Ketut’s Place: The Lonely Planet Effect

Throughout the years, I have always used the Lonely Planet travel guides. My loyalty had developed in part probably due to my familiarity with the format of the books and knowing exactly where to locate the information I needed. Not having used other guides, I can’t compare Lonely Planet to any others, but for my purposes they have served me just fine.

However there is this phenomenon I called the Lonely Planet effect. Whenever a restaurant (or a hotel) scores an entry in Lonely Planet, it obviously increases the exposure of that particular institution, and as a consequence usually increases tourist traffic. All things being equal, this sometimes has the effect of pushing prices up and possibly altering the dynamics of both the service offered and some of the original reasons the restaurant (or hotel) may have warranted a mention in Lonely Planet in the first place.

Take for instance Ketut’s Place, mentioned in Lonely Planet for its Balinese buffet which is served on select nights of the week. Last night being one of those nights, I went along to take a look at Ketut’s Place. Ketut, the owner, greeted all the diners with a speech which was wonderfully welcoming and informative. He talked of the typical layout of a Balinese home and of certain Balinese customs. Ketut’s command of English was excellent, and as he was a wonderfully charismatic and charming man one would be hard pushed not to have felt welcomed by him. However, in the end I declined to take the buffet.

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Rumah Roda Homestay & Restaurant: Ubud, Bali

There have been many husband and wife teams from years past that have worked well together. One couple that comes to mind was Marie and Pierre Curie. Although not Nobel winning, perhaps another couple might be that of Darta and Suti, the friendly husband and wife team who have turned their family home at 24 Jalan Kajeng (Kajeng Street) into both a guesthouse and a restaurant known as Rumah Roda.

Darta and Suti

Darta and Suti

Suti – wife, mother and chef – began her cooking career elsewhere. For about eight years she was the cook at Han Snel’s Bungalows, a slightly more upmarket tourist accommodation spot with individual bungalows in Ubud, Bali. After leaving Han Snel’s, Suti turned her attention to cooking a limited range menu for tourists at the family home in Ubud, Rumah Roda, where guests would sit at the one table for four placed right next to the family kitchen. About three years ago, the family decided to expand, and the current restaurant was built as an open air dining area overlooking the street, right above the family bedrooms. The extension provides a much larger seating capacity, about 20-25 rather than just four, and gives customers the option of either sitting at dining tables or on the elevated cushioned platforms.

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Bumbu Bali: A Taste of Bali

Curious to discover more about Balinese cooking techniques and the varied ingredients that make up the various flavours, I signed up for a cooking course. A number of restaurants in Ubud offer such courses, but I chose Bumbu Bali, a Balinese restaurant where I’d had dinner a few nights ago. Having eaten there, I knew the food was good and I’d therefore concluded that the course would probably be good too.

Ubud market

Ubud market

My day began with a visit to the markets to wade through the different types of local produce. Shopping at the markets for food has been a long standing tradition in my family. I prefer it to picking out packages of homogeneously sized vegetables at a supermarket. Chances are the produce has been produced nearby rather than shipped from afar, and I also prefer it for the fact that you also get to touch and smell the produce.

Back at the restaurant, we ran through the ingredients typically used in Balinese food including the many varieties of green and red chillies which I declined to taste test (ouch!). I was to cover six different dishes, but first and foremost, we covered in detail the base gede which is the true heart and soul of many Balinese dishes. This mixed spice paste consists of a large number of different spices including the most obvious ones such as ginger, garlic, chilli and turmeric.

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Warung Bodag Maliah Cafe (Sari Organic)

The rice fields around Ubud

Rice fields around Ubud

One of the wonderful things about Bali is that despite having all the trappings of a modern tourist spot, in about a five minute walk it’s also possible to find yourself submerged in luscious green rice fields that spread on for miles. In the midst of one of these rice fields was Sari Organic, an organic farming venture that started about five years ago to service the needs of both local businesses and individuals. Its farming concept was based on ‘family-size’ farms, which consequently meant its business philosophy also provided jobs to local families. Over the years, Sari discovered that there was a genuine demand for organic produce in and around Ubud, and it now recruits and provides incomes to some 15 families.

Inside Sari Organic which looks out onto lush rice fields

Inside Sari Organic which looks out onto lush rice fields

For more immediate eating needs, there is also their organic restaurant, Warung Bodag Maliah. The restaurant is a two storey building, with the ground floor serving as the kitchen and the first floor as the dining area to allow you a wonderful elevated perspective of the rice fields. It’s an incredibly relaxed setting. The restaurant is windowless to allow in a gentle cool breeze and there are a range of seating choices; tables as well as cushioned platform seating areas. However if your fancy was to simply stretch out and snuggle up with a book on one of their benches as I saw one couple doing, this was also possible.

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Babi Guling Ibu Oka: The roasting of a suckling pig

After breakfast, I set off in search of the Babi Guling roasting house. Yesterday, Agun had pointed to a sign about 100m down the road from the restaurant, whereupon I was to turn right. I located the spot and made my way in. Typical of Balinese housing there were a string of buildings surrounding a central courtyard. Designed to accommodate a number of families, this compound was also designed to house noisy chickens and carpenters. I was directed to the far left corner of the compound. Eventually I spotted the pigs on open spits. My first reaction as I approached was “yum”! The second was shock at the almost intolerable searing heat, like a hot burn against my face. How some of the men roasting managed barefoot I knew not. Agun wasn’t there but with typical Balinese hospitality, I was made to feel welcome, even being permitted to turn the handle on the pigs as well as indulge in some taste testing, hot off the spit! Fresh and sizzling, it tasted even better than yesterday; the meat succulent and juicy, the crackling so crisp it could easily have snapped in two. Here are some memories that I’d like to share.

