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KennethT

Bali - up, down, and all around

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OK, I'm back, by popular demand! hehe....  After being back for 2 days, I'm still struggling with crazy jetlag and exhaustion - so please bear with me!

 

This year, for our Asian adventure, we went to Bali, which for those who don't know, is one of the islands in Indonesia.  Bali is a very unique place - from its topology, to the people, language, customs, religion and food.  Whereas the majority of people in Indonesia are Muslim, most people in Bali are Balinese Hindu, which from what I understand is a little like Indian Hinduism, but has more ancestor worship.  Religion is very important to many people in Bali - there are temples everywhere, and at least in one area, there are religious processions through the street practically every day - but we'll get to that later.

 

Bali has some food unique to it among its Indonesian neighbors, but like everywhere, has seen quite a bit of immigration from other Indonesian islands (many from Java, just to the west) who have brought their classic dishes with them.

 

Basically all Indonesians speak Indonesian, or what they call Bahasa Indonesia, or just Bahasa, which, anyone who has read my prior foodblogs wouldn't be surprised to hear that I learned a little bit just before the trip.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to use any of it, except a couple times which were totally unnecessary.  When speaking with each other, most people in Bali speak Balinese (totally different from bahasa) - many times when I tried using my bahasa, they smiled and replied, and then tried to teach me the same phrase in Balinese!  As time went on, and I used some of the Balinese, I got lots of surprised smiles and laughs - who is this white guy speaking Balinese?!?  Seriously though, tourism has been in Bali for a very long time, so just about everyone we encountered spoke English to some degree.  Some people spoke German as well, as they supposedly get lots of tourists from Germany.  As one of our drivers was telling us, Bali is heavily dependent on tourism as they have no real industry other than agriculture, which doesn't pay nearly as well as tourism does.

 

While there are beaches all around the island, most of the popular beach areas are in the south of the island, and those areas are the most highly touristed.  We spent very little time in the south as we are not really beach people (we get really bored) and during planning, decided to stay in less touristed areas so we'd have more opportunities for local food... this didn't work out, as you'll see later.

 

So, it wouldn't be a KennethT foodblog without photos in the Taipei airport and I-Mei Dim Sum, which we called home for about 4 hours before our connection to Bali...

 

Beef noodle soup:

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The interior:

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This was the same as always - huge pieces of beef were meltingly tender.  Good bite to the thick chewy noodles.

 

Xie long bao (soup dumplings) and char siu bao (fluffy barbeque pork buns):

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 I always love your many blogs and always learn so much from them. But of course I know all about Bali. I watched South Pacific.xDxD


Edited by Anna N (log)
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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Traveling around Bali is a pita.  There is no public transportation to speak of, and once you get outside the main areas in the south, the roads are basically 1-1/2 lanes wide, which may have been fine when the only traffic was motorbikes, but now, there are a lot of cars (vans, SUVs!) and relatively large, slow moving trucks. 

 

Our first main destination was in North Bali, which is about a 3-4 hour drive from the airport even though it is less than 100km.  So, we decided to stay the first night in a beach area in the south since it was only 15 min from the airport, after traveling for about 24 hours including layover, and the fact that we were up for probably about 40 hours since we had both worked a full day the day we left.

 

Before I get to where we stayed, I will relay a short story of the airport adventure.  Now, the arrival experience at airports in many SE Asian countries are really not so good, to put it mildly.  The airport itself is not that bad, but once you leave the doors, you are surrounded by people desperately trying to get you to take their taxi, rather than someone else's.  Evidently, in Bali, there is some kind of taxi racket. For a long time, each municipality has had its own "taxi cartel" so to speak, and to get a taxi you had to go through them.  Recently, there has been a huge uproar with the ride-sharing companies like Grab (which is basically Uber in SE Asia).  So much so that it has turned violent in some occasions, where members of a local taxi cartel have dragged Uber drivers out of their cars and beaten them.  Note - we didn't see any violence on this trip and didn't hear of any either.  We did see signs put up all over basically saying that Uber/Grab and other ride sharing cars were not allowed to stop in certain areas.

