– Chef Sahil Wadhwa
Travelling is the food for the soul. To sate the gastronomic needs, one can explore the immense variety of cuisines available in the world. Hence, food and travel go side by side.
It is said that of all the pages in the world one can find the best stories in between the sheets of a passport. My passport is testament to some interesting travel stories but the favourite one, especially this year, is that of travelling to Bali and experiencing their unbeatable hospitality and cuisine. The richness of their food is experienced by taste and aroma of the spices, which delights the senses.
My one week stay in Bali began with the connecting flight I took from India to Bangkok, and then finally to Bali. Bali Garden beach resort is the name of the resort which hosted us, and is an integral part of our joyful Bali experience. The management informed us that B couple is one of the most famous restaurant bars in the Kuta city that serves cuisines from the world over. My first brush with authentic Indonesian food on Bali’s soil was at the dinner that night. Needless to say, it was love at first bite.
We ordered Soto ayam, an Indonesian version of chicken soup, which is chicken cooked in spicy turmeric soup that is served with noodles or rice. Presentation of the food is the first step in creating customer delight and the restaurant did a wonderful job of enticing us just with the way the food was served. Soto ayam was served in a bowl and to ensure that the dish remained hot it was mounted atop a small burner at the table itself. Soto ayam, which is a clear herbal broth brightened by fresh turmeric and herbs, had skinny rice noodles mixed in it. If desired, one can also infuse it with coconut milk and other herbs. The soup was served with a boiled egg, fried shallots, celery leaves and herbs. Our first night in Bali, we rested with our bellies full of a hearty meal.
Next day, we went to Nusa pendia, the biggest of the three Nusa Islands, by hiring a bike at Kuta. One can also use public transport like bus or taxi, however hiring a bike for 80,000 Ruapah is more economical. We reached Nusa Dua and we were spell-bounded by the thriving beauty of the place which is created by scenic beaches, enclave of luxurious resorts, and the immense 18- hole golf club. There were also magnificent temples in Nusa Dua of which the highlight was the ancient intricate carvings on the architecture, adding to the serenity of the place. The best time to visit the temples is during the anniversary celebrations which are truly a sight to behold because each temple has a unique history and spectacular construction.
Uluwatu and Tanah temples were my personal favourites to explore. Uluwatu Temple is famous the world-over for the uniqueness of its Balinese architecture, where one can explore traditionally constructed gateways, enjoy the beauty of intricate sculptures and take pleasure in the delightful Kecak dance performances that are performed every day. At the rock path we came across Balinese long tailed monkeys who had spikes on their head.
We took our lunch at a nearby restaurant, where fascinated with the word Gado Gado in the menu, I ordered it. It turned out to be a type of Indonesian salad which had everything from crunchy vegetables, boiled eggs, chilli peanut sauce, fresh coriander, fried tofu and last but not the least, a sprinkling of prawn crackers for added crunch. We also ordered chicken salad because whether in India or Indonesia, I cannot enjoy tofu. On the way back to Kuta from Nusa dua, we relished in the scenic beauty which was accompanied by fresh sea breeze and fragrant flowers along the way. The path was relatively empty which allowed us to explore the serenity of the moment in contemplating solitude as we went back to our resort.
For dinner, we went to an Arabic restaurant named Jollies Kitchen which showcases Arabic hospitality, sophistication, decoration and music, creating a truly Middle Eastern ambience in the centre of Bali.
On the 3rd day, we went snorkelling which was pre-booked as a part of our package. We also explored Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan all of which makes up the trio of islands that are just off the course of mainland Bali. To reach Nusa penida one has to take a ferry from Sanur Island. One stays for about 20 minutes to experience the natural beauty of Nusa penida after which we were taken to the sea to do snorkelling.
There are no words to describe the beauty of the fresh coral reefs and fishes, of which Bali has an immense variety. Though the island boasts many snorkelling spots, tourists are generally taken to three main destinations- Manta Point, Gamat Bay and Crystal Bay. The highlight of the experience was Manta Ray snorkelling, followed by Gamat Bay snorkelling. The temperature of water in Gamat Bay was colder than it is at Manta Point and Crystal Bay. However, it has the best and the most incredible coral structures and rock formations, ranging from a depth of few meters from the shore to 5-20 meters down for free-diving. We also enjoyed snorkelling at Crystal bay and did the famous Toyapakeh drift.
After the incredible experience of snorkelling in the pristine waters of Bali, we were ferried to the third island which is actually made up of smattering of many small land masses and inland waterways. During our conversation with fellow tourists and Indonesian locals, we were told that the highlight of the Indonesian cuisine are five dishes – Soto ayam, Chap chay, Gado gado, Nasi goring and Satay. Our lunch that day was Nasi goring, the best I’ve had in Bali, at the Warung Jungle. The dish is actually fried rice with chicken piece, prawns and vegetables.
We were taken back to Bali and that night we dined at Warung chef bagus restaurant. Hungry from our snorkelling adventures of the day, we ordered almost all types of satay at the restaurant. We had shrimp satay, prawn satay and chicken satay along with yellow chicken curry, that includes chicken salad, rice, crackles, turmeric rice cooked in coconut oil, and finally cabbage salad that is cooked in turmeric and rye seed. Needless to say, we were stuffed!
Our next destination was Gili islands, which is a group of three small islands known as Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. We took a cab and drove two hours to Bangual from Kuta. From there one has to take a ship to the Gili islands. We had booked our stay at Aston sunset beach resort and as soon as we reached there, we were taken aback by the sandy beaches lined by towering palm trees as they sway from the gentle sea breeze. From the resort, the beach is right in front, and one can truly unwind with a cool beverage, and enjoy the ambience. At night, the resort played movies and I got to experience the joy of sitting on a pristine beach with my loved ones under the stars, and enjoy good cinema while having a chicken pizza loaded with cheese. After which, we took a bicycle from the resort, which they offer, to ride and tour the beach. It was an unforgettable night and is imprinted in our minds forever.
In the morning, we moved on to Ubud Bali where we checked in at Maya ubud, another famous resort at Bali which encapsulates the sense of a traditional Balinese village. The nearby village of Ubud offers the visitors an immense variety of mementos, from jewellery, clothes and many other trinkets. The resort was housed on a secluded green valley by the Petanu River, which added to the natural aura of the place.
In breakfast we had eggs and crackles, which might seem like Indian papads but are way different because they are made up of prawns and shrimp. It was a novel experience because though they were slightly bitter, they are definitely worth tasting. We shopped in Ubud, and explored the Elephant Cave which is a seventeen minutes walk from the resort.
This was our final destination. With our hearts full of joy, bellies full of delectable Indonesian food and eyes shining with wonder and laughter, we bid adieu to Bali and carried back to India the memories of an incredible, unforgettable journey.