Sunday, July 13, 2014

Japanese Influenced Pottery in Kuta

Being a food blogger, joy fills my heart whenever I see beautiful tableware. The same feeling came over me when I spent an hour (or maybe two) browsing Jenggala Keramik’s website prior to my Bali vacation.

Their pieces are influenced mostly by traditional Indonesian and Balinese pattern and colours, but I can see some are influenced by Japanese pottery -- clean and simple lines with muted colours. These sexy Japanese inspired ones are ones that excites me the most. I’ve been seriously coveting some of their pieces, but their price tags have so far stopped me from purchasing them online.

Jenggala boasts that each piece of pottery is inspected for the highest quality, with normal variation due to its handmade nature. While this is certainly the case -- you won’t be able to buy one blemished piece from their showroom -- the slightly imperfect pieces are still available for purchase and can be found at Jenggala’s lesser known Factory Outlet.

Jenggala does very little by way of advertising their Factory Outlet for whatever reason, there isn’t even an official link to it on their website. Being the bargain hunter that I am, I managed to find it from the lovely people on the web.

There were pieces with undeliberate minor askew shapes, or the accidental colour stain here there. But those with obvious flaws were the minority. The imperfections on most of the pieces I’ve examined were imperceptible to the naked eye and these were the ones I picked to buy. With prices of up to 50% off, I went on a shopping spree.

One of my purchases was this teardrop white salad bowl with undulating rim seemingly to have been brushed with a muted teal paint. So beautiful. Pictured below is this bowl having the flaw of paint dots at its bottom. There was a stack of these bowls in the shop, I looked for two which didn't have such obvious flaws.

While the attendants wrapped up my pieces with some old newspaper, I noticed quite a few of the customers were Japanese. I guess even they love Jenggala’s interpretation of Japanese pottery. After they were wrapped up, the pieces were stacked into shopping bags. If you happened to ask for boxes, they will kindly let you know boxes are not provided in the factory outlet, only in the showrooms. One less perk I don't mind having without.

The piece I use most often at home is this ramen bowl. It has a distinct Japanese look, a deep bowl capable of holding a lot, with convenient indentations on its rim for placing a pair of chopsticks. I’ve used it for serving salmon phở with a bountiful salmon bone broth, for bibimbap with its vigorous mixing action, for simple chicken and noodle soup, and many many other delicious dishes.

Jenggala Factory Outlet
Jalan Sunset Road No. 1
location on google maps

Friday, July 11, 2014

Subak: Rice Farming in Bali

A lot of Asians -- myself included -- won’t feel full without eating rice thanks to being brought up with the typical Asian diet of eating rice at least twice a day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted, but I certainly can’t picture my life without it. Last year in an effort to better my nutrition value, I’ve started adding grains, seeds and beans such as chia seeds, barley, soaked mung beans, etc. to make multi-grain rice. While I’m pretty much used to eating it without noticeable difference, once in a while I like to cook the pure unadulterated stuff. There’s this inexplicably satisfying feeling I get digging into a steaming bowl of fluffy white rice that multi-grain rice simply can’t give.

Indonesia is white rice country, and Bali is no exception. One of tourist favourite photo-op locations in Bali is at Tegalalang's multi-tiered rice terraces. The terraces were constructed as such due to the unique Balinese irrigation system called subak whereby water is distributed over a series of canals employing an egalitarian practice based on the Balinese Hinduism concept of Tri hita Karana. Sadly subak is slowly disappearing. One effort to slow down this rate was the Indonesian government's request and subsequently UNESCO’s award of the world heritage listing for the subak system. The listing allows the Balinese to obtain advice and financial assistance from UNESCO.

The Balinese farmers themselves are conflicted about the heritage listing. Having subak recognised brings in more tourists and money to the island, but rarely does that cash benefit the farmers. It mostly goes to the tour operators, hotels, villas, etc. The other effect of tourism is real estate development. With more and more tourists arriving, the rice fields are rapidly in danger of being converted to hotels and villas to service said tourists.

While we vacationed in Ubud, we stayed in a private villa overlooking lush green rice paddies filled with pregnant rice plants, some are ready for harvest. Its location at the edge of working rice paddies was the top feature of this villa. The villa encouraged tourists to talk to the farmers and it also delivered small tours for patrons not comfortable approaching the farmers themselves. Although I do like the fact it’s promoting a conversation with the farmers, the fees gained for the tours are not exactly going to the farmers.

The rice fields outside our villa didn’t have the distinct subak look, there are layers of terraces though not as many as ones you see in postcards. But it is a working rice fields, not there merely for the sake of tourists. The first morning of our stay, we were hanging out by our private pool and whiled away our time observing a group of (female) farmers harvesting rice plants with a sickle. The next morning the newly harvested rice were fed into a threshing machine. Meanwhile a flock of ducks had been let loose in the now empty rice paddy.

Ketut (from the cooking class) explained to me during our rice paddy visit that ducks are taken to the harvested field to feed on the padi (unmilled rice) that has fallen on the ground during the harvest. Back in the rice field near the villa, I talked to a farmer with a white shirt and a huge smile. He explained that not only do they rear ducks for their eggs, but also for their meat. He waits for them to lay 60 eggs before the ducks are sold in the market. I spent many mornings and afternoons watching those ducks roamed about freely, quacking away, diving into the mud and carrying on. There's no wonder the bebek betutu I have had in Bali are so delicious, lean but flavourful.