 

So, the guidebooks say that there is a specific cartel that runs the airport taxi system - they are the only ones allowed to make pickups at the airport.  That doesn't stop the throng of people awaiting you once you leave the arrivals hall.  We made our way to the cartel's desk where you tell the guy where you're going, he quotes you a rate, and hands you over to one of the drivers hanging around.  Also hanging around are some of their buddies, who help the driver take your bags to the car, chatting and joking all the way with each other.  It seems that the first thing everyone says to tourists is "Where are you from?"  We had thought it was initially a friendly gesture, but we soon felt that it was really an opening to try to extract money from you.  Once they heard that we were from the US, the friendly conversation always turns to money, how poor everyone is there, how they appreciate our tourism (Americans make up very few tourists statistically - the vast majority are Australian), etc.  Once we get to the car, the driver's buddy starts demanding a "tip" for helping his friend with our bags.  We got the distinct impression that this wouldn't have happened if we weren't American.  Unfortunately, the airport ATM only dispenses 50,000 rupiah notes (at about 14,000 rupiah to the USD), and I thought it was ridiculous to "tip" a guy that kind of money for gently steering our wheeled bag a short distance while smoking and chatting with his friend. that I would have been happy to do myself.  So after a long discussion saying that I had no change and no USD (he would even accept his tip in USD evidently) he walked away.  While driving to the hotel, the driver was very nice, but kept bringing up the idea of money, and how he has children who are going to school, etc. etc... ugghh.

 

After the longest 15 minutes of our lives, we reached our hotel in Jimbaran, one of the more quiet beach areas in the south that was once a fishing village, and is now known for having a bunch of restaurants on the beach grilling seafood at sunset.  The hotel was beautiful, and we would joke to ourselves that it was the "nicest airport hotel in the world", since we'd only be staying there the one night before moving on.

 

After checking in, and cleaning up a little bit, it was getting to be sunset time, and time to get dinner on the beach as I had planned.

 

Beach at sunset:

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The area where all the seafood restaurants are:

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This area is set up for tourists - I don't think you'll find any locals there, as I was led to believe.  There are tourists from everywhere - Indonesian tourists, some from China, England, Germany, and lots from Australia.  There are a bunch of restaurants all right next to each other - their menus and prices are all basically the same.  As you walk past, a guy from the restaurant approaches you showing you their menu and tries to drag you to one of his tables, speaking with you the whole time, in English.  We settled on one because the hawker seemed the nicest and seemingly friendliest, little did we realize initially that that is not necessarily a good thing.

 

Typically, people get a set menu which consists of a fish, some seafood, appetizers, rice and vegetable depending on how many in the party.  Everything is also available a la carte.  We didn't want all the food shown in the set menu (we were exhausted) so I started asking about the size of the different fish, and he happily took us into the back of the restaurant to show them to us and weigh a bunch for us so we could pick.

 

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The charcoal grill in action

 

Once seated, we saw a vendor grilling corn right near our table - he was mostly frequented by Chinese tourists

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Here's a shot of the setting - very nice and peaceful:

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And a few of the restaurants (and full moon!):

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We got:

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Grilled prawns

 

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Grilled fish - the waiting said this was some kind of garuppa, but I don't think it was.

 

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Served with rice, and kang kung (water spinach, morning glory, etc).  It was also served with 3 different condiments (not pictured - the photos didn't come out well).  There was a dish of minced garlic, one of pureed tomato, and a third of chopped chili - a sort of make-your-own-sambal type thing.  The fish was nicely cooked - flaky and moist, and the prawns were cooked well as well.

 

As we were eating and enjoying the surroundings (and trying not to pass out at the table), our waiter would routinely come by to chat us up. We noticed that he didn't do this with any other tables.  As we were chatting, he casually mentioned how expensive his apartment was, how he and his wife and 3 children all lived in 1 room, and then showed us photos of his children on his phone, mentioning how expensive their schooling was.  humppphhh...  we started wondering if we could say that we were British or maybe German to avoid all the money talk.

 

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6 minutes ago, KennethT said:

we started wondering if we could say that we were British or maybe German to avoid all the money talk.

Sheesh, all of that kind of talk would have driven me up a wall.  I don't want to be made to feel guilty while on vacation.  I would have given the biggest tip to the person that didn't say a word about their situation.

 

Is alcohol allowed?

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10 minutes ago, Shelby said:

Sheesh, all of that kind of talk would have driven me up a wall.  I don't want to be made to feel guilty while on vacation.  I would have given the biggest tip to the person that didn't say a word about their situation.

 

Is alcohol allowed?

Happily though, this only happened to us in the heavily touristed south.  Once we were in North Bali or in Ubud, in Central Bali, no one every mentioned money or expected tips.

 

Alcohol is definitely allowed in Bali.  Unfortunately, I only have a drink (literally A drink) once in a great while due to some of the medication I have to take which conflicts badly with it.  And funnily enough, my wife, who works in the wine industry, doesn't drink at all when on vacation because she wants a break from it!  All hotels have wine lists, specialty cocktail lists, and of course beer.  Quite a few restaurants even had cigarettes on their drinks list.

