Since we were joined for New Year in Bali by some of our family and friends, we’ve been eating, drinking and generally making merry in the Seminak area. Our retreat, which was refreshing in so many ways, is over and life is slowly beginning to get pleasantly busier once more. Time to pack those backpacks again.

On Monday, thirteen of us set off on mass to the small fishing village of Candidasa. After the traffic filled and tourist-centric environment of the Kuta area, we are now beginning to experience more of the real Bali, with quieter streets, less hassle from hawkers and many more acres of rice paddy. With such a big group of us, Helen and I took advantage of the fact that we could easily go our separate ways for a day, pretty much for the first time since we set off in August! So, as she prepared for an energetic day of cycling with Louise and Rory, I was up early with Julian and Rich to do the traditional British boys’ activity of a Balinese cookery course at Bali Asli Cookery School and Restaurant.


Set up on a hill overlooking rice fields in the foothold of the mythical Mount Agung, Bali Asli is a new venture by chef Penelope Williams, who hopes to change some of the ways that Balinese restaurants and villas approach their methods of serving and sourcing food for the tourist market. An Australian who has worked in top restaurants around the world – she trained under Gordon Ramsey at the Savoy in London – Penny has lived in Bali for a few years now and, having fallen in love with the culture and cuisine here, she rejects the import style of cooking in many Balinese tourist restaurants and prepares only local produce from the market, or grown by her or her neighbours outside her serene restaurant. In doing so, she says she is promoting Balinese cuisine and culture without exploiting the land or its people. “We embrace our community,” she writes on her website, “supporting those who fish, farm and forage in the nearby fields, ocean and jungle.”

So, true to this philosophy, it was nearby in the local market that our day began, albiet without cameras – we’d left them in the car after the 25 minute drive from Candidasa. Helen and I had been to local markets in the Canggu area, but none were as bustling or thriving as the one in the town of Amlapura. Here, Penny gave us a guided tour of the somewhat hectic market, introducing us to the local fruit and vegetables, breakfast dishes, sales of live fish in fairground-like plastic bags, and handy pre-made offerings for the busy two-income Balian household. Having avoided the rain and enjoyed our short experience of the sounds and smells of local food commerce, we headed five minutes by car up the hillside to the small village of Gelumpang where Bali Asli peeps out with an open side across the unpopulated fields towards the sacred mist-coated mountain.

Refreshing drinks were the first port of call, as we were presented with cinnamon and clove-infused snake fruit soda (complete with a sugar cane stirrer), ginger tea and, something of a revelation, ginger coffee. The latter tastes less like coffee and more like a rich hot chocolate, the bitterness of the black coffee tempered by the heady sweet and spice of ginger. These drinks accompanied the many Balinese sweets and spicy breakfast foods we’d brought back from the market, many wrapped delicately in banana or palm leaf, some with sticky rice, papaya and banana. We shared and devoured these tasty little packages.


Next it was down to the serious business of tasting the local ingredients we’d later be cooking with. This was led with humour and knowledge by Penny as we learned about varieties of local rice, limes, leaves and chillies, Balinese spices, natural healing properties and the flavour balancing ingredients such as sour tamarind, sweet palm sugar and salty soy sauce.



Our cooking began with the base for many Indonesian dishes, a spicy paste called Bumbu – Balinese Bumbu in this case. Containing small amounts of the many fragrant local ingredients we had just tasted (such as candlenuts, nutmeg, shrimp paste, tamarind, lemongrass, chilli and kencur) the paste is prepared by grinding like a pesto in a traditional pestle and mortar called a ulekan. This Bambu was one of three we made which then became the base for dishes such as Sate Lemat Be Siap (chicken sate on lemongrass skewers), Bumbu Kacang (peanut sauce), Pesan Be Pasih (spiced fish fillet grilled in banana leaf), Urab Paki Kacang Metah (fern tips with grated coconut and red beans) and Tum Tahu (spiced tofu banana leaf parcel). The ingredients were fresh and delicious and, with help from Penny, we learned some top tips for effectively balancing the three main flavours of any cuisine, salty, sweet and sour.







Our final task – before consuming all these goodies – was to cook arguably the best known of Indonesian dishes, Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice). Perhaps appropriately for this time of year, this is a dish born out of the need to use up leftovers, fried up with rice. Here’s Penny’s recipe that we used, although you could just see what’s in the fridge…

20g diced chicken breast
1 cup steamed rice (cooked and cooled)
10g leek, sliced
1/2tsp chopped garlic
5g large red chilli
10g sliced onion
5g sliced Asian greens (spinach or cabbage could substitute)
10g carrot, sliced
10g green beans, sliced
1 small red chilli (hot!), seeds removed and sliced
2 eggs (one for omelette, one for mixing)
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce (Kecap Manis)
3/4 tbsp soy sauce (Kecap Asin)
3/4 tbsp sesame oil
1tsp Bumbu Bali (you might have to improvise with this one!)

1) In a wok, preheat 2 tbsp peanut oil (veg oil would be fine – not olive oil though) until almost smoking.

2) Add chicken and stir.

3) Add the vegetables.

4) Add the Bumbu.

5) Crack in one whole egg and stir with the back of the spoon until dry and crumbly.

6) Turn off the heat.

7) Add the rice, sauces and mix with the flat back of the wok spoon or spatula.

8) Taste and adjust seasoning.

9) Pack into a small bowl and turn out onto the plate.

10) Garnish with egg omelette, fried shallots and pickled vegetables.


Of course, the proof of the, erm, pudding will be in whether or not the eating of these recipes will be as good in rainy Manchester as they were in rainy Gelumpang, in the cloudy shadow of Bali’s Mount Agung.





One Comment to “Satays-faction – Bali Asli Cookery School”

  • Looks fabulous but we will probably wait until you can cook it for us! And John and Rosemary? Now only Vietnamese cuisine to brush up on!