Grazing around Bali

Continuing his search for good Balinese food, DonQui heads to the Denpasar night market.

The delightfully enthusiastic Micheal Sega is DonQui’s guide for the evening. He takes DonQui to the best food stalls, explains the different foods as well as giving insight into Balinese culture, beliefs and legends.

The onde and pisang snacks are very moreish. 

Pisang (right) are bits of banana (sometimes also with chocolate) wrapped in a light batter and deep fried while the onde sesame coated balls (left) are filled with mung bean paste. Both are very good but DonQui adores the latter. They also keep well until the next day.

The highlight of DonQui’s taste journey is soto ayam. DonQui’s guide assures him that the soto ayam at this stall is the best one can find anywhere. In many other places he says that it can be lacklustre as they do not know how to cook it properly.

Soto ayam is a hearty chicken soup flavoured with turmeric and coriander and including hard boiled egg, cabbage, glass noodles and potato. It is eaten by scooping out some of the solid ingredients onto the accompanying rice, rather than adding the rice to the soup which would change the taste and constituency. A chilli sambal adds a bit of spice to the rice, meat, egg and veg combination. A spoonful of crushed crackers adds body to the soup.

It is washed down with a deliciously refreshing bottle of temulawak — a non-fizzy soft drink made with turmeric.

Another of DonQui’s favourites is tender goat satay, freshly grilled over hot coals and served doused with kecap manis (sweet soy).

The babi guling (various parts of a spit-roasted suckling pig) at the night market is a bit of a disappointment. It is lukewarm and bits of it are quite chewy rather than crispy.

He had a far better one at Babi Guling Men Lari on his lunch stop coming back from Tanah Lot (see Canggu Explorations).

There are so many other delectable treats that DonQui begins to loose count of them as his capacity for more food is stretched to bursting. 

The choice of exotic fruits to finish off with are simply astounding. He is slightly relieved to hear that the rank-smelling durian fruit is out of season as pride and curiosity would have made him try it. 

Instead he opts for a delicious (and apparently very healthy) mangosteen which he enjoys very much, taking a bag back with him to his abode.

At other times during his stay on Bali ,DonQui is able to try a variety of other dishes. Of course at some point he has a nasi goreng (fried rice) which is a bit of a staple and not unknown to him.

Beef rendang is a favourite which he has also had before — deliciously slow cooked in coconut milk, turmeric, lemon grass and ginger.

DonQui is quite surprised that, although living on an island, the Balinese do not seem to eat much fish. Eventually he comes across gulan ikan. This is a curry, made with barramundi fish and tomatoes. DonQui has never heard of barramundi before but it is apparently quite common in S.E. Asia. The flesh is flaky, a bit like cod, but the taste is milder — more like sea bass. This means that it takes the spicy coconut curry sauce very well.

Canggu Explorations

DonQui’s fabulous yet inexpensive lodgings are an oasis of greenery and calm in the buzzy backpacker/surfer/hipster enclave of Canggu, Bali.

Next door is the highly rated Crate Café which does have very good coffee. However the weird combinations of food on offer seem designed to be instagram-able, and to please the taste buds of homesick Australians rather than a travelling donkey. There is nothing local on the menu and all the customers are white — apart from DonQui who is slightly greyish.

Scratching his head, DonQui wonders why people travel so far just to have the same stuff they would have at home, Then he trots off in search of something vaguely Balinese to eat. This is harder than he would have thought. Amongst the tattoo parlours using 100% vegan ink and barber shops offering beard trims, there are plenty of restaurants. On offer are vegan ‘whole foods’, Keto-friendly options, poke bowls, protein smoothies, ramen, tacos, sushi, and avocado on everything. In short nothing that appeals to DonQui’s taste buds.

Finally DonQui stumbles upon Pali — an actual Balinese restaurant in an airy setting overlooking a rice paddy, and not a stray hipster in sight. DonQui samples the utterly delicious Nasi Campur Rendang. The spicy chicken satay skewered on a lemongrass stalk is a particular treat, as is the Urap (cold steamed vegetables with spiced grated coconut).

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, DonQui walks down to nearby Echo Beach and then along the black sands towards Pererenan.

Passing a family at their devotions, DonQui enjoys the underdevelopment of the beaches here and wonders how much longer they will remain so.

The beach at Pererenan is dominated by the amazing Gajah Mina statue which depicts Lord Baruna, ruler of the sea, riding a fantastic mythical creature.

Deciding that he wishes to explore further afield, DonQui realises that he needs to join Bali’s scooter madness, since hiring a scooter is really the only way to get around.

Before allowing himself to create mayhem on the streets he books himself in for a session with the excellent Mamo from Canguu Scooter Lessons. Soon DonQui is feeling confident enough to be let loose on the road.

A half an hour ride takes him to Tanah Lot temple which is spectacularly set on rocks above the Indian Ocean.

There are some pretty stunning views…

… and a parlous crossing at high tide.

Before leaving the temple, DonQui decides to stop for a famous Luwak Coffee. This is made from coffee beans which have eaten by luwaks (civets), partially digested and then evacuated before being gathered up for processing. Due to its unusual and limited production method this highly prized coffee is amongst the most expensive in the world. DonQui thinks it is a most excellent brew and he is getting a bargain at Rp 50k (around £2.70) a cup. 

The café owner even has a luwak (related to a mongoose) resting on the bar after its digestive exertions! 

The mobility of the scooter allows DonQui to reach further away beaches and find more authentic Balinese restaurants beyond the hipster ghetto. Of the latter, the unobtrusive Home by Chef Wayan is particularly good. He also enjoys Babi Gulung (Balinese suckling pig) from a roadside stop.

And no, he does not try his hand at surfing.