Bali… paradise really exists

The mere mention of Bail evokes thoughts of a paradise. It’s more than a place: it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.

Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts great and small, but it’s the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat.
It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far, but in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people.

Anyone who has spent any time in Bali knows it is a crazy mix of noise, dust, heat, taxi drivers tooting, scooters with whole families on board, broken streets and the smell is a heady blend of ritual incense, frangipanis and charcoal cooked food,spice, humidity with a touch of open drain (for good measure). Sounds dreadful but there is no where else I have been the gets under your skin quite like Bali.

Behind the chaos that you first see is a haven of quiet and relaxation with some of the most guanine heartfelt service you will ever receive.

If you are traveling to Bali, here are a couple of “must sees” to make your trip more exciting:

Seminyak

People wander around Seminyak and ask themselves if they are even in Bali. Of course! On an island that values creativity like few other places, the capital of glitz is where you’ll find inventive boutiques run by local designers, the most eclectic and interesting collection of restaurants, and little boutique hotels that break with the island clichés. Expats, locals and visitors alike idle away the hours in its cafes, at ease with the world and secure in their enjoyment of life’s pleasures.

If you don’t like the sound of the madness that is Kuta, then Seminyak is the perfect place to stay and hang out…for the more sophisticated traveller

 Jimbaran seafood

Enormous fresh prawns marinated in lime and garlic and grilled over coconut husks. A hint of post-sunset pink on the horizon. Stars twinkling overhead. A comfy teak chair settling into the beach while your toes play in the sand. An ice-cold beer….the beachside seafood grills in Jimbaran are a don’t-miss evening out, with platters of seafood that came in fresh that morning to the market just up the beach.

A festival of festivals

There you are sipping a coffee at a cafe in, say, Seminyak or Ubud when there’s a crash of the gamelan and traffic screeches to a halt as a mob of elegantly dressed people comes flying by bearing pyramids of fruit, tasselled parasols and a furred, masked Barong or two. It’s a temple procession disappearing as suddenly as it appeared, with no more than the fleeting sparkle of gold and white silk and hibiscus petals in its wake. Dozens occur daily across Bali.

Aaah, a spa

Whether it’s a total fix for the mind, body and spirit, or simply the desire for a bit of serenity, visitors to Bali spend many happy hours (sometimes days) being massaged, scrubbed, perfumed, pampered, bathed and blissed out. Sometimes all this attention to your wellbeing happens on the beach or in a garden; other times it’s in stylish, even lavish surroundings. As the Balinese massage techniques of stretching, long strokes, skin rolling and palm-and-thumb pressure result in an all-over feeling of calm, it’s the perfect holiday prescription. Aaah…


Offerings

A wisp of smoke rises from an incense stick perched in an exquisite array of orange flower petals on a banana leaf no bigger than a deck of cards. You’ll quickly realise these Balinese offerings are everywhere – outside your hotel room door, a tiny shrine on the beach, even at the end of the bar. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made throughout the day and night. Some are grand assemblages of fruit and food but most are tiny, appearing as if by magic.

Ubud

Famous in books and movies, the artistic heart of Bali exudes a compelling spiritual appeal. The streets are lined with galleries where artists, both humble and great, create. Beautiful performances showcasing the island’s rich culture grace a dozen stages nightly. Museums honour the works of those inspired here through the years, while people walk the rice fields to find the perfect spot to sit in lotus position and ponder life’s endless possibilities. Ubud is a state of mind and a beautiful state of being.

Bali’s never-ending night

It starts with stylish cafes and bars in Seminyak…(must see’s are Ku de Ta, Hu’u, The W, Potato Head and Cocoon) open-air places where everything seems just that bit more beautiful amid the twinkling of candles and enrapturing house beats. Later the world-class clubs of Legian draw you in, with famous international DJs spinning their legendary sets in a glam scene that hints at immediate celebrity. Some time before dawn, Kuta’s harder, rawer clubs suck you in like black holes, spitting you out hours later into an unsteady daylight.

Bali’s food

‘Yummmm!’ It’s virtually impossible not to say this when you step into a classic warung for lunch to find dozens of freshly made dishes on the counter awaiting you. It shouldn’t surprise that this fertile island provides a profusion of ingredients that combine to create fresh and aromatic dishes. Local specialities such as babi guling, roast suckling pig that’s been marinated for hours in spices, will have you lining up again and again.

Again, if you are hanging out in the uber stylish Seminyak area, you have a huge array of high end restaurants to chose from. Personally I am obsessed with the Beetroot & Goats Cheese salad at the restaurant at Ku de Ta…but can also recommend La Luciola, The Living Room, Khaima and new (but fabulous) Mamasun


Here are a couple of recipes to try…

Indonesian Satay

Ingredients

3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cumin
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cubed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup water
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
skewers
Directions
In a bowl, mix soy sauce, tomato sauce, peanut oil, garlic, black pepper, and cumin. Place chicken into the mixture, and stir to coat. Cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes, but not overnight. This will make the meat too dark.
Preheat the grill for high heat.
Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and saute onion and garlic until lightly browned. Mix in water, peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar. Cook and stir until well blended. Remove from heat, mix in lemon juice, and set aside.
Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard marinade. Grill skewers about 5 minutes per side, until chicken juices run clear. Serve with the peanut sauce.

Spicy Tomato Chicken (Ayam Masak Merah)

Ingredients
1 (3 pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
salt to taste
1/4 cup dried red chile peppers
3 fresh red chile pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, chopped
1 (3/4 inch thick) slice fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise pods
5 whole cloves
5 cardamom seeds
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon white sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup water

Directions
Rub the chicken with turmeric powder and salt. Set aside. Soak the dried red chile peppers in hot water until softened. Blend the softened dried chile, fresh red chile pepper, garlic, onion, and ginger in a blender to a paste.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until golden on all sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Remove excess oil from the skillet, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Cook and stir the chile paste with the cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cardamom seeds until fragrant. Return the chicken to the skillet. Stir in the water, adding more if needed. Toss in the tomatoes and stir in the ketchup and sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until no the chicken longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Cap Cai

Ingredients
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, thinly sliced

10 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp (30-40 per pound)
1 head bok choy, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli
1 1/2 cups chopped cauliflower
1 large carrot, thinly sliced at an angle
3 green onions, chopped
2/3 cup water

2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste

Directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, and green onion. Pour in the water, cover, and cook until the shrimp is no longer translucent in the center and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Dissolve the cornstarch into the fish sauce in a small bowl. Stir into the cap cai along with the oyster sauce, sugar, and pepper; stir until thickened. Season with salt before serving.