Indonesia

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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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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Payuk Bali Cooking Class

Since my first cooking class at Tamnak Lao in Luang Prabang December last year, I’ve made it a point to join a class whenever I travel. It’s a wonderful way of learning the complexity of the cuisine I like so much with the added bonus of being able to re-create the food back home. Actually seeing it being made, seeing how it looks, smelling the aroma, feeling the heat as it simmers, makes the recipe come to life.

I’ve always loved Indonesian food with its fiery spices that tantalize the taste buds and boggle the mind. Where did that flavor come from? How could they have cooked it this way?  My goal in this class was to learn how to make satay, peanut sauce,  and nasi goreng.

With so many cooking classes in Ubud, it was hard to choose. I finally settled on Payuk Bali because of the menu though it didn’t feature nasi goreng.

Ketut, the chef,  picked me up a little past 8 in the morning.  In the van were a young couple from Melbourne,  Rick and Madelaine. We then fetched, another guest, Zuri from the US but based in South Africa. Ketut explained that there were 8 of us but we had been divided in 2 groups.

First stop was Ubud Market.
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This was the same market that tourists go to for souvenir shopping. At past 8 in the morning, it looked different as most if the shops were still closed. Instead, there were all sorts of fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, and other stuff a cook would need.

Lontar leaves and flowers for the canang were also in abundance.
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Of course, what would a traditional Southeast Asian market be without betel leaves?
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Lots of unidentifiable food for sale.
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But the most interesting  find, at least for me,  was the white eggplants!
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They were such a shiny white.

The weighing scale was also interesting.
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From the market, we headed outside Ubud to some rice fields where Ketut explained the Balinese irrigation system called siobak wherein the entire village shares in the irrigation, channeling water where it is needed most.
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One important lesson I learned is: rice  stalks that bend over and touch the ground are no good. Ketut also explained that since the fields had black soil due to its proximity to Kintamani, it was very good for growing white rice.  Brown rice was rhe domain of Jatiluwih which is towards the west.

We then headed to Laplapan village where the cooking school was.

The school was inside a family compound and Ketut explained how itveas organized.  The eldest son’s bungalow faced north while the parents faced west. The kitchen was south.  We were then led to an area used for ceremonies where we were taught to make the simplest canang, those square offerings placed everywhere. According to Ketut, a person needs about 50 of those per day to place everywhere. That’s a lot. No wonder one always sees someone, usually a female,  making canang.

It was simple really. You take a strip of leaf and form it into a square using thin wooden splinters to secure the ends. Then a square piece is placed at the bottom and secured.  A dried betel leaf is placed along with multi-colored flower petals.  Finally, curly hair-like threads of the pandan leaf are placed.

After making the offerings,  cooled with a refreshing glass of lemongrass tea sweetened with honey,  we were lef to a small shed where we watched an old woman make coconut oil over a clay wood-fired stove. A large pot was already simmering and a sheen of oil had already formed on top of the coconut milk.

Then it was on to the cooking school at the back of the compound overlooking a gorge lush with greenery.

One side was the cooking area and another side was the dining area. We had some jackfruit fritters and tea while the staff prepared the kitchen.

The other group arrived a few minutes after we had settled down. They were under another chef’s care.

Our menu: basic paste used for everything,  gado gado, sate lilit, Bumbu ayam, nasi kuning, and sweet potato in palm sugar.

We were each assigned a chopping board and were given stuff to chop. We all shared preparing or cooking the different food rather than creating each of the dishes from scratch.

I was disappointed as I didn’t really feel like I was cooking. The vegetables had been pre-cut already and we merely chopped it and mixed it all up in a stone mortar for the sauces.

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Chicken for the sate lililit was mashed in a large mortar and pestle and anyone who was interested did a few pounding.
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One person would be cooking something and Ketut would tell someone to put a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that while the rest watched.
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One common thing we all did was to put the mashed chicken which had been mixed with the basic sauce in bamboo sticks for the sate lilit.

The saving grace was Ketut’s and the staff’s friendliness and casual banter with us. It was soon over and we headed to the dining area where the staff prepared the food we had cooked buffet style.

