When I did my cooking class at Bali Asli recently, chef Penelope Williams told me it was worth checking out the cooking classes offered at Hotel Tugu due to their lovely surrounds. So I booked in for a half-day class, comprising a pick up, market visit, then cooking in the “warung”, a kitchen set up in the hotel’s lush grounds, but just like a typical Indonesian streetside restaurant.
Ibu Ayu picked me up by taxi at 07:00 and whisked me not to a market near Hotel Tugu out Canggu way as I suspected, but directly to the beating heart of Bali’s market system: Pasar Badung in Denpasar.
Here we weaved our way through stalls piled high with local produce: limes, chickens, mangoes, cauliflower, eggs, ducks, banana stem, papaya, duck eggs, bananas, soursop, turmeric (two kinds: one for cooking, one to make jamu), broccoli, tuna and of course everything you need to make bumbu, the spicy paste integral to all Balinese cooking I first learned about during my first cooking course a year ago — chillies, galangal, torch ginger, kencur, lemongrass, onions, garlic, belacan.
You’ll spy canang, or Balinese offerings, being made and sold, women acting as porters for shoppers with large baskets perched on their heads, and lots of shoppers elbowing each other out of the way as they weave in and out of stalls over grime-slicked cement.
This was really just like accompanying a normal Balinese market shopper, except we were shopping for the five dishes I selected of 10 on the hotel’s list, five Balinese and five Javanese. I was the only one cooking in the class — class sizes can run from one up to a maximum of 10). We didn’t buy the meat here due to the “hygiene”, Ayu said.
On our menu: lodeh tewel tahu tempe (the only Javanese dish I selected), which is a soup of young jackfruit with tempe and tofu; pesan bepasih, which is steamed fish (we used snapper) in banana leaves; lawar kacang panjang, which is long bean and chicken salad; jukut ares or banana stem soup and lastly ayam pelalah, or Balinese shredded chicken.
Then it was back to the hotel, about a 20-minute drive away, where I sat down to eat the traditional coconut cakes covered in fresh desiccated coconut and palm sugar syrup with a cup of strong coffee while the “kitchen” and chef Ibu Soelastri prepared to well, prepare our feast.
Ibu Ayu stayed to help the two of us; what was interesting about this class was nothing was pre-chopped or prepared, so I really got to see how long it takes to cook five Indonesian dishes. The answer? An hour and 40 minutes — it was actually a lot quicker than I would have imagined.
Ibu Soelastri, who hails from Malang, speaks little English, but her hands do all the talking anyway; this was a lesson in watch and learn, not a cerebral lesson on the various kinds of ingredients or the subtle nuances between dishes — if you’re expecting this, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Ibu Ayu however did a good job of answering my queries. And it was great just watching Ibu Soelastri throw each of the ingredients required for the various bumbus into the mortar and pestle without needing to consult anything at all.
This was a lesson in moving around the kitchen, keeping two woks and a steamer on the go, and not freaking out that you have five things to get ready before… well okay, there were no guests arriving, but there should have been, because we really did cook a feast that would have been enough for five or six people.
At 1,040,000 rupiah*, this class is among the most expensive on the island, so if you’re on a tight budget, this isn’t the cooking school for you. And you won’t get too much in the way of verbal instruction either. But Penelope from Bali Asli was right: the surrounds are lovely; and when we ran out of banana leaf, Ibu Soelastri only had to dash to the garden a few metres away to get some more.
* Just a reminder folks that we never take freebies. We plan to cover a few cooking schools in the weeks ahead, all of which we paid or will pay normal rates for. If we don’t like something, we say so.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 17th April, 2015.