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Breakfast was included in the rate for all 3 hotels we stayed in.  This is a good thing, since the airport hotel was not within walking distance of any kind of local food or any other restaurant for that matter.  But it was really nice - a typical buffet setup with lots of Asian options (dim sum, japanese, sushi/sashimi, local Indonesian/balinese) and also western options as well.

 

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Noodle soup with shredded chicken and fried garlic.

 

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Mie goreng (friend noodles)

 

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pineapple and passionfruit

 

In addition to the buffet, servers would walk around offering various Balinese specialties:

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Black rice in coconut milk (a very traditional dessert)

 

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some kind of tonic made with various fruit juices including mango and passionfruit as well as spices like clove and cinnamon.

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There was no discussion of money at breakfast!  And for that matter, none basically for the rest of the trip. Whew!

 

After breakfast, we hired a driver to take us the 3-4 hour drive to our hotel in North Bali, in the jungle-y mountain-y area about 10 minutes drive from the beach town of Lovina.  We also had him make a few stops along the way.

 

The first was to the Uluwatu temple.  Like most Balinese temples, the temple itself is closed to tourists (you can peek in through the gates) but you can walk around the grounds.  The Uluwatu temple is known for a few things - the spectacular scenery surrounding it - it is perched high on a cliff above the ocean, the naughty monkeys who live around there and an evening performance at sundown (which we didn't see because we were there in the morning - but we saw in on TV when Bourdain went to Bali a few years ago).

 

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Looking through the gates:

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The monkeys are not afraid of humans at all, and can be quite aggressive.  They will take the sunglasses off your face, play with them for a minute before breaking them and then throw them away:

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no zoom required....

 

We also saw one sneak up behind a woman sitting quietly under a pavilion and start going through her backpack until we shouted at her, warning her. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture of that!

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Here, it's hard to see, but these monkeys were trying to steal the flip flops off these women's feet:

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In the brush surrounding the paths, you could see lots of broken, discarded flip flops....

 

After the temple visit, we proceeded to start driving north.  I repeated asked our driver to take us to a local "warung" for lunch, but instead, he wound up taking us to a restaurant for tourists.  In his defense, the place had an amazing view of Central Bali's famous terraced rice fields.

 

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Clockwise from left: Mie goreng, cap cay (pronounced chap chay - a vegetable and seitan dish), prawn crackers, satay lilit (the one with minced fish on the big stick), pork satay, peanut sauce.  The restaurant is set up like a buffet with all the Indonesian hits.  The food was completely mediocre, but the view was fantastic.


Edited by KennethT (log)
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Fun! Another place I'd love to go, but likely  never will. Thanks for taking us along!

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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Those thick chewy looking airport noodles have burrowed their way into my taste brain! The seafood is lovely :0  Thank you!  Yes, the incessant hawking is beyond annoying. In  the 80's we flew into Mexico City. Between the little children begging "Chickles, chickles (chewing gum)" and the overflowing toilet I insisted we leave immeditely and hightail it to Vancouver. Of course the odd path of travel set off alarms with the DEA so I was practically strip-searched in Customs. At least the food and views in Vancouver were worth it ;)


Edited by heidih (log)
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We made it through the mountainous central part of the island, driving through Singaraja (Bali's 2nd largest city) in the north, on our way to our hotel outside of the small town of Lovina.  Our driver had stopped a few times to ask people for directions, but no one could help him as our hotel is in the middle of nowhere.  I think their tag line is "hard to find, hard to leave".  Finally, i wound up giving him directions using Google Maps on my phone.  Driving through Singaraja and Lovina were educational.  When I first booked the trip, I knew that the resort in the north was in the middle of nowhere (but it just looked so beautiful), but I was led to believe that we could get a taxi to take us to the town of Lovina (about 10 minutes away) or the city of Singaraja (about a half hour away) for some local experiences.  Getting there, however, proved otherwise.  In the north, taxis are more or less non-existent due to the small amount of tourism and the fact that everyone at least drives a motorbike, if not a car. Both the town and city are really spread out and not meant for walking - there aren't really any sidewalks to walk on either.  And as we drove through, all of the local restaurants (usually specializing in one dish) were basically empty - the streets were always crowded, but it never seemed like there was anyone in any of the local restaurants - which, when without recommendations, makes it really hard to tell who has the best stuff.

 

So, we resigned ourselves to eating in the hotel for just about every meal for the next 3 days...

