on their heads and young men carrying the sacred barong masks had assembled.
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I quickly paid for my coffee just as gong music led by the ceng ceng started.
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People were  seated in a circle inside which were numerous offerings.  A man in all white,  presumably a pedandas took what seemed to be some root crops and diced them. When he finished, another pedandas scattered away grains of rice. All throughout, woman sang in a plaintive chant.
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Then a bell started to ring whereupon the kneeling crowd took a petal, clasped it between their fingers and seemed to offer it with their arms in prayer position above their heads. When the bell stopped ringing, the women put the petal in a knot on their hair. This went on about three times.
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Then everyone stood-up and one of the pedandas blessed the women with the offerings.
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Gong music started and the procession began with the women leading followrd by the barong masks and the barong ket then the musicians and finally the crowd.
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It was such a thrilling scene with the barong masks held high above the carriers’ heads towering over a sea of people.  The procession went down Jl Raya Ubud then turned left to Jl Hanoman.

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Beautiful Blanco

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Lavish. Elegant. Beautiful. Those three words aren’t enough to describe the Blanco Renaissance Museum. From the moment you pass beneath the welcome arch at the entrance of the curving driveway to the moment you enter the sacred portals of the museum, you feel you are treading on sacred aesthetic grounds.

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All that is true,  good, and beautiful is canonized here.

After paying the IDR 50,000 entrance fee, you pass through this small arch and you feel beautiful already.
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And you emerge on a spacious garden.
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The highlight of course is the museum set-up like a grand European mansion. An imposing arch frames it. It’s Blanco’s inverted signature that had been doubled. Creative.
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No pictures are allowed inside. As you walk from floor to floor gazing at the beautiful pictures, soft operatic museum surrounds you. The paintings are of mostly female nudes. Like any European artist, he was enamored with it. In both sensual and natural poses, Blanco lovingly painted the female figure, most of which were of his Balinese wife, a famous legong dancer. With a style and technique that seemed to border on impressionism, the images are languid and dreamy. Gorgeous frames, artworks in themselves, made even rhe simplest of paintings look lavish.

Up on the rooftop, graceful golden dancers look over the surrounding lush landscape of rice fields.
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Blanco was a Spaniard born in the Ermita district of Manila in the Philippines then moved and lived in the Campuhan area of Ubud. Looking at his photographs on a wall, he bears a strange resemblance to Salvador Dali with his quirky expression.
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His original thatched cottage has been rebuilt and stands beside the museum.
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His only son, Mario, who himself is a painter, has his works exhibited at a smaller gallery cum studio.

Behind the large resting space was this cute cottage.
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I really enjoyed the museum and its grounds. Beautiful and serene are understatements.
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I wonder where this door leads to?
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If it weren’t for my gamelan lessons I would have stayed there for a few more hours. Have some refreshments at the cafe overlooking the gardens, sit at one of the many luxurious European arm chairs or sofas and just gaze at the artworks, or just do nothing but feel the place.
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