One of my most favourite things to do when I travel is to do a cooking class. I find that they are always lots of fun and I tend to meet interesting and lovely people doing a cooking class. It’s something about the people who love to cook and love to eat! These are my kind of people! Of course, I love to learn about food and culture and life as well which you can do on a cooking class.
When I visited Sanur in Bali, I did a cooking class with Chef Mudana at his home in Sanur. This cooking school is a relatively new business venture by this experienced Chef and I think it will do very well because of his bright and attentive personality and the sheer number of dishes he manages to get through in a session. In class, we were taught 9 different recipes. Whilst this seems like a daunting number of dishes for only 2 hours of cooking time, it really helps a Balinese food amateur understand how the Balinese spice mix called Bumbu Bali is the basis of a number of dishes and how many of the other dishes have the same starting point. Once you have the basics sorted out, you have the foundation for other recipes.
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning of the morning before discussing the various dishes. First we had a market tour at Jimbaran fish market. It’s right on the beach where we could see fishermen checking their nets for small sardine fish.
The fish market itself is a wet market so I would avoid this part if you are squeamish about being in a wet market. The fish and other seafood looked fresh and the seafood market was not smelly at all.
For the first time ever, I saw a mahi-mahi fish. It’s a strange looking fish, very thin but long with a strange protruding forehead and vibrant colours.
I like visiting markets especially on a tour like this one because it gives me a chance to ask a local lots of questions. I can get help to identify all manner of new fruits, vegetables and animal products as well as get a feel for local prices and the way local people like to shop for their food.
After we purchased fish and prawns, we bought the vegetables and the chicken. From there, we went to Chef Mudana’s home where we were treated to a light breakfast of fruit and local sweets. The sweets are called Lak Lak and Lupis and they were served with grated coconut and a drizzle of palm sugar syrup. Lak Lak are made with rice flour and has a chewy texture a little like crumpets. Lupis are triangular dumplings made with glutinous rice within banana leaves and boiled. They are similar in concept Chinese rice dumplings wrapped in leaves and there are many, many scrumptious variations both savoury and sweet all across South East Asia (that’s one of the things I love about food and cooking – you can take one great concept and across the various cultures in the region, there can still be so much variation).
After munching down on the Balinese sweet treats and some tropical rambutan and mango, we got started on the cooking. Chef Maduna carefully explains the traditional Balinese ingredients and cooking methodology encouraging us to smell, touch and taste during the cooking process. The recipes or dishes we prepared during the class are as follows
Bumbu Bali – this is the traditional Balinese spice mix which will give a classic Balinese taste. Whilst this was ground using a mortar and pestle in class to demonstrate traditional methods, I would definitely be using a food processor for speed and efficiency! In fact, I think doing a big batch and then freezing small portions of this would make a speedy cheat on a busy night to give a dish an exotic flavour lift!
Ayam Betutu – tender, juicy, steamed chicken coated in the Bumbu Bali. It was also stuffed with more of the spice mix and greens. The result here was tender, flavourful chicken and yields quite a large amount of spiced chicken juices which I think would make a delicious stock for soup, risotto or rice.
Sate Lilit Ayam – this is a grilled spicy chicken mince shaped around a lemongrass skewer. This dish was also flavoured with the Bumbu Bali and contains a surprisingly large proportion of grated coconut compared to the chicken. During class, these were cooked over a charcoal grill with the lemongrass stalks. I think if I do this at home, I can use my sandwich press to cook them. The flattened shape won’t be authentic but they will still be tasty and perfect finger food for a party!
Soup Cramcam Ayam – This Balinese chicken soup has an interesting backstory. It too uses the Bumbu Bali to flavour the dish. Originally this soup was invented as a way to make the tough meat of fighting cockerels palatable once these birds had finished their cockfighting careers – unfortunately they didn’t often die of old age! Hence the use of mince and soup to counteract the tough, dryness of these kind of chickens! Smart cooking!
Sayur Urab – a vegetable dish of blanched vegetables, sautéed aromatics and freshly grated coconut. A healthy dish with a bit of spice and lot of texture. Yum!
Gado Gado – a famous Indonesian dish of blanched vegetables and hard-boiled egg served with a peanut sauce. Deep fried tofu and tempeh are added for texture and protein.
Ikan Sambal Matah – a slab of simple, grilled fish topped with a spicy raw mix of aromatics called Sambal Matah. Sambal Matah is basically chopped garlic, shallots, lemongrass, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, lime and coconut oil. How can such a combination whilst still raw be tasty? Well, it is! It’s my favourite thing about Balinese cuisine. I don’t need anything except Sambal Matah and steamed rice and I am in a tasty food heaven! Well, the mix is delicious on fish as well. I think it would be a fun thing to whip up for a BBQ as a spicy, tasty topping for any grilled meats.
Sambal Udang – this is a prawn dish stir fried with chilli, shallots, garlic and tomatoes. Simple but delicious!
Dadar gulung – a dessert of thin green crepes wrapped around a palm sugar, grated coconut mixture. There’s something about the fragrance of palm sugar which takes this dessert to another level
In addition to all these dishes which were on the “syllabus” for the cooking class, the Chef had noticed during the market tour that a participant was partial to eggplant and I have a liking for bitter gourd. He picked up some of each and did a quick and delicious stir-fry dish with each for us. What a thoughtful gesture!
On completion of the cooking class, we were all returned to our accommodation where we could digest our massive and delectable lunch with bit of an afternoon snooze!
Hope this has whetted your taste-buds for Balinese foods! What are the base ingredients which are the foundation of many dishes in your culture? Check out this infographic for some inspiration!