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And some videos that I have posted on YouTube:

Roasting the suckling pig at Babi Guling
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=VKk6TVmLpR8

Removing the spit from the roast suckling pig
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Us4jb7nXnKI

Pork Crackling for me
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=U_UQOiN6NrE

Piggy off to market
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=RjJAV8An4q8


Another Related Story



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Babi Guling Ibu Oka: Roast suckling pig

Babi guling Ibu Oka

Babi guling Ibu Oka

After doing the boat crossing from Java to Bali late yesterday afternoon, I headed straight for the heart of its cultural pulse, a town called Ubud. I liked it immediately. I slept in a quaintly decorated Balinese room with a four-poster bed (under the mandatory mosquito net) and showered in an open air bathroom with the sun streaming on my face. I was then served breakfast on my own little front porch by a man in traditional dress. What was there not to like?

Despite having had breakfast, by 11.30 I was hungry again. Must be all the fresh air, and although it was still hot, the temperatures were tempered by a nice cool breeze. I placated my grumbling stomach with a short-term fix of an ice-cream cone and headed off in the direction of the markets to look for lunch, whereupon I stumbled upon Babi Guling Ibu Oka. Babi guling translates as roast suckling pig, a Balinese specialty, which from my reading of Bali was a must try. This and the fact that it was barely 11.45 and the place was virtually packed with a throng of people queuing to be served told me I was onto a winner. I spotted a seat and settled in. It was a simple place; communal seating, plastic chairs, cutlery in “serve yourself” plastic containers, but buzzy with the hum of the crowd.

Inside Babi Guling Ibu Oka

Inside Babi Guling Ibu Oka

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Lava in Java

After declaring that I would never catch another Indonesian long distance mini-bus following my hair raising experience from Bandung to Yogyakarta, I found myself on another 11 hour journey yesterday, once again manned by a kamikaze driver in a vehicle with poorly-working air conditioning in the searing Indonesian heat. Regaled by stories about the beauty of Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano) and hungry for more adventure, I had decided to detour from my original plan of flying straight to Bali and made a pit stop to Bromo instead.

Mount Bromo and Semeru

Mount Bromo and Semeru

Starting with a 3.30am wake up call to watch the sunrise, it was a truly spectacular view. Java is dotted with volcanos and Gunung Bromo is one of its most famous. The object of many postcards, it is flanked by volcanoes on either side, with Java’s most active volcano and highest point at 3,676m, Gunung Semeru, also towering in the distance. Occasionally tempestuous, Gunung Semeru is known to occasionally billow puffs of smoke to complete the postcard setting.

Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano)

Gunung Bromo (Bromo Volcano)

We trekked afterwards to the crater’s rim and arrived back at the hotel at 8.30am for breakfast. I had nasi goreng (fried rice) and fried egg, which had been a pretty standard breakfast choice in the hotels I’d stayed at to date. Typically, other options have also included eggs and toast. It was a simple breakfast, but there was something about waking up at the crack of dawn, braving the freezing cold that is common in places of altitude, to take in amazing views of the sun rising over the volcanoes that made a simple breakfast that much more enjoyable.

This was my last breakfast in Java. Next stop, Bali.


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Indonesian lunch: Lake Ciburial

The tea plantation was a delightful retreat from the congested city of Bandung, with acres and acres of land lush with the green of tea leaves. Hiking through the plantation, we made headway towards this miniature waterfall. It was not particularly spectacular, but the slight splash of the water against my face on such a hot day was particularly refreshing. There were also some locals, clearly a close group of young friends, whiling away their day with laughter around the falls and it was with a little envy that I watched them. What a carefree way to spend a day!

We broke for an Indonesian lunch at a little eating spot on Situ Ciburial (Lake Ciburial) run by a mother and daughter team, and ate on the balcony which looked out onto a lake that rippled beautifully from the reflection of the sunshine. It was a buffet style meal with about 14 different choices on offer. I tried a little of each, and all the food was delicious and fresh. There were a number of deep fried dishes, which on my travels so far had appeared to be quite commonplace; two different types of fish, one chicken, battered mash potato, and one of shredded pork. There was also a beef curry and a variety of stir-fried vegetables mixed with tofu, pork or mushrooms. My favourite though was the chicken steamed in banana leaf with lemongrass and spring onions, for in the cooking process the banana leaf had ensured that the fragrance of the lemongrass was deeply infused in the chicken.

A traditional Indonesian lunch

A traditional Indonesian lunch

Next we headed to Gunung Papandayan (Volcano Papandayan). I had seen other volcanoes before – Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Arenal in Costa Rica – but nothing prepared me for the spectacle that was Papandayan. We spent some three hours exploring its crevices, and at every turn there was a new wonderment to gaze upon. For all its destructive force (it last erupted in 2002), it had also left a legacy of extreme barren beauty; mud pools bubbling away, rocks swollen yellow with sulphur deposits, cracks in the earth steaming with gas, a crater filled with cobalt blue water. It was truly a spectacle to behold.


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