In one of the episodes of Masterchef New Zealand, the contestants flew to Bali for a difficult challenge involving genuine Balinese cuisine. The restaurant involved was Bumbu Bali and we booked a full day cooking class there.
Bumbu Bali is headed by Heinz von Holzen, a Swiss native chef who came to Bali about 25 years ago and is an authority on Balinese and Indonesian cuisine with 8 cookbooks under his belt. The “emporium” now consists of 3 restaurants (Bumbu Bali One, Bumbu Bali Two and Pasar Malam) and a B&B appartment/villa complex (Rumah Bali) on the Nusa Dua peninsula in Southern Bali. And the cooking school of course.
The cooking class with(out) market visits is USD 95/85 (both excluding 21% taxes). We got a 50% discount for the kids due to their ages. As 3 of these classes are organised each week and there about 15 spots each, you need to book well in advance. I enquired 7 weeks beforehand and only 1 spot was available for the entire week that we were in Sanur.
For pick-up we needed to be at the McDonalds in Jimbaran (a 30 minute drive from where we stayed in Sanur) at 6.20am, so it was an early rise… After picking up other participants, the cooking class started around 7.00am with a tour of the local market, an explanation of the ingredients commonly used in Balinese cuisine as well as an introduction to the (typically sweet) breakfast treats.
According to Von Holzen, almost all restaurants in Bali serve a similar line of food: a bit of Indonesian, a bit of Italian, a bit of French, loads of Chinese and an occasional Balinese food. Moreover, most street food is prepared by Javanese vendors, not Balinese. At Bumbu Bali they pride themselves for only serving Balinese food, which is difficult to find elsewhere in view of the heavy dependency on local and fresh (and not dried) spices and herbs. Indeed, even though we have loads of Indonesian restaurants and delis in the Netherlands, I can’t recall having come across a specific Balinese one.
Then we went to the fish market to look for the freshest available seafood. The majority of local fishermen are Javanese and due to Ramadan most of them returned to be with their families, so not much action as you can see…
The fish stock in the Balinese waters is almost depleted. There is pretty much only smaller catch left, like sardines, mackerel, bonito, squids and shrimps. Bigger catch usually comes from the Javanese waters and then transported over land to Bali. So much for “fresh” fish on the menu (and for today’s cooking class)…
After a delicious breakfast of cakes, fruit (red and yellow watermelon, snake fruit, dragon eye fruit and mango), mung bean “porridge”, coconut cream and rice flour dumplings in palm sugar sauce (jaja batun bedil), we started our cooking class around 10.00am.
In the next 4 hours Heinz guided us – with a great deal of humour – through the following dishes:
- Basic stocks and various spice pastes
- Roast chicken in banana leaf (ayam betutu) and from the oven. Both with exactly the same spice paste to show the different tastes
- Minced chicken in banana leaf (tum ayam)
- Pork in sweet soy sauce (be celeng base manis)
- Chicken, pork and tofu satays (sate ayam, babi and tofu)
- Peanut sauces (base sate) in both the coconut milk based Balinese version and water based Javanese version
- Yellow rice (nasi kuning)
- Vegetable salad with peanut dressing (pecelan; see below).
- Sweet corn and coconut snack (urab jagung) served with coconut cream
- Fried banana (pisang goreng)
- Fried rice with noodles (nasi goreng mawut)
All whilst being provided with a wealth of interesting cookery facts and modern cooking techniques to enhance your cooking at home. It was not very surprising that he cited Heston Blumenthal and Harold McGee as his major influences! I highly recommend visiting the Bumbu Bali website as many of these recipes (and many others) are available there.
How to create the delicious “pecelan” in 4 easy steps:
- Briefly blanch mixed greens (long beans, spinach, cabbage and bean sprouts)
- Add cubes of rice cakes cooked in banana leaf (ketipat)
- Mix in (cold) peanut sauce and season
- Finish with sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), fried shallots and fried peanuts and eat it with krupuk crackers
After the rather intense class (the 4 hours were pretty much non-stop) we sat down to eat what we had prepared (and some other delicious dishes):
Overall, it was a great experience. The food was delicious, but we thought that the pork in sweet soy sauce (be celeng base manis), vegetable salad with peanut dressing (pecelan), sweet corn and coconut snack (urab jagung) and rice flour dumplings in palm sugar sauce (jaja batun bedil) were the standout dishes.
The cooking class was less hands-on than we expected it to be. I have to admit there was quite some “audience participation” compiling components of the different dishes (I got to prep and stuff one of the chickens), but it mainly was a cooking demonstration by Heinz. On the other hand, it would have been absolutely impossible to touch on so many Balinese recipes if we would have to cook them ourselves.
Although I informed upfront whether the cooking class would be suitable for the kids given their age (and it would not be a problem), it could have been more accommodating for them, especially on the food side. The breakfast – even though sweet – was pretty much all new tastes and textures for them, so they mainly stuck to the fruit. The duration of the class was a bit much for them, but they could wander off into the garden and upon request got some toast and jam to still their hunger. The Balinese cuisine is very spicy and the dishes that we cooked were no exception, so the kids had very little choice for lunch besides the yellow rice and fried bananas.
Overall they liked the cooking class too, but we had to make it up to them at the “Golden Arches” that night…