 

With that being said, the hotel food was excellent.  I think they brought the chef in from somewhere in Europe, and they used a portion of the hotel grounds to grow herbs and vegetables, and purchased most of their meats from local farms in the area.  While there were a lot of western dishes on the menu (risotto as one example), they did have quite a few indonesian/balinese things to choose from.  One of my few complaints was that dinner started at 7PM (they encouraged people to have cocktails during the sunset time around 6-6:30), and when you're still jetlagged, 7PM feels like 3 in the morning.  But persevere we must! ha!

 

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cocktails watching the sunset and their fire pit (my clothes smelled like smoke for days)

 

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quail egg and shredded banana flower amuse

 

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tomato sambal and homemade hummus (quite grainy) with the bread

 

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Coconut soup with local snails.  There were like 6 TINY snails in this whole thing - very hard to find. But the ones we did find were quite tasty.

 

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This was described as a "salad of locally grown greens with cashews and pesto".  It was mostly pesto with a little bit of cooked spinach and cashews.  I don' tknow if I've ever eaten that much pesto in one sitting....  it was served with:

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Some type of fricco, supposedly infused with garlic and kaffir lime, but any scent of either would have been entirely imaginary.

 

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The hotel's "babi guling".  We saw stalls for babi guling (roast suckling pig) all over the place - I can't tell you how many times I asked the driver to stop, but each time, the place was empty and the driver said, not now....  We never wound up with the real version (story for a later time), and we were underwhelmed by the hotel version - it was a little tough and dry.  It was served with rice and acar (prounounced achar) which are like sweet/salty pickled veggies.  They were great:

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Wontons of what they called langoustine - but I think it was spiny lobster tail, in a coconut broth.  Very tasty.

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While the resort itself was not that expensive - it was maybe half the price of the airport hotel - the food there was relatively very expensive.  I think our restaurant bill wound up higher than the room bill - and that's without us drinking any alcohol!!!


Edited by KennethT (log)
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I love reading what you write.  Very descriptive and I feel like I'm there--though usually you are in a place that is so very hot and humid that I'm glad I'm not 🤣(heat and I do not get along very well lol).

 

11 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I can't tell you how many times I asked the driver to stop, but each time, the place was empty and the driver said, not now

 

The place was empty meaning it wasn't open or that people weren't eating there meaning the food wasn't good?

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Just now, Shelby said:

I love reading what you write.  Very descriptive and I feel like I'm there--though usually you are in a place that is so very hot and humid that I'm glad I'm not 🤣(heat and I do not get along very well lol).

 

 

The place was empty meaning it wasn't open or that people weren't eating there meaning the food wasn't good?

Thanks!  That's what I'm going for!

 

Practically (the whole trip!) every local food place we passed was always empty - meaning that they looked open, but had no customers inside.

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Just now, KennethT said:

Thanks!  That's what I'm going for!

 

Practically (the whole trip!) every local food place we passed was always empty - meaning that they looked open, but had no customers inside.

That's weird.  I wish the driver (s) would have been more forth-coming and told you why.  

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35 minutes ago, heidih said:

Those thick chewy looking airport noodles have burrowed their way into my taste brain! The seafood is lovely :0  Thank you!  Yes, the incessant hawking is beyond annoying. In  the 80's we flew into Mexico City. Between the little children begging "Chickles, chickles (chewing gum)" and the overflowing toilet I insisted we leave immeditely and hightail it to Vancouver. Of course the odd path of travel set off alarms with the DEA so I was practically strip-searched in Customs. At least the food and views in Vancouver were worth it ;)

 

I've experience overflowing toilets... also some toilets that you prayed could overflow because that would mean that there was actually water in it that could hide some of the smell.... in the past, we've expereinced some toilets that are basically just a hole in the floor with a large bucket of water and a ladle next to it.

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1 minute ago, Shelby said:

That's weird.  I wish the driver (s) would have been more forth-coming and told you why.  

No one ever explained it, and it happened over and over.  Every time I asked to go to a local place, no one said a word, but then took us somewhere else - like it was a state secret or something.

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1 minute ago, KennethT said:

No one ever explained it, and it happened over and over.  Every time I asked to go to a local place, no one said a word, but then took us somewhere else - like it was a state secret or something.

Interesting.  We have a mystery to solve.

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Just now, Shelby said:

Interesting.  We have a mystery to solve.

Yes... and I even tried asking in Bahasa, thinking that maybe their logic was that we'd be uncomfortable if no one spoke English!  Everyone always seemed so impressed with it too, and always asked how long I had spoken it for (about a month) and where I learned it (CDs).

