Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
It’s not easy to live the Balinese way. They put so much effort in preparations for cooking, making offerings and decorations. Everything requires a lot of ingredients or components, put together delicately and in an artistic way. That is at least what I concluded from the janur and cooking class in Bali. I took these classes at Hotel Tugu Bali, complementing to what I learned at the Herb Walk of UWRF.
The one night stay and the classes were complimentary, nevertheless I learned a little bit more about Bali and had a great time stacking up flowers and working up my biceps!
Everywhere you go in Bali, from the temples to house gates, you will find countless decorations made of young coconut leaves. These leaves are called janur, usually tied to long bamboo poles or arranged with flowers as offerings.
Layers of janur are interweaved into small containers to hold flowers, smaller leaves and food, and sometimes money. These offerings, called banten, are usually placed in more than one spot. They are offered a few times each day, at least in the morning and late in the afternoon. I could only imagine how much flowers and leaves are picked each day for this.
“The used flowers, which are dead, can then be dried and made into another kind of decorations. Some are even exported to Japan,” Kadek, my Janur Class instructor, explained while showing me how things get done. Her fingers danced eloquently in between the leaves and almost magically shaped them into a circular container that looked like two fans put together.
The ideal way of making these offerings is to use only natural elements. Unfortunately, a lot of the canang (the small containers) today are made of coconut leaves stapled together instead of being pinned with small bamboo sticks. I’ve also seen offerings that carry plastic-wrapped food.
“Yeah, it’s just more practical that way,” Kadek admitted with a little embarrassed giggle, because she was also using staples for the canang.
Then on we went with the next lesson: flowers arrangement. She let me arrange these round yellow flowers as I wished, after she demonstrated a little bit. It was my first time arranging flowers and I liked how therapeutic it felt. I think I did pretty well.
The Janur Class is always held private. I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for something artsy and quiet, though cutting and twisting those fragile coconut leaves without tearing them is a potentially nerve-wrecking activity if you’re all thumbs.
Janur Class is held in Waroeng Djamoe, a hut near the swimming pool. It takes about an hour and you can book it for IDR 130,000++/person.
A gigantic Dutch trading company, VOC, came and colonized what is now Indonesia centuries ago. For what? Spices. To then be sold in high prices to feed the ego of rich Europeans.
I don’t normally do much cooking with complicated ingredients. Salt, pepper, sometimes paprika and chili are mostly what I throw in my cauldron. This time, in the cooking class with Hotel Tugu Bali, I’m working with much more complicated recipes, in which a lot of spices were involved. Much of Indonesian traditional food requires a lot of spices as ingredients since it grows abundantly here. I never really thought of it as special until I learned about how precious it was to the Europeans!
Kicking off the cooking class, Desy, one of the Kitchen staff, took me shopping for the ingredients. The actual ingredients were already prepared at Waroeng Djamoe, but experiencing the traditional market completes the whole cooking package. You can even see small shrines located in between stalls of spices and other food ingredients. It’s not something you could see in a market just anywhere.
We started the cooking session with Sate Lilit. Sate or satay is a ubiquitous food in Indonesia, but sate lilit is a different kind. As fish meat is too easily shredded, here the snapper meat is grinded using the stone grinder, mixed with the spice paste (consisted of shallots, garlic, galangal and many others), then made into compact round shapes and pressed around lemongrass sticks. Then grilled until they turn golden.
Wow. I never thought I would be making sate lilit! I first knew it in 2009 and thought it was weird. It turned out to be quite challenging, especially making the fish meat stick to the lemongrass. And do not underestimate the grinding traditional way. Do it everyday and you won’t need dumbbells to work your biceps! Desy patiently taught me how to grind the spices while Bu Lastri, their senior cook, was preparing the ingredients for the next recipe.
We were using snapper fillets and the spices included onion, garlic, lemongrass, chili, shrimp paste, garlic and bay leaves. We added a beaten egg before wrapping it with banana leavese, then steamed it for about an hour. This one was one of the easiest to prepare.
Lawar Kacang Panjang’s main ingredients are finely sliced long beans, most popularly mixed with minced pork, but here we’re using chicken because I don’t eat pork. Similar spices as the previous recipes were thrown in, but it also uses coarsely grated roasted coconut. The mixing of everything is done manually with your hand, and I’m sure normally the Balinese do it with bare hands. But because this is a 5-star hotel and they should pay more attention to hygiene, we used plastic gloves to mix the ingredients.
While I was preparing lawar with Desy, Bu Lastri was preparing much of the Ayam Pelalah and Jukut Ares. Ayam Pelalah is basically shredded chicken stir-fried with all sorts of spices and it’s quite hot spicy. Jukut Ares is sliced young banana stem and chicken boiled in spices, like ginger, turmeric, garlic and lemongrass, among others.
She was doing this one mostly by herself to save a little time because I was scheduled for airport in just a little while. But I could not skip the last recipe!
Sambal Matah is one of my most favorite sambal in the whole world. It’s spicy, hot, and fresh because it’s raw. Prepare finely sliced shallot, lemongrass, red chili, kaffir lime leaves, add shrimp paste, kaffir lime juice, cooking oil, and mix with some salt, pepper and sugar, voila! A chili experience at its best!
The cooking class took about 4 – 5 hours, excluding the trip to the market. Afterward, everything was served for your lunch.
All the dishes tasted right. I might be subjective because I took part in the cooking, but I’ve tasted Balinese food before and these weren’t far off. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Balinese food in general, except sambal matah, which I think is to die for. But the use of lemongrass really set the food apart from other Indonesian traditional food. The taste and smell is so distinctive, I once misused it in a dish, turned it to a whole different menu. But now I can say proudly that I finally made a good sambal matah! Oh yeah!
Predictably, like the few cooking classes I’ve taken before, I never really practice the recipes at home. To me personally, taking a cooking class (or others as well, like Janur Class) is a fun way to channel my creative itch while learning a bit about the culture where the food (or craft) was originated.
From these classes in Hotel Tugu Bali, I realized how much patience and environmental awareness one should have and could learn by making janurs for offerings everyday, and how small contributions of each spice could make a big difference in a complicated dish yet looking so simple sometimes.
Up for a cooking class in Hotel Tugu Bali? Prepare IDR 950,000 ++ / person – including market visit or Rp 750,000 ++ / person – without market visit.
More of their culture and crafty classes can be found here.
* * *HOTEL TUGU BALI Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu Beach, Bali-Indonesia Ph +62 3614731701 • +62 81236778361 • +62 81805307164, Fax. +62 3614731708 E: firstname.lastname@example.org