One of the things that I like most about travelling is getting the chance to try all of the different foods in each of the countries you visit. The food in New Zealand was generally similar to what is consumed in the Western world. The Maori liked their Hangii (meat and vegetables slow cooked underground) as well as a basic broth, the name of which I cannot recall, consisting of meat, potatoes and leafy greens. While the Kiwis had their famous meat pies, also a common staple food in Britain, not exactly something to write home about. It was only when I arrived in Bali, Indonesia that I got the opportunity to sample some of the exotic Asian foods that people at home pay good money for at expensive restaurants.
Indonesian food is extremely simple, yet incredibly tasty, depending on where you go to eat of course. I have had some of my best and worst meals here since leaving Ireland. Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) & Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles) are the two staple meals of Indonesia and are generally eaten any time of the day and can cost as little as a euro. They are often served with a fried egg, Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) and a generous dollop of sambal (spicy chilli sauce). A lot of other Indonesian dishes are only slight variations of Nasi and Mie Goreng. Beef Rendang, slow cooked beef in a dry fragrant sauce, is another common dish that can be found on menus throughout Indonesia. Much of the food is pre-cooked and displayed in the glass windows of Warungs, left to the mercy of the flies. Consequently the food is often eaten quite cold. Restaurant’s known as Padang’s specialise in this system of catering and provide a buffet-style service. We generally ate at these establishments, where you could fill your belly on delicious food such as chicken and beef Rendang curry, fried prawns, tempeh, spicy & crispy omelettes, Indonesian potato cakes, vegetable medleys and loads of other strange dishes. All for less than the equivalent of around 3 euros. Food is served spicy as standard and can be served as spicy as the most chilli-tolerant Indian man can handle. I found that the food usually tasted hundreds of times better than it actually looked. Most Indonesians don’t bother spending time on presentation, but rather on the flavours. Bali belly is a comment ailment that many travellers happen to fall victim to due to the widely varying food safety standards put in place nationwide. Thankfully I survived my time here without having to go through that pain.
Of course, Bali, being the tourist capital of Indonesia has an endless number of restaurants geared towards Westerners at prices significantly higher than what would be charged at a local Warung. Admittedly, a burger or a burrito is a welcomed sight after having consumed a couple of kilos of rice over the past few days. Food prices are akin to the attitudes that the locals share for the white westerners, changing drastically from place to place. There are 3 prices; The local price, the haggled tourist price and the idiot tourist price. The local price obviously being the lowest. The Indonesian people are quite small compared to Westerners, therefore their portion size reflects this. Some places just take the piss though. A plate of fries in Indonesia is more often than not equivalent to an American handful of fries. We once went to a little place in Canggu called chicken on fire in a “hangry” state. Our bellies completely empty. We ordered a beef burger each with some wedges. A few minutes later we were presented with what looked like an undercooked slice of salami, cut slightly thicker than a normal and slapped between two pieces of bread, drowned in an ocean of strange smelling mayonnaise. Our bowl of potato wedges was also a sorry sight for even the smallest of bellies. Suffice to say I scoffed down both mine and Robyn’s food in my delirious state.
The party culture of Bali has exploded in the last few decades, what with the constant influx of Aussies, Europeans and Americans. Considering this, the choice of beers leaves for something to be desired. Bintang, the most common beer is a pilsner that tastes similar to any cheap beer back home and is served almost everywhere at 20,000 rupiah for a small bottle or 35,000 rupiah for a big one, which is roughly twice the size. Some places also serve San Miguel beer, apparently due to a historic Spanish influence on the country. Spirits are the same as anywhere, although one should take care not be served the local version of Irish “putcheen” or “moonshine” known as arak. This spirit has supposedly been responsible for killing a number of tourists over the years due to it’s unregulated alcohol content, which can at times be so high that it is poisonous to the system and fatal.
The Indonesian coffee is some of the worlds best. Grown in the optimum environment of nutrient rich volcanic soil. Unlike most western counties, the locals simply mix the coffee directly with the boiling water and wait for the particles to settle before drinking. I found it odd at first not using a filter of some sort. However the coffee tastes great and I will definitely continue to do this myself when a plunger isn’t close at hand. The world’s most expensive “Luwak coffee” is also produced in Indonesia. The Luwak is a small tree-dwelling animal that is part of the cat family. The animal supposedly ingests the berries containing the coffee beans, where they undergo a chemical reaction, reducing the caffeine content and making the bean less bitter and having a smoother taste. The beans are then collected from the animal’s excrement and cleaned, roasted and ground. Unfortunately some have exploited this money making opportunity over the years and the Luwak’s are often caged and fed an unsuitable diet of solely coffee berries.
Since Ubud we have been to Gili Trawangan where we spent 3 days and 3 nights. The islands are amazing for snorkelling. We managed to swim with several turtles over the live coral reef and were constantly surrounded by schools of colourful fish. There are no cars or motorbikes allowed on the island so transport is either by foot, push bike or cimodo (horse and cart). We also cycled around the island and took in some of the huge party scene that the island is most famous for. Our favourite place was the night market where locals sell freshly caught seafood, babeque’d on skewers, such as tuna steak, red snapper and calamari.
After Gili T we made our way to the southern most part of Lombok, Bali’s neighbouring island, where we spent our final 8 nights. The town was called Kuta, a similar title to the party capital of Bali, but that is where the similarities end. Kuta is a small seaside town and a popular destination for surfers looking for good waves without the crowds of Bali. The constant beeping of taxis, rubbish littered streets and yelling voices of street vendors of Bali is replaced with pristine white sand beaches, friendly locals and a tranquil environment. We fell in love with the place almost immediately on arrival. Much of our time was spent surfing the sparsely populated Mawi beach, a 40 minute drive from our Homestay, Tri Putri. The journey to the beach was an arduous one on a scooter. We had to navigate our way down to the beach on a partly paved, rocky, bumpy, uneven and chaotic path. It was great fun, falling off the scooter was a common occurrence. One evening I went for a surf during a big tropical thunderstorm. Lightening illuminated the sky above me while the thunder drummed. I sat on my board looking out to sea at the large bumps approaching me in a rhythmic fashion, the waves smoothed out by the huge droplets of relentless rain. I held an incredibly special feeling while surfing that evening. Post surf, the bad weather lumbered on and the road leading to the beach was almost unrecognisable. A complete quagmire where the ditches that were easily recognisable only a few hours beforehand were now completely submerged in murky water. We slipped and slided our way up the road while a shroud of hungry mosquitoes converged on us, stalling on occasion when our engine was enveloped in water. To our great relief we eventually made it off the path and back to our homestay out of the monsoon shower. We also surfed grupuk bay a few times, where it is necessary to take a boat with one of the locals to access the breaks for a modest sum of money. We spent our last 2 days in Kuta surfing and hanging out with our friends Joe and Helen, whom we had originally met in Bali, laughing over a few bintang, recalling the abundance of funny stories we each had since we had last met.
Kuta was definitely our favourite place out of everywhere that we had visited in Indonesia. It was a breath of fresh air to spend such a long time in such a naturally beautiful setting, away from the crowds of tourists. We are now headed to Thailand and, although I will miss the surfing terribly, I am really excited at the prospect of visiting the country that is home to some of the most delicious food, dramatic beaches and friendly people in the world. We are spending a few nights in Bangkok before venturing into north Thailand to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai before hopefully spending a few days at some of the southern islands and getting a bit of rock climbing in. “Thrima Casi” Indonesia. An incredible country with equally as incredible people. Without doubt we will be returning for a visit. Next time exploring some of the other islands with our surfboards.