Well hello everyone … I am hoping you haven’t all taken your pots and pans and gone home!
Apologies for my long absence; things have been a little overwhelming round here what with trips away and novels coming out and people being nice and whatnot (how’s that for some of the most flagrantly unsubtle self-promotion you’ve seen in a while!?).
You know, I’ve just realised something. Having a book published, even though I’ve done it five times now, is a very strange experience. It’s exposing and flattering (sometimes) and mortifying and exhausting in fast-moving waves. I’ve decided it’s like being a five-year-old at your own birthday party – you run round shrieking look at me look at me look at me and then when everyone does you’re so hyped up on sugar and presents and nervous energy you feel like throwing up and burst into tears.
But as soon as I opened this page to start typing I felt a lovely calm descend upon me, and I thought, Ah, I’m home. That’s my realisation: that I feel at home here on this blog, and I’m determined to spend a bit more time here in the next while.
So last time I was here I was off to Bali for a week – and I have to say it was the most relaxing holiday I’ve ever had. We lay around reading, sleeping, swimming, feeling our winter skins slough off in the tropical weather, and generally managed what every holiday is supposed to feel like but hardly ever does – a wonderful rest from ordinary life. Serenity, peace, and stunning physical beauty (Bali’s, not ours – thank your lucky stars I am posting no pics of us around the swimming pool as proof). And, of course, absolutely wonderful food.
All the pictures here are of food cooked for us by the gorgeous Komang, our host at the villa we stayed in at Sanur (feel free to email me for details because it was just fantastic). I have never, never understood people who go to a country like Bali, dine out at terrible and expensive Italian and French and Japanese restaurants and then come home whining about how bad the food was. We only ate Indonesian food the whole time, and had almost no average meals at all, and certainly no bad ones. In fact the least pleasurable night involved one of the most expensive and chi-chi restaurants on the island, which describes its food as ‘contemporary Balinese’ – it was fine (and the wine was incredible) but we should have stuck to our instincts and the local cheapo joints, all of which were way more fun and generally much better food.
Probably my absolute favourite – among so many good dishes – was a new discovery, a dish called lawar (pictured at the very top). Komang told us his version was made with pork (“but only the skin”), coconut and spices. His was a red colour that I initially thought must be from red rice or just the cooking method, but found no rice in it and learned on our return that this must have been from the pig’s blood, which is often included in this lavish ceremonial dish. But lawar can be made from all kinds of different proteins - this blog here, for instance, says:
No big religious or private celebration would be held without serving this ritual dish. Only the eldest, and most experienced men are allowed to mix the many ingredients. Many versions incorporate raw pounded meat and fresh blood in the dressing. Chicken meat can be replaced with beef, pork, seafood, vegetables or young jackfruit.
There are recipes for lawar all over the web, which seem slightly different but generally are variations on the same theme; and there’s a great video by Kitchen Insurgency about making it for a big Balinese family feast here. I believe lawar is particularly a Balinese specialty, not made in other parts of Indonesia unlike almost all the other food we ate – but does anyone know more about it than me?
On our return, I tried to emulate some of our favourite holiday dishes in an Indonesian spread for Senor’s colleagues who ran his business so magnificently in our absence – and the pork lawar, indeed, turned out to be the hit of the night with everyone. Sadly I don’t have any photos of it as we gobbled it all too quickly. But I just used pork mince – no blood, you will probably be relieved to hear – mixed with green snake beans and the spice paste and coconut. It had a lovely fresh green and turmeric-orange colour scheme going on, and tasted as fresh and vibrant as it looked.
The most time-consuming part is the spice paste, a version of which seems to be used for almost everything Balinese, or at least everything I made that night (fish sticks, roast chicken in banana leaves, as well as the lawar, along with some stirfried kangkung and some bumbu- the lemongrass & chilli sambal Komang served with every meal). But after the paste is made, the lawar is really just a matter of a quick cook, squidge and mix. So my plan for next time is to make a giant batch of the spice paste and keep it in portions in the freezer, just as I do with chermoula, and then whack this dish together for a quick midweek burst of Bali whenever I get homesick for the sound of gamelan and the scent of tuberoses.
I ended up pretty much using this recipe from SBS Food, partly because I knew I’d be able to get all the ingredients locally. But I used pork mince instead of chicken, and also just dry-fried a cupful of coarse grated coconut (I keep coconut in the freezer, along with all nuts) instead of going to the trouble of cutting up a fresh coconut and roasting it. The result was great, so I don’t think I would do the hard-labour version anytime soon. Oh and I also didn’t find ‘lesser galangal’ so just used ordinary for the whole lot.
Now, any of you have a favourite Indonesian dish – or any dish you’ve eaten on holidays and tried to replicate when you got home? Love to hear more about it, or even better – give us the recipe.
It’s so nice to be back.