My narrow-minded sense of food propietry recoils in disgust, feeling like I’m about to be swindled into cooking an inedible Cat in the Hat dish. ‘Green pancakes?’
‘Yes yes green. Good colour. Make with pandan for colour and flavor. You like this?’ our cookery teacher beams at me, thrusting a greeny-brown blob in my face. Gingerly, I nibble at a piece. It’s ok. Almost edible in fact. I swallow, conscious that she’s still looking at me expectantly.
‘Mmm’ I murmur. No, clearly not sufficient response. ‘Is that coconut?’
‘Yes yes!’ She grins back at me. ‘We toast the coconut with sugar like caramel. We call Dadar Gulung. Sometimes we make with pink. Children think it’s very funny!’ I nibble some more, it’s growing on me.
We’re at a cookery school in Bali, and I’ve dragged my cooking-hating mum with me to learn how to make such joyous dishes as Mie Goreng (fried noodles), spring rolls and Indonesian curry. Alas, thus far we’ve spent the first twenty minutes chopping up shallots, whilst my classmates giggled at the tears yet again streaming down my face, my companions swiftly overcoming any sense of reserve about us being total strangers by mocking me and calling me feeble. I am clearly a sensitive type as no-one else is even blinking.
We were food artists!
One of the great joys of my life choice in this career is being able to sample and to cook food from different countries, and I’m enjoying finding out exactly how to make that scrumptious satay I’ve been eating by the bucketload since I arrived. I love cookery courses: essentially you doss around for a couple of hours, drinking beer, cutting up some shizzle, chatting with other travellers, and then you get to eat delicious food. Always a winner.
The day started off with a trip to the local market. I am now fairly well-versed in Asian markets, having spent a year in Shan State in Myanmar with nary a supermarket to be seen, and am almost au fait with the sensory overload, the vibrant colours, the squelchy pockets of mud, tripping over baby puppies to reach bananas, and having my crap language attempts mocked by the locals.
Bali’s market was a bit of a shock to the system, then: it’s sort of organized and clean and logical and nice and stuff. There’s even helpful little signs that tell you where to go for what product: what fresh heaven is this?!
Market-stall holders smile benignly as our guide points out weird and wonderful produce. It is almost identical to what we can get in Myanmar, but still makes an enchanting sight: fuschia pink dragonfruit nestle amongst anemone-hairy rambutan:
Baby bananas the size of my little finger peep out shyly behind nuggets of jackfruit. BFG style snozzcumber bitter gourds snooze next to sharp smelling dark green limes.
The fish section boasts gleaming tiny silver fish, sleek eel-like fish with long needle-point beaks, and shimmering turquoise blue rainbow fish.
We are lead outside the main market building where the heady smell of deep-fried tempura greets us. We are encouraged to sample the golden puffs of coconut pancakes, and crunch our way through soft bananas in a yielding batter.
We chatter with Hindu locals making coconut leaf and frangipani pavement offerings and grin back at cheeky brown-eyed children bleating ‘hello hello hello!’ Our market trip finishes and we squash into a scorching white van, a packed babble of Australian accents and wind our way round to the cookery school.
‘We also gonna make spring rolls.’ Last time I made spring rolls on a cookery course it was a rather alarmingly sensual experience, with the cookery instructor imploring us to ‘make love to the spring roll’ as we rolled it. I suspect a language confusion, and that we were only required to ‘love it’ and not engage in actual sexual intercourse with it, but in Asia you can never really be sure. Fortunately no intimate acts were required on this course. We only had to roll ‘carefully.’
Carefully is a refreshingly vanilla word. What was more shocking to me was that the pastry wrapper wotsits were nowhere to be seen. Apparently we were actually going to MAKE THEM OURSELVES. Woot! Spring roll batter was lovingly daubed onto the hot pan with a pastry brush and swirled around. Thin as parchment, the pastry is ready when it comes away from the heat and shifts around in the pan. Then, less is more, darlings, you dump all manner of veggies in the middle and ‘carefully’ roll. No love required. I let braver people than me deep-fry them, and then chopped them up in arty-fashion proving how artistic I am. Not so much, evidently.
Food art 🙂
‘You veggy-tarian, yes?’ Yes, yes I am. I know it’s annoying and frankly ridiculous to even try to maintain whilst living in fish-sauce continent, but I do attempt a vague semblance of vegetarianism. ‘Here, we make tofu and tempeh for you.’ Tofu, awesome. I mean, it’s so innocuous no-one can really hate it, it would be like hating the taste of ice. But Tempeh. Ah, tempeh is a whole new kettle of -uh- soya, if you will. My charming friend in Chiang Mai once triumphantly presented me and my fellow veggy pal with a tin of tempe procured from god-knows-where, delightedly telling us that we were about to expand our limited vegetarian lives forever. It was one of the most rank foods I’ve ever eaten. Gloopy, sticky in that mozzarella stringy way, and with an overwhelming taste of ick, I’ve never gone back to it. But today, jolly good, a whole slab of tempeh all to myself. ‘Uhmmm I’m not sure I like it’, I murmur, trying not to upset the cookery lady brandishing a sharp knife. ‘We fry it. Everything fry is good tasty.’ She has a point, I mused, and decided to remain open minded. I even ate a fried leaf in Japan once, and that was indeed good tasty.
Tempeh, food of the devil
Turns out that deep fried tempeh soaked in a divine peanut-perfect satay sauce and served with awesome spring rolls and thick creamy tofu curry is actually totally edible. Not ‘nice’, per se, but certainly edible, and at least I can look the chicken running around the kitchen in the eye properly, knowing that only soya beans were harmed in the making of this dish. Throw in a beer, and tempeh’s practically indetectable. I even went as far as to ask how to make it, having become tofu-expert on a macrobiotic course a year ago. ‘Too difficult to make’. Ah, ok then. Hey ho. A couple of googles later and it turns out tempeh is like that weird friendship cake everyone made in the early 90s, or home-made yoghurt – you need a bit of it to make the next bit. Sod it, will stick with crappy tofu then.
Somebody is taking a bit of a risk, hanging around the kitchen in a cookery school…
Some hours later, fully stuffed and feeling that special smugness that only comes with creating amazing dishes that you have little hope of remembering how to re-create, we braced the oven-hot car and returned to our hotel, my mum saying something completely insane like ‘now we probably won’t need lunch’. A great day out and I have totally managed to recreate the noodles since, though clearly too lazy for spring rolls and too stupid for tempeh. But all in all, good times in Bali!
Hindu offerings at the market