There was a lot of food and a few of us took second servings. The spices and the chili had of course been scaled down which made it a little boring. I liked the Bumbu ayam the best.

I did enjoy the class mostly because made it fun and I did get to see how the dishes were all made and with the recipes and all my mental notes, I’m confident I could recreate all those back home. However, I left the cooking school a bit frustrated as I wish I could have experienced some more.

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Sunday with a Bunch of Red Eggs and an Indonesian Recipe

There’s still a whole lot of gravy left from Friday night’s Ayam Presto Telur Asin so I got that, added more red eggs for more bite and some water to lighten it a bit  and used it as a pasta sauce.  Crumbled Vigan longganiza completed the yumminess.  It really is very good but oh so fat and calorie-laden.  Gotta up my Zumba class tomorrow to burn all that excess.

I’m delighted to have finally made Ayam Presto Telur Asin, the  yummy Indonesian fried chicken I tasted at Malioboro Restaurant in my trip to Bali last April.  The chicken was soft to the bone and very crisp but it was the gravy that blew me away.  Not knowing the recipe, I figured that the telur asin (salted eggs) came in the form of the gravy.  Blend the telur asin with the oil used to fry the chicken and you have a really good gravy. The recipe I got from the internet (thank god for Google translate and my knowledge of Bahasa-Indonesia) confirmed that.

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Ayam Tulang Lunak

The house of chicken goodness

Fans of fried chicken will go crazy over its Indonesian version called Ayam Tulang Lunak and the best place to try this is at Malioboro Restaurant in Kuta, Bali A good driver/guide will bring you to the best places to eat and for bringing us tho this rumah makan (literally “eating house”), I  would give To Day two thumbs up.

We had just arrived in Bali and looking forward for some lunch after quick photo-op stop over in touristy Kuta Beach before heading to Tanah Lot and Uluwatu.  The streets of Kuta were expectedly crammed with vehicles jostling space with tanned tourists.  But it was well worth the effort and the restlessness to head to this popular restaurant for fried chicken heaven.

We pulled to the remaining parking slot in front of the restaurant (the Hindu gods must be extra generous to us that day) and sat at one of the formica-stopped tables.  The place was brightly lit with blown-up photo murals of their famous chicken.  “Special Meu: Pressure-cooked chicken,” the mural announced.  To Day promised us it was very good and the bones were soft-enough to eat. Another two thumbs up for To Day.

We ordered an Ayam Presto Telur Asin   and corn soup from the large colorful menu.

As everywhere in Indonesia, I asked “Pedas ini?”  “Tidak,” the waitress assured me. Since the phots showed the chicken served with the head on, I asked that it be taken off.  For Jeanette’s gastronomic delight, I did agree to keep the neck so she ould chew on it.  Eeeewwwwww!

The service was friendly and efficient and they were patient enough to keep bringing us water as I kept mistakenly referring to “cold” as “panas” and “hot” as “dingin.”

The corn soup arrived hot and was very tasty and hearty with sweet corn kernels and some beef chunks.  It was the chicken, however, that took my breathe away.

The chicken was served  halved,  golden brown and slathered with  gravy so rich and delicious I could have eaten a bowlful of it.  “Telus Asin” is salted egg similar in taste and look to our itlog na pula.  I’m guessing that the telur asin was pureed and made into gravy.

Good gravy should be generously poured so you can spoon it and pour it on your rice

Forget about the calories and the cholesterol from all that oil.  It was finger lickin’ good.  Add the plate for lickin’ too as this is one chicken meal that would leave your plate clean as the bones are so soft and crispy they’re good enough to eat. Yup, I was in calcium  over drive that day thanks to all those yummy chicken bones.

Enak sekali,” I remarked to To Day as we climbed back into the van.  If Bali is not only the home of the gods but it’s also the home of the best chicken.

Here’s the address:

AYAM TULANG LUNAK MALIOBORO
Jln Kediri, No 50, I-J Tuban,
Kuta, Bali, Indonesia.
Telephone : 0361-759 192.

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