I remember “selamat pagi”, the morning greeting on the island of Bali. In my treasured world atlas I could see Bali was on the other side of the equator and only six-inches away from Thailand and that was reason enough for it to be the final destination for our Asian Adventure in 1997.

We came to see this picturesque island of forested volcanic mountains, iconic rice paddies, beaches and coral reefs. We came to relax, but we wanted to see it all; the floating temple of Tanah Lot, the traditional Legong dance, the beaches, the markets and the food. Especially the chicken satay.

Chicken Sate Recipe

Indonesian Chicken Satay Recipe – photo credit Jim Little

We found all the elements of paradise not far from Sanur; wide stretches of sandy beach, clear blue water, coconut groves, flowering hibiscus hedges and cascading bougainvillea. But the action was there too. Calls for “massage today” or “transport for tomorrow?” From the shopkeepers it was “looking, looking”, “you look my shop”, “just looking is okay”. At the beach, “you want some watch”, “ride in a glass bottom boat”, “you go parasailing?” Yet every night we left the noise behind, floated in the hotel pool and gazed up at a clear sky filled with stars we had never seen before. To us it was a magical experience.

A Land of Temples

Indonesia has a rich and diverse history and the vast majority of Balinese now identify as Hindu. This is a land of temples. There are six important Hindu temples on the island, each village has three temples and every home has a temple or shrine. We saw shrines on the sidewalk in front of shops, in the centre of traffic circles and on the dashboard of the bemos we hired for transportation. The typical banana boat shrine was filled with strings of fresh flower blossoms and incense. The daily offerings were said to bring luck and appease the appetite of the demons.

The day of a special ceremony

To the village temple for a special ceremony -Photo credit  Jim Little

Traditional Balinese Dances

We made it to the popular Legong dance outdoors at a Hindu Temple in Ubud. The colourful costumes and highly expressive dance movements were unusual and entertaining while the music was captivating. A traditional gamelan ensemble consisting primarily of percussive instruments like metallophones, xylophones and bamboo flutes filled the air with sounds we had never heard.

The Great Beast Barong

The Great Beast Barong – photo credit Jim Little

The Barong Dance involved Rangda, the witch, and the great beast Barong, an elaborate costume requiring two people to perform. Our guide gave us a detailed story of each dance.

Kecak Dance

Kecak Dance – photo credit Jim Little

Our favourite was a mesmerizing evening performance called the Kecak (pronounced key-chak), where seventy-five men chant “cak-cak-cak” to create the music. Always performed together, the Kecak, Trance and Fire dances ends with a spectacular scene where a performer wakes from his meditative state, and runs through a pile of burning coconut husks. As the embers die down the audience exits in a hush led away by flashlight.

Jim Playing The Metallophone

Jim Playing The Metallophone -photo credit Cinde Little

We saw and heard gamelan everywhere so my husband, a guitar player and music lover, didn’t hesitate when he had the opportunity to join a group and try out the metallophones.

Made, The Second Born

Made 145

Made 145 – photo credit Jim Litte

I finally asked Made, pictured above wearing hat number 145 (the number of his boat), “why are so many people named Made?” Pronounced Ma-day, this is the name given to the second born child in Indonesian culture. First born is Wayan, third Njoman and forth Ketut. The sex of the child does not matter. When the names are written the letter ‘I’ goes before the male name and ‘Ni’ before a female name. If there are more than four children the names are simply repeated with an additional word added to the name.

The Original Spice Islands

The original Spice Islands are a short distance from Bali and at one time they were the only place in the world where cloves and nutmeg grew. Although it is hard for us to appreciate the importance of spices in ancient times this was the beginning of the spice trade and a power struggle that lasted for centuries. For me, I simply wanted to see, touch and taste the spices right where they came from.

The markets were crowded with the freshest local food artfully displayed. My husband took pictures of perfectly stacked vanilla beans and freshly picked cocoa beans while I bought packages of spices to take home. Some days we shared a knotted bunch of passionfruits, a branch of rambutans or the most luscious mangosteens. Other days we sampled local specialties until we had tried them all; Soto Ayum, Gado Gado, Nasi Goreng and Chicken Satay.

Street vendor selling satay

Street vendor selling satay -photo credit Jim Little

One afternoon we walked up a path behind the market to Gitgit Waterfalls. Our guide was with us but two young boys tagged along skipping in and out of the forest with the spices I wanted to see. The first boy grabbed a leaf, folded it and held it up to my nose. Fresh clove he announced. Then his friend did the same with lemongrass, and they took turns showing us coffee beans, cacao beans, cinnamon, nutmeg and more. At the end of our walk they were happy to receive a few coins for their efforts.

