Give us this
day, our daily rice
by Mad Dog
Just the other
night I was in a restaurant which had a menu section listing six or
seven pigeon dishes, though to be honest I doubt it was really
pigeon. Iím pretty sure it was one of those translation errors.
They probably meant cat.
It doesnít look like Iím going to get a Thanksgiving
dinner. Besides the fact that itís not Thanksgiving here, there
simply arenít any turkeys on Bali. Well, not unless you count me,
the man fishing in the stream with the electrified rod, and that guy
on Jalan Raya (literally: Main Street) who asks me every day
if I need ďtransportĒ even though I have a motorcycle helmet in
This is quite a contrast to
the U.S., where thereís a turkey in every house today and come
January there will be a big one in the White House no matter how
this silly election turns out. I have to say, if thereís one thing
Iím really thankful for this year itís that Iím not in the
states so I donít have to listen to those two spoiled brat prep
school boys stamp their feet and throw temper tantrums about
recounting votes. I can sit back, get the highlights, and listen to
the rest of the world laugh because we ship Jimmy Carter off to
every country on the face of the earth to monitor elections butówhoops!ówe
plum forgot to send him to Florida.
Iím sure some restaurant
here is making Thanksgiving dinner, but I havenít heard about it.
And I feel certain there are expats having an orphanís dinner but
not the few I know. (expats, by the way, are expatriates, or
Americanís living overseas, not a slang term for someone whoís
had a sex change operation.) Besides, even if they are making a
Thanksgiving dinner it wonít be traditional, since there isnít a
turkey to be found here. Thereís a reason it was Ben Franklin who
suggested the turkey as his countryís national bird and not
Thatís not to say there isnít any poultry here. There are plenty
of scrawny chickens running through the streets, each with about as
much meat on it as Frank Perdueís middle finger. And there are
lots of ducks which are taken from rice field to rice field,
cleaning the stray grains until theyíre nice and fat and wind up
on the dinner table. Just the other night I was in a restaurant
which had a menu section listing six or seven pigeon dishes, though
to be honest I doubt it was really pigeon. Iím pretty sure it was
one of those translation errors. They probably meant cat.
A true hot,
freshly cooked meal is a rarity on Bali. Surprisingly, so is food
poisoning. You canít say those daily offerings donít do any
Itís interesting that when I first got here all my friends
wanted to know about the food. Iím not sure if they were just
curious or whether they were afraid theyíd have to send me a
C.A.R.E. package so I didnít shrivel up into nothingness because
all they served was raw monkey brains with chocolate sauce. Hey, I
saw Indiana Jones too. I know you donít put chocolate sauce on raw
At first I wasnít real
impressed with the food, but I quickly learned to like it. Dishes
like mie goreng (fried noodles), bakso (noodle soup
with meatballs and fried wontons), sate, gado gado
(vegetables and tofu with peanut sauce), and babi guling
(roasted suckling pig) are all really good. If thereís a problem
itís that the food doesnít have a lot of range, like say, Thai
food. Or the wide selection you find in Singapore (see: Is
That a Durian in Your Pocket or Have You Just Been To Singapore?)
You understand why this is when you realize that many Balinese eat
the same meal three times a day. On Bali, consistency is the spice
Nasi campur (nah∑see
cham∑poor) is the
national dish, and many Balinese eat it for breakfast, lunch, and
dinner. If they want a between-meal snack they go into the kitchen
and have some nice nasi campur. While itís a drag for Mom
to have to wake up at 4 A.M. to make it, the good side is the kids
donít come running into the house every afternoon after school
yelling, ďWhatís for dinner, Mom?Ē They already know.
Nasi is cooked rice
and campur means mixed. Obviously itís not named that
because they mix up their menu, itís called that because itís a
pile of rice with bits and pieces of whatever stuff they felt like
making today, usually some meat-like things, chicken bones, fried
something rind, half a hard boiled egg, a smattering of some
vegetable searching for an English translation, and sambal,
which is hot sauce used to deaden your taste buds.
How can you
argue when thereís a picture of Chester Cheetah right there on the
package and it says: ďChester Cheetah makin kerin aja! Chee-tos
Snack yangÖ. KREESSH!Ē
Since itís all made early in the morning and still eaten at
dinnertime, obviously it stays at room temperature, though to be
honest, around here that means pretty hot. A true hot, freshly
cooked meal is a rarity on Bali. Surprisingly, so is food poisoning.
You canít say those daily offerings donít do any good.
Not all the food here is
unfamiliar, though even the familiar isnít as familiar as youíd
like. Huntís ketchup is sweet. Itís also called saus tomat
because kecap (keh∑chap)
is Indonesian for soy sauce. Best Foods mayonnaise is sweet too.
Philadelphia cream cheese is imported from Australia and itís not
like the Philadelphia cream cheese I was raised on. Itís
off-white, harder, and just doesnít taste the same. It must be the
Then there are Chee-tos. Since cheese pretty much doesnít exist
here, Chee-tos come in roasted corn and chicken grill flavors. Kind
of defeats the name of the product, donít you think? But I have to
admit that the chicken grill flavor is pretty good. They have the
same consistency as the quick fried to a crackly crunch ones only
they taste like, well, they taste kinda sorta chickeny. And how