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1 minute ago, KennethT said:

Yes... and I even tried asking in Bahasa, thinking that maybe their logic was that we'd be uncomfortable if no one spoke English!  Everyone always seemed so impressed with it too, and always asked how long I had spoken it for (about a month) and where I learned it (CDs).

It's like driving through cattle country and avoiding all the steak houses........

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The next day, we woke up early to go snorkeling at Menjangan island, in the far north-west tip of the island.  Thankfully, breakfast at the hotel started at 6:30... Unlike practically every hotel in Asia where there is a buffet of some kind, here, there is a menu with mostly western items, but a few Indonesian ones as well.  They didn't even have a fruit buffet - but instead a server sliced a few pieces to make a fruit plate for each person. Slowly. Even if there are a lot of people waiting for their fruit.  But the setting was peaceful and beautiful.

 

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setting

 

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Server slicing fruit

 

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First day's fruit plate: papaya, dragonfruit (one of the best I've had) and banana.

 

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More mie goreng, with chicken.

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A dragonfruit with taste - that is interesting! Can you describe?

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Dragonfruit come in 2 varieties that I have seen, white and purple.  Blindfolded, they are identical.  Sorry, but when I said that the dragonfruit were among the best I've had, I didn't mean that they were very flavorful - but they were really juicy, crisp and refreshing.  When you put a little lime juice on them, they're great!  I wish I had what was common in Saigon - a little dish of chili and salt!


Edited by KennethT (log)
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Menjangan island is pretty far away from everything.  We arranged our trip with a local dive shop in Lovina, who picked us up at like 8AM to take us the 15 min. drive to their shop to fit masks/snorkels and fins.  We then got in their van and drove about 1-1/2 hours to the spot where there are tons of boats for hire to take you to Menjangan.  Some dive shops have their own boat, but most just hire one for a few hours.

 

On the boat to Menjangan:

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There is a small temple on Menjangan even though very few people live on the island.

 

The snorkeling was pretty good - visibility was the best I've seen in SE Asia, probably about 40 feet.  Menjangan is surrounded by a sheer wall, which was interesting to see snorkeling, but would ahve been much better diving.  Unfortunately, my wife is not certified, and even though I have dived in the Caribbean prior to being certified (when I was in high school), now, knowing what I know, I'd be very nervous about it.  She'd be nervous also, which is not a good thing... so we stick to snorkeling.  We did get to see a lot of fish, including one I've never seen, a unicorn surgeonfish.  Our guide also picked up a sea cucumber for us to hold - I'm usually not a fan of touching things when diving - you never know what is poisonous or prickly, etc., so it was weird to hold the sea cucumber and have it move.

 

Once back on the boat, the dive company provided a boxed lunch - of all things, it was a chicken sandwich on white toast.  I was very jealous of our guide whose boxed lunch looked like rice with some kind of curry and sambal.  I was strongly considering asking to pay him to switch lunches with me!

 

On the way back, the waves in one spot were really choppy and everything in the boat got soaked.  Our guide joked and called it the "boat shower". Hilarious.

 

We got back to teh hotel in the late afternoon, with a little time to relax and freshen up.

 

Dinner at the hotel, again:

 

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amuse - I forget what the soup was - some kind of fruit?  With a blob of coconut cream that had little coconut flavor.

 

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Pigeon bakso.  Bakso is a local dish of meatballs, which are made so that they are springy.  Typically made with chicken or fish.  These were made with local farmed pigeon, with slices of pigeon breast in the middle - nice and gamy. In the soup was shredded cabbage, fried garlic, and mung bean noodles (cellophane noodles).  The bakso came with 3 garnishes:

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soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and a ridiculously hot sambal... it was awesome!

 

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The menu called this roasted organic local chicken, but it seemed deep fried to me.  It came with lettuces and squash grown on the property and some kind of peanut/chili/coconut jam.  This may have been the best thing we had at the hotel.

 

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Local rabbit.  When we asked about the prep, the server said it came with some kind of peanut sauce, so we ordered it.  but later, it turned out that it really came with a beurre blanc (what?!?) but they said they could give us the peanut sauce on the side.  With the seasonings, it definitely went better with the beurre blanc!

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, KennethT said:

The hotel's "babi guling".  We saw stalls for babi guling (roast suckling pig) all over the place - I can't tell you how many times I asked the driver to stop, but each time, the place was empty and the driver said, not now....  We never wound up with the real version

 

So sad.   I tried babi guling twice in Bali and it was amazing, so many flavors in a multitude of porky samples and accompaniments.  But of course the pig is ready when the pig is ready, so your driver may have been right.  Next time!

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