“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” Dorothy Day
Food, Glorious fresh and colourful Balinese Food, enriched with spices and flavours was on the agenda for our third day and as it’s no secret that the other half likes to eat, a day trip to Rumah Desa (meaning house in the village) to participate in a Balinese cooking class and rice field adventure was right up his street. Located in the tranquil village of Bargu in the Marga district of Tabanan, Rumah Desa was a good couple of hours by car from Jimbaran.
An early pick-up by the very jovial (even at 7am) Puta Sara and we were on our way for our adventure, after stopping off to collect some fellow guests en route we visited the local traditional market with our guide Wayan Miasa (Demon) to get acquainted with the wide variety of produce fresh from the local farms and vital ingredients in Balinese cooking. Markets are an important part of Bali’s culture and social life as the women visit them early every morning to snap up the best ingredients fresh from the mountains, taking organic to the next level. In fact markets were where courtships began before the days of Facebook and now many couples meet using social media, in fact one of our drivers met his wife that way.
The market was busy and colourful, a vibrant snap shot into the daily routine of the Balinese people, where baskets and baskets of fresh fruit, vegetables, aromatic herbs, spices and flowers are available alongside different varieties of rice and live chickens. Incessant chatter filled the air as groups of women sat weaving coconut leaves into the now familiar daily offering baskets. Many of the flower filled offerings smouldered on the floor with the intense smell of incense (you have to refrain from stepping on them as a mark of respect) and Wayan explained that the offerings are used to appease the Gods. Alongside the flowers and incense small items of food are also placed inside, sometimes even a lit cigarette too.
Rumah Desa was constructed using “astakosalakosali” that keeps the harmonious relationship amongst nature, humans and God, an important factor to the Balinese and their balanced Hindu beliefs. The business not only employs thirty-nine family members but has also empowered and developed the village through tourism and the popularity of its programmes. Rumah Desa is a Balinese home compound where many of the family reside in a series of separate colourful and ornate open-air buildings that act as bedrooms, social areas, the cooking school, dining room and temples all set in an oasis of colourful tropical plants and flowers.
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed with a refreshing juice and introduced to the traditions of Balinese cuisine and culture, giving us an insight into not only the cooking but also the eating habits of the Balinese people. Dishes are prepared in the morning to last all day and family help themselves whenever they are hungry rather than eating a meal together (a concept that I may adopt to appease the menfolk in my family). Balinese food is aromatic and preparation is time consuming as even the simplest of pastes require an abundance of ingredients. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter and sharp are the six flavours that make up each meal to promote good health and energy, whilst also stimulating the senses.
Aprons on we got stuck straight in, working with Ketut Pariantini, Puta and a young lovely American couple. We prepared Base be Pasih (spicy paste for seafood) while the other group made Base be Siap (spicy paste for chicken). We learnt about all the different herbs, their flavouring and medicinal qualities and how combinations are used to flavour different meats and fish. Next up was the preparation of Sate Ayam (Chicken Sate) and Ayam Betutu (whole stuffed roast chicken) where the meat is wrapped in banana leaves to be steamed, much as we would use tin foil. The class was interactive and interesting and Wayan was very knowledgeable in both his cooking and translation skills. Staples of coconut, ginger and chilli are used in most dishes as is palm sugar. Extra flavour is added by candlenuts, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Like most things in Balinese life, food is not only about nourishment but also an essential in the daily offerings and ceremonies to honour the gods. Babi Guling (suckling pig) is a delicacy prepared during special ceremonies and available at most places on the island for tourists to sample.
After we were shown the process of extracting coconut milk, we drank fresh coffee ground from the beans growing in the gardens around us with a snack of sweet potato bites rolled in coconut (bit different from my usual latte and muffin). We donned conical bamboo hats synonymous with rice field workers and set off for the second part of our adventure, a short trek with our guide Putu Candra (a member of the family) through the lush damp rainforest via a rickety bamboo bridge across the Kajang river and past a beautiful little waterfall. Putu was excellent guide, sharing his extensive knowledge of all the tropical plants and their uses and how he used to bathe in the river and waterfall as a child but sadly this is no longer possible due to the water being polluted by rubbish from modern day life.
We continued on to the family rice field as he further explained about the Subak (irrigation system) and how the community share water so that everyone’s crops can prosper. Rice is the staple dish in Bali, appreciated as a gift of life from the Gods. Offerings and prayers are said before planting rice to get Mother Earth’s blessing on the crop and again before harvesting. Nasi Campur, a steamed rice dish with meat or vegetables (varies due to fresh ingredients and budget restrictions) is Bali’s signature dish and eaten by the locals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We met the farmers from his family who work in the rice field and had a go at harvesting some rice too. The other half was in his element riding the plough pulled by cows and planting rice in the muddy terrace, I think he may have found his calling! We were refreshed with coconuts cut straight from the tree while our guides talked us through the rice planting and harvesting process and how bamboo and coconut palms are important for building and used as food sources. I found it all so interesting, did you know for example that they use every part of the coconut palm in some form or another, nope me either!
After a short drive back we feasted on the fruits of our earlier labour and I’m pleased to report there was a good selection of vegetarian options too. Desserts included the sweet Bubuh Injin (black rice pudding) infused with coconut milk and palm sugar. Rumah Desa is the ultimate place to get back to nature and enjoy a Balinese culinary journey with food sourced straight from the fields and the local market. All the staff were genuine, friendly and professional, excited to share their knowledge, wisdom and catered for our every need. Rumah Desa offers a traditional enriching experience, it was a beautiful place to discover the true core of authentic Bali from its friendly people, culture, art, rituals and philosophy through the activities that it offered. I whole-heartily recommend everything about this trip which we both throughly enjoyed, thank you for having us Rumah Desa.
Just when we thought our experience was over, we made one last stop on the journey home. After bouncing along through tough terrain we visited the home of Wayan in his village which was surrounded by the most lush green rice fields and farms and met some of his family, including his very spritely 93-year-old grandmother. Neighbours were sat relaxed in his entrance busy making local crafts and the whole place had a relaxed, chilled out vibe. Another unsuspecting snap shot into real life on the Island of the Gods.
The Nitty Gritty
Rumah Desa Balinese Home & Cooking Studio
Location: Banjar Baru, Marga, Tabanan-Bali
Telephone: +62 361 7907071
Rumah Desa has a wide variety of different programmes available alongside the cooking classes and rice field trek. Cycling tours, visits to local schools and even a traditional Balinese wedding can all be arranged. Spiritual programmes are available for guests wishing to detox and re-balance that include Qi-yoga and meditation that leave you cleansed and revitalised. Accommodation is also available where guests can stay overnight and enjoy the full Balinese home experience, getting an insight into the traditional way of live in a Balinese village. Visit the Rumah Desa website here for all the information.
Our driver Puta Sara Artha is available if you are in Bali and require transport. Contact him on +6281 5474 20 333 or via Facebook at Bali Tour Bintang
Read Bali previous posts In Pictures – A Postcard From Bali, Discover Bali – Jimbaran and Beachside Beauty: Intercontinental Bali resort. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. Thank you to Intercontinental Bali resort and Rumah Desa for the opportunity to visit and the fantastic experience. All views are all my own.