Nothing beats cooking up a storm in a breezy open kitchen built in quintessential Balinese style.
With bamboo uprights, a thatched grass roof, views over organic farming set amongst lush tropical gardens, there’s just no place for kitchen stress. Especially when there’s an army of helpers setting up utensils with professional chef-like precision, whipping away used saucepans, supplying just the right amount of ingredients for each dish and quietly doing a little ‘plating up’ prep that makes any basic cook look good.
This all happens at the Pemulan Bali Farm Cooking School.
Tucked away in the hills north of Ubud, it’s a wonderful place to escape the heat and the crowds for a few hours. I’m here with Jo Sharp’s Bali Insiders Fitness Retreat crew. It’s a hands on day of gathering produce from the gardens, cooking in traditional Bali farm-to-table style, meeting people from around the world and of course eating plates of delicious food cooked by the group.
Its a world away from Uber Eats.
There’s nothing ‘dial up’ or ‘instant’ about the day. In fact it gets you rethinking exactly what it takes to get good, delicious, food on your plate….. Time. Good Soil. Digging. More Digging. Water. Sunshine. Nurturing. Culinary Creativity.
We cook as duos, split into vegetarian and non-vegetarian groups. Under the watchful guidance of the local staff we work our way through a range of dishes. Essential Bali spice base, curries, steamed corn fritters, the classic sate lilit, gado gado, tuna with sambal matah, sayur urab, black rice pudding and the favourite of the day sweet and sour tempe (recipe at end of post).
There’s some close calls as we master the sharp edges of the coconut grater, and find out that pounding spices in the mortar and pestle takes a lot of muscle. Our knife skills vary but no one minds.
We pick up helpful tips such as how best to cut a lime to avoid seeds when squeezing for juice, and knowing when oil is hot enough is as simple as putting a wooden spoon in the pan and waiting for bubbles appear around the lower edge.
It’s an incredibly satisfying experience. By the end of the day we’re amazed by our productivity and loving every mouthful of the delicious home grown goodness on our plates.
Over the long communal dining table, talk inevitably turns to how to make this work at home. To eat cleaner, to savour flavours, to grow food, to curb the Uber Eats habit.
It’s easy enough to order in good healthy food with one swipe of an app. That’s simply about making a good choice, albeit one that racks up the credit card. The other hurdles are harder, but there are solutions…
No garden. The price of urban living.
Once you get an edible balcony garden going, swiping a few greens, herbs and tomatoes from the balcony sure beats a trip to the shops. Very few of us have been brought up nurturing veggie gardens, so start small, there will be inevitable losses during the learning stage… great tips here.
Or seek out the renegade groups literally sowing seeds of change by lobbying councils for permission to use nature strips as edible gardens. Great way to befriend the neighbours and have fresh food on your doorstep. Read more.
No time. The busyness of life.
This is the big one. How to carve out hours in the kitchen in an already jam packed life?
The reality is unless you’re a devoted cook, the thought of whipping up an inspired gourmet meal at the end of an exhausting day is the reason we love the likes of Uber Eats.
So something has to give.
We all waste time every day if we’re honest with ourselves. Less screen time is the obvious one. Maybe more planning… batch cooking for efficiency, shopping lists. Practise…. mastering a few quick recipes that can be whipped up in a flurry reduces the angst.
Whilst we’ve cooked in a slow Bali farm-to-table style today, our chefs gave us a few quick fixes – skip the mortar and pestle work, fire up the food processor…. ingredients to skip or substitute… make a decent size batch of spice base, use it as you need it, it keeps for 3 weeks in the fridge….and an easy to follow recipe book.
But really… the ‘aha moment’ of the day is realising the joy of company in the kitchen. Not just for the friendly banter. The workload gets shared. The time needed is halved.
Plus there’s the sharing of skills, the quick tips. The patient one gets to finely chop with precision, plate prep gets commandeered by the stylist type, taste testing as a group takes the pressure off. Cleaning up gets done in a whirl once everyone pitches in.
Are we scared to ask our friends to shell peas, wash vegetables or heaven forbid, do the dishes and take the rubbish out? Kitchens used to be the place to gather, to gossip, a place of friendly warmth.
When we do gather our friends or family around for food, the pressure for meals to be performance art is real and we end up stressing single-handedly behind the scenes, vowing never to do it again.
So my advice…. Love to catch up with a friend but know you really should be doing food prep for the week? Invite them over. Settle into the kitchen bench. Maybe pour a glass of wine. Get chopping and chatting. Four hands work faster than two.
Started by a small group of local farmers in 2012, Pemulan Bali Farm Cooking School is working hard to create a sustainable way of life for their community by combining tourism with sustainable living and education. They have a clear mandate:
We are local community-based agriculture with strong vision of future farming, culinary creativity and hospitality skill. We would like to create jobs and opportunities, developing small business entrepreneurship and keeping precious rupiah in the community. We work with local organic farmers surround our area to make our network even stronger and wider.
All of our staff is from local village.
Put it on your ‘must do list’ for Bali. Details here.
Here’s the fave recipe of the day…SWEET SOUR TEMPE.
1 block tempe (cut in long cube, about 1-2cm
Coconut or vegetable oil for deep frying
5 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 spring onion (thinly sliced)
2 pieces long red chilies (thinly sliced)
1 tbspn palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 piece lemongrass (smashed)
2 pieces salam leaves (or 1 bay leaf)
2 pieces juice of lime (squeezed)
2 tbspn coconut oil
¼ tspn salt
¼ tspn white pepper
Steps To Cook:
Cut all ingredients.
Heat oil (medium flame), deep fry tempe for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Strain until dry. Set aside.
Heat coconut oil and then fry garlic until slightly brown colour, then add in the spring onion, chilies, salam leaves, lemongrass, salt and pepper. Cook for about 30 seconds on low flame.
Add in the crumble palm (or brown) sugar until melted, then squish the lime juice and stir until well blended.
Add in the fried tempe in the mixture (in the low heat), stirring until tempe absorb the seasoning (about 30-50 seconds).
The sweet sour tempe is ready to be served.