Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day Seven in Bali - Cooking at Casa Luna

Laura and I awoke rather early this morning because not only do we have our cooking class but we're also leaving Ubud so we had to check out of our room before we left for our class because it was not scheduled to end until after checkout time. We finished packing all of our last minute things and took our bags to reception, checked out and were met by Ari who took us to our class.

The meeting point was one of Casa Luna's cafes not far from the market and when everyone arrived our guide walked us over to the sprawling open-air food market. On a normal day the market starts at about 6 in the morning and lasts until 10 am expect for special holidays when they open at about 4 in the morning. Because of the heat most families do all their cooking first thing in the morning and do their other chores for the rest of the day.

We started at the west end of the market and were introduced to a woman who makes traditional Balinese beverages. She has a green liquid that smelled of wheatgrass in one tub, a pink liquid in another and to that she adds coconut milk and palm sugar syrup to a plastic bag and voila, the drink is complete. Our guide told us that he has lived in the area since he was quite young (he was a little vague) but she has sold her drink at the market for as long as he can remember.

Next we met a trio of ladies who sell a traditional Indonesian breakfast of rice, coconut, greens and spices in a banana leaf. They too come every day and carry everything with them, pots laden with food, tables, tablecloths and they travel on foot. Like many women in this part of the world, they balance their burdens on their heads using towels to better distribute the weight and to add stability. It is an impressive feat but even more so when you consider the rather advanced age of the three women.

Afterwards we were introduced to the various fruits, spices, vegetables and grains commonly used and available at the market. Many of the things we were shown were familiar but often they use varieties that I have never head of before and that have a different taste. Throughout the tour not only were ingredients identified but we were also told how they are used and what beneficial properties they possess.

Our tour complete, we walked over to Casa Luna's cooking school to have a sampling of Balinese breakfast foods. Some are pictured below but not all because our first dish were little green pancakes with palm sugar syrup that gives the impression that everything is accompanied by syrup which isn't true, it's just the leavings of the first item. Most of the foods were a little doughy and had some form of coconut in them or on them but were not necessarily sweet. To drink we were served hibiscus tea made from the petals of the red hibiscus flower and a bit of sugar. I found it refreshing and Laura wrote down the recipe.

Then our instructor arrive who was none other than Casa Luna's owner, Janet. She first visited Bali from Australia in 1974 and in 1984 she moved here permanently and opened the first of her many establishments. We first reviewed what it was we were going to be cooking, then we were shown the various ingredients that we going to be used. The curry paste we would be using was still in solid form so we started grinding it together using a traditional mortar and pestle. It isn't as easy as it looks and it takes a while to get the full motion down but we got there eventually.

As we started to assemble our meal the smells permeated the open-walled room. Many of the dishes called for lemongrass or ginger or garlic or shallots or a combination thereof and the aromatic spices were making our mouths water even though we had just finished breakfast. Chatting continued and soon our food was ready so we were issued plates and ate our lunch, albeit not all that long after having had breakfast.

After lunch Ari picked us up and we were spirited to Canggu where we would spend our the last three days in Bali (well, one afternoon, one day and one morning). On the way we passed many rice fields where people were busily harvesting the precious grains.

Tugu Bali is a resort renown for their spa treatments. They are amongst the best in the world and have been listed in the rather pretentious Robb Report's guide to the "Best in the World." We walked into the enormous lobby building and were immediately greeted with fresh fruit juices and comfortable chairs while we were checked in. During the process all of our bags were taken to our room and when we arrived everything was neatly organized in the entryway. The room is huge and we have our own private pool!

Once we got settled and Ari departed (we're going to miss our driver, guide and friend) we headed back to reception to inquire about getting a ride to Seminyak, the closest shopping and a rather posh area. They called a car for us and we wandered the busy rows of shops trying to find a few last minute gifts.

Before leaving Laura booked a short massage for this evening and we both made reservations for spa services tomorrow. Upon our triumphant return Laura was collected for her massage and I perused the menu. Relaxed and refreshed when she came back to the room, Laura and I had a little dinner and then decided to have an early night.

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