As with subak, it’s a complex problem with no easy solution. I can’t honestly say I didn’t contribute to the problem by vacationing there. Fortunately the tide is slowly turning, in an attempt to slow this suburbanisation at least one Ubud community has agreed to enrol in a program -- founded by a New Yorker -- to conserve the use of their land for agricultural purposes despite pressures from real estate development.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Klungkung, One Salt Farmer Prevails

Artisanal salt farming is a dying trade in Bali. The Indonesian government has an incentive program to subsidise local salt farming in an effort to attract and retain this trade. Is it working? Is this primitive and labour intensive method of producing salt worth saving?

The salt farm we visited was near Goa Lawah (Bat Cave) in Klungkung -- there are two other traditional salt farming locations in Bali, in a Kusamba fishing village and at Hotel Uyah in Amed. The entrance leading to the Goa Lawah salt farm was marked by a tiny and crude wooden sign announcing “NATURAL SALT MAKER”, easily missed if not for our observant driver.

But found it we did. As we entered the farm, we were greeted by the salty air and the vast vista of the horizon where the blue sky meets the Bali Sea. The farm itself is a mom and pop operation, it’s operated by a farmer who learned solar salt farming in his adolescence at his father's farm. When he was of age and skill, he bought a patch of land by the sea and started his own salt farm, where he continued the traditional practices using natural materials.

The process started with the hauling of salt water from the deep blue sea using a handmade carrying pole made from a rattan yoke and two tarpaulin containers at its ends. The pregnant containers of seawater bobbed up and down as the farmer trudged swiftly towards his farm with nary a drop to spill. The seawater was carried to a patch of black volcanic sand, reserved solely for evaporating the seawater. He rocked the containers simultaneously with a back and forth motion, spraying their contents onto the earth. In doing so, the seawater was absorbed by the sand and filtered by it at the same time.

A sunny, cloudless day is essential in solar salt farming. It’s the other main energy source besides manpower. The sun dries the seawater drenched volcanic sand, evaporating the liquid and leaving salt minerals behind. To hasten the evaporation process, the farmer’s wife ran a rake through the sand exposing the damp lower layer.

The process of pouring water onto sand, raking and drying them was repeated a few times before the resulting salt-infused sand was scraped and collected. Inside a humble draughty hut was where the purification process starts. The salty sand was poured into a large wooden container and mixed in with the right amount of Bali Sea water, not too much. The seawater re-dissolved the salt contained within the sand to produce a concentrated NaCl brine, essentially separating and settling the impurity (sand and other bits) to the bottom. Subsequently the brine was channelled via a bamboo pipe into its final resting place: troughs made of coconut tree trunks.

While the farmer was busy filling the coconut troughs, the farmer's wife and I got into talking about the next generation of salt farmers. She confided that traditional salt making is a back-breaking work, something kids these days wouldn't want to do. She was grateful enough their oldest has a job in the city as a security guard and the young one is a diligent high school student.

The farmer finished filling up the trough with salty water. The farmer explained the drying troughs were made of the top part of coconut trees as their diameter is smaller nearer the top. Larger troughs made of the bottom part of the tree were used as containers in the purification process. Coconut tree trunks were chosen because of its abundance, but also because they’re less porous than the also ubiquitous tropical palm trees.

The coconut troughs containing the brine were lifted and lined up at a plot outside the hut to receive a further dosage of heating from the sun. It was now the sun's job to naturally evaporate the brine's water content. The slowly re-crystallised salt were then delicately skimmed and piled into woven bamboo buckets to drain and dry. The result was this coarse unrefined salt with irregularly shaped and sized grains, dissimilar to what you'd normally get with factory produced salt.

We bought a small plastic bag of this salt, with a price that was next to nothing, certainly not enough to offset the hard work and care put into it. We were so embarrassed paying the asking price, we gave him a bit more. To us the wide smiles and patience the husband and wife team had throughout their demonstration were worth a hundred times more than simply a bag of salt.

The government salt farm incentive program PUGAR (Program Pengingkatan Usaha Garam Rakyat) is in its third year of existence and this year it has finally managed to accumulate enough stockpile to satisfy the country’s total demand of salt for food consumption -- 1.5 million tonnes annually. This program delivers subsidies to 7 major producing locations -- places with climates most conducive for salt farming -- and 33 locations for minor production. Alas Bali is not among one of these locations. (It’s worth noting the program doesn’t subsidise salt production for industrial purposes -- Indonesia imports over 600 thousand tonnes of industrial salt annually.)

Fortunately for our Goa Lawah salt farmer, Bali is big on tourism. Ever since more and more tourists knew about his farm, he is making a small income from the tips they gave from being charmed by his earnestness (and utter lack of commercialism, I might add.)

Goa Lawah Salt Farm
Jalan Raya Goa Lawah
Klungkung BALI
location on google maps

Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Ubud, Cooking with New Friends

Bali can be many things for many different people. For the aussie school leavers looking for some fun, Kuta is party central. For the honeymooners, there's Seminyak. For the executives and families with slightly deeper pockets, Nusa Dua has its posh resorts. But Ubud, it always bill itself as the cultural epicentre of the island, where the yoga freaks congregate, where struggling balinese artists sell their work, where the Balinese organic and raw movements started.

Monday, June 23, 2014

naughty ribs in ubud, bali

The sound of charcoal crackling, flames flaring up to meet the dripping fat, the sweet smoky smell of sticky ribs on the grill. It was enough to make us salivate. Three ribs please!

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