Our first days in Bali were a bit rough. As tourism drives the area where we are living, signs for sports bars and lasagna line the main street. Restaurants catering to the happy hour crowd, serve watered down local dishes, at best.
Initially, jet lagged and dazed, we weren’t able to see down the right alleys. It is something we learn in every culture. From dining on smorn in the Slovenian markets to the made to order tapenade in the South of France, from pineapple smoothies on Oahu’s North Shore to Tuscan focaccia that is too hot to hold – always follow the locals to the local market.
Bali’s East Coast was no exception. After about three days of wading through tourist menus and overpriced grocery store packaging, we got up early and followed the locals. What we discovered was a window into local culture that is often hard to access in tourist areas. It takes getting up with the sun or venturing out after dark to really connect with the flavors of Bali.
The Pasar Sindhu Night Market has nourished us and quenched our thirst for understanding. Below are some of our reflections on what the food and flavors have taught us about where we are …
Fresh fruit juice is abundant and almost every combination is available. Like many tropical cultures, freshly squeezed juice is just what the body needs to rehydrate and the combinations are endless. The colors in the fruit are reflected in sarongs, textiles and spiritual offerings that we see every day. A pineapple, banana, mango smoothie cost 15,000 IDR = $1.10 USD at the market and it is how we start every meal.
Balinese don’t typically have set meal times (with the exception of ceremonial food). They eat when they are hungry and much of the food is prepared in the morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler. Banana leaves are often used to cover the food and many of the dishes can be eaten hot, cold or room temperature. The two dishes we order every night for breakfast or lunch the following day are nasi goreng and mie goreng or fried rice and fried noodles with egg and vegetables. The price is 15,000 IDR = $1.10 USD for a plate that feeds two to three.
Bakso is Indonesian soup with a broth base, noodles, meatballs and vegetables. There are various condiments available to tailor the experience to your palette but the chili sauce will make it difficult to taste anything else for the rest of the night so beware! President Obama’s favorite Indonesian street food is a bowl of this light yet hearty soup! We often hear people discussing the best bakso vendor. It seems to be the subject of healthy dinner debates and shows the pride Indonesians take in the finer details of this wonderful bowl for 10,000 IDR or .75 US cents
Satay and barbecue are also abundant offerings. We always pick the chicken version, satay ayam, but lamb, beef and even turtle are available. The piercing flames and billowing smoke make these vendors hard to miss. The simplicity of the preparation with the addition of the velvety peanut sauce and rice sweetened by its banana leaf wrapper (lontong), make it the perfect main dish. Ten skewers with rice is 20,000 IDR or $1.50 USD
Fried pancakes and martabak (a flat flakey egg roll fried to order) are our children’s favorites. The pancakes can be filled with anything from bananas and chocolate to lemon and chicken. They taste just as good at night as they do the next morning. We often stop at street stands for local snacks if the kids want to buy their own. For 5,000 IDR or .30 US cents you get a bag of assorted gorengan (fried snacks) of your choice from tofu, tempe, cassava, breadfruit, banana, sweet potato, and spring rolls or bakwan (deep fried mix of shredded cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts). These stands are readily accessible to all and part of every busy or remote corner.
Little by little, as the vendors start to recognize us not a tourists but people, they touch our daughter’s cheek or ask the boys in Indonesian if they would like their usual. As we dance between the fiery, sizzling woks, sampling spicy and sweet and the intersections where they meet, we are starting to understand the balance although it still feels like baby steps.
As the kids shout terima kasih, selamat malam, thank you, good night, the vendors return the call sama-sama, sama-sama, sama-sama, you are welcome, you are welcome, you are welcome.
You are welcome follows us into the night and it is beginning to feel true. We are here and we are welcome.
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