Durian – A Raspberry Parfait In An Outhouse

Have you heard of durian? This exotic fruit, described as having a wonderful taste not to be missed, with a smell so offensive it can be hard to take the first bite. Travel books warn tourists of the rule, ‘no eating durian in rooms’.

I hadn’t planned to eat durian, I actually planned to not eat durian.

Imagine my surprise to learn we were in Bali at the peak of durian season. Every day we saw six-foot high piles of durian at the side of the road. Then one day, Made bought us a durian. My immediate thought was; he knows that no tourist in their right mind would buy a durian. I was suddenly reminded of the story my friend Martha shared. She thought durian was like eating the most heavenly raspberry parfait, in the smelliest outhouse you could ever imagine.

Alas my story is anticlimactic. I ate the fruit but the smell of that outhouse was overwhelming and I have no memory of the taste. My travel journal says I washed my hands and bought hard, coffee-flavoured candies but the horrible after taste lasted for hours.

Tasting durian was not on my bucket list but that day it was checked off.

Rice Paddies From Planting to Harvest

As we drove along the north coast to Singaraja we saw the breathtaking, iconic images of mountainside rice terraces. In Bali rice grows year round and we saw the fields in every stage of growth. Fields being ploughed by hand, flooded rice paddies sparkling in the sun and a single square of sprouted plants ready to be transplanted.

Flooded Rice Paddies With A Sprouted Field of Seedlings

A Sprouted Field of Seedlings and Flooded Rice Paddies -photo credit Jim Little

When the rice turns from green to golden brown the harvest begins. At the edge of the road we saw only the peaks of large, round bamboo hats protecting workers from the hot sun. As we walked into the field we saw skilled women shaking the grains of rice from the dried plants in beautiful wavy patterns. Wow, that is the rice that someone is eating in their kitchen on any given day of the week. Now that’s food for thought.

Harvesting Rice in Bali

Harvesting Rice in Bali -photo credit Jim Little

Sacks of dried kernels weigh up to 40 kilogram and workers carry them on their heads from the field to the road. The final step is to let the rice dry in the sun. To do this they spread plastic tarps right on the street and cover them with hundreds of kilograms of rice. As a random chicken ran across the rice I could hear my sisters’ voice saying, “you know you should always rinse your rice before you cook it”. At that moment I understood why.

Thanks to Sue and Dave for the opportunity to reminisce about my long ago vacation to the island of Bali. The photos are a little grainy but sharing them here brought back many memories from that Asian adventure. I will leave you with my Indonesian chicken satay recipe, the recipe I would make if you were coming to my place for dinner. You might need a trip to the store for kecap manis and tamarind but I guarantee it will be worth it.

Selamat menikmati, enjoy!

Chicken Sate with Peanut Sauce
5 from 30 votes
Print

Indonesian Chicken Satay

Author Cinde Little

Ingredients

  • 2 lb boneless chicken beef or pork
  • 1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate and 2 Tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 4 shallots, sliced (or ¼ cup chopped onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

PEANUT SAUCE

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup kecap manis (or 3½ Tbsp soy sauce and ½ Tbsp brown sugar)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½-1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup boiling water

Instructions

  1. Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 4 hours.
  2. Cut meat into small pieces and place in large container or bag for marinating.
  3. In a food processor combine all marinade ingredients and process to a smooth paste. Pour over meat and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
  4. Thread meat on skewers. Cook on the barbecue or under the broiler until done, approximately 6 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Serve with peanut sauce.

PEANUT SAUCE

  1. In a large glass measuring cup combine peanut butter, kecap manis, garlic, brown sugar, lemon juice and hot pepper. Add the boiling water and whisk until smooth. Keeps in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.
Cinde Little

Cinde Little

Cinde writes the Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet food blog and teaches cooking classes in Calgary, Alberta. As a passionate home cook she encourages everyone to get in the kitchen and cook. By day Cinde is an Education Consultant with Alberta Health Services. Follow her on twitter, instagram and facebook or visit website for more recipes at www.everydayglutenfreegourmet.ca.

Cinde’s other articles on Travel Tales of Life include Greek Souvlaki – An Authentic Greek Food Recipe and Thai Red Shrimp Curry