East Bali from the water.
The truth is that we debated whether or not even to go to Bali. We had dinner several months ago with some friends that had just returned from their honeymoon there. They are also rather intrepid travelers so we were shocked that it was where they had chosen to go. They stayed for two weeks (combined with Lombok) and though they had a positively amazing time, were very clear to warn us that there would be a lot (A LOT) of other tourists. The romantic notion of having a far off tropical asian island to yourself would certainly, certainly not be the case. They told us that if we stood any chance of avoiding the throngs, we best head to East Bali.
So we did, and we thank them now.
In East Bali you actually do feel like you have this paradise to yourself. There are very few tourists over here because there is not a lot fancy in this part of Bali. Most people come to Bali and stay in Ubud or in the South where tons of bars and restaurants keep things interesting while the scenery is still beautiful. That is not what we were looking for. We were hoping beyond hope to find something a bit more authentic (understanding that many, many people also look for that), though understanding, after all, that Bali is like a tourist mecca.
We are staying a beautiful private villa with our pool, beautiful beach and incredible views. The only thing that you can hear at almost any time of day if the sound of the waves breaking on the shore.
We awoke to that noise at 5:30am this morning. Despite our later arrival, we had booked the day at Alila Manggis’s cooking class. I hated myself for making that booking when the alarm went off, but my view quickly changed.
After the quick 5 minute drive to Alila Manggis (one of two 5-star resorts in East Bali, the other being the Amankila), we quickly set off in the Alila fishing boat, looking back at the shore and the peak of Gunung Agung. We had to catch our lunch. We went about 30 minutes into the ocean before we dropped the line and hoped. Fortunately, fishing in these waters, as Ms. Cupcake likes to say, is like fishing in a rich man’s aquarium. You literally catch something about every 5 minutes – red snapper, trigger fish, crocodile fish, parrotfish, jackfish and others. The only problem, for us unfortunate novices, is that all we caught for the most part was little versions of the above – so little they had to be thrown back. Our stomachs lucked out, however, because the two fisherman with us caught two very large jackfish. Yay – LUNCH!
After fishing, we had a lovely breakfast on Alila’s terrace looking out over the ocean. It was the perfect proper welcome to Bali now that we had woken up a bit. Alila’s property exuded a simple, understated elegance that is the essence of what I think people look for when they come to Bali. Our food, especially the banana juice, was just delicious.
An assortment of rice, beans and bird seed.
Mangosteen - my new favorite fruit.
Flowers for sale.
We received a tour of the garden, including explanations of the many local items that we couldn’t even attempt to grow at home. One of the great Alila staff up in the garden, a very nice older gentleman, offered to come to our villa to sell us his home grown vanilla beans and coffee. Alila’s head chef, Santika, was to be our teacher for the rest of the morning. For the next two hours, he took us through making 8 different dishes. We started with bumbu bali, the fundamental sauce that is the key element of Balinese cuisine. From there, we moved on to marinate our huge jackfish, make chicken satay, make a Balinese version of a tamale (ground chicken with coconut milk, bumbu bali, and other spices steamed in a banana leaf, nasi goreng and some excellent veggie accompaniments.
Ingredients used - rice, beans, nuts, spices, veg, etc.
Jackfish marinated in Bumbu Bali
I don't know what this is but it tasted good.
The class was great because it was not a cooking demonstration – it was an actual interactive class. We chopped and stir-fried and stirred. It was great. Santika was a fantastic teacher and a pleasure to be around. He explained things slowly and made sure we got the Balinese mortar and pestle technique down. He joined us for lunch once we were done. We ate in a beautiful hut set in the garden that overlooked the terraces and the ocean. With enough food for a village set in front of us, an excellent morning behind us and a view fit for the gods we felt like we were in heaven.
Balinese Nasi Goreng
Eggplant salsa for the fish.
Laklak and sweet potato in coconut and palm sugar.
Conversations with Santika shifted to real estate. Not too unreasonable, especially in East Bali. Of course it was just our first day, but all we could talk about with S and L when we returned to the villa was how great the day was. We finished the day sipping some Bintang in our gazebo next to the ocean. It was as close to a perfect vacation day as you can imagine.
Thanks again for the advice, JP and A.