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The Food Nomad – finds Magic on the Island of the Gods, Bali

Whenever I think of Bali, my mind traces back to the tinkering resonance of the gamelan vibrating through the perfumed spice-scented air.  Bali is a magical place, where an unexpected turn from the bustling streets can take you into the quiet solitude of a secluded temple.  It is often called the Islands of the Gods, an it’s easy to see why with its diverse religious population of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.  But there is one god that all Balinese worship, and that is the god of rice.  Recently, I journeyed back to this fascinating island to explore its unique cuisine – all served, of course, with a generous helping of rice.

The beauty of living in Asia is that we can usually vacation in Bali at least once a year, and we try to stay at a different region of the island each time as they each have their own contrasting characteristics.  This time, we decided to return to Nusa Dua (because it was Mola Mola season and we wanted to catch a bit of fantastic diving), and also decided to try a boutique villa resort in Ubud.  Here are some of our trip / food highlights this time round.

Our first dinner in Bali this time, at Bumbu Bali in Nusa Dua – highly recommended restaurant, delicious food, beautiful courtyard dining accompanied by an orchestra of frogs from the nearby stream, and smiling happy staff.

The open-air kitchen and satay grill provided a lot of heat, and a lot of energy.

Bumbu Bali – our satay selection (satay campur) with chicken, beef, pork, duck and prawns, served on its own mini charcoal grill – the side dish of spice-infused salad was equally amazing.

I love babi guling and it’s a must-have for me every time I’m in Bali.  Babi Guling was once a festival meal but now can be found any time in Bali, and is a spit-roasted pig with a cavity filled with herbs and spices.  The result is a succulent, spiced pork with crispy piggy skin.  

I love these intricate costumes and masks – during a Muslim holiday celebration at the Conrad. 

Watching the sunset at Uluwatu and awaiting the famous fire dance.

The beginning of the fire dance – the dance starts during sunset and ends when darkness completely blankets the shoreline.

My favourite fruit to munch on while in Bali – the snake skinned fruit.  Each fruit comes apart in cloves encasing a small chestnut like center, and tastes like crunchy, sweet strawberries!

Beef rendang – I love the Balinese side salad of long snake beans and tiny bean sprouts.

Our villa in Chapung SeBali, nestled in the rice terraces of Ubud.  The boutique resort only houses 8 villas, each with their own private pool and filled with unique furniture pieces (the owner is an European furniture dealer).

Stepping in from the bedroom into the pool – a great morning wake-up routine.

Rice paddies surrounding the villas.

On-site vegetable garden to supply the restaurant within Chapung SeBali.  I love the happy looking bok choys! 

Everything tastes better when washed down with a refreshing gulp of icy Bintang.

The famous crispy duck at the Dirty Duck Diner in Ubud – an obvious tourist trap, although the duck was pretty good although very lean.

Our daily breakfasts and fruit plates at Chapung SeBali, all while overlooking an amazing jungle valley.

Gunung Kawi – temples carved into the cliff face.

Pura Tirta Empul – where people bath to be blessed by the holy water.  Each water sprout represents a different entity (wealth, health, love etc).

I love the curvature of Balinese writing – so romantic and mysterious.

Holding the most expensive coffee in the world – all from the ass of a civet cat

Hand-roasting coffee on an open fire stove.

The prized civet cat – ironically looks like a cross between a cat and a rat.  This little guy loves eating coffee berries, but can’t really quite digest them.  Hence, the undigested coffee beans are picked out of his magical poo, and apparently, the fermentation process in his stomach makes the coffee tastes extra special.

Sitting down for a cuppa of magical cat poo coffee, better known as Lombok coffee.  Verdict on the most expensive coffee in the world – not so fantastic, tastes very much like Chinese medicine with a gritty aftertaste.

Piggy time at the renowned Ibu Oka – where Anthony Bourdain proclaimed it the best pig in all of Bali.  Having tried numerous different babi gulings around town, I wasn’t impressed.  We arrived around 11am and plopped down at a shared table – don’t expect beautiful decor or good service, the goal is to get down to business and dig into the pig.  It took a least 15 minutes of arm waving to hunt down a server, another 15 to get our “special pig platter”.  

The “special” babi guling plate at Ibu Oka.  The platter was a small mountain of rice covered in shredded vibrantly-spiced pork, crowned with two precious pieces of crackling porky skin, a side of snake beans and bean sprouts, and some questionable looking blood sausage.  Not a clear standout, but for HK$27 it’s a great deal! 

Romantic dinner at Bridges in Ubud – fine dining in jungle country.  

Cheese platter at Bridges with the strongest camembert I’ve tasted thus far.

Open-air spa at Chapung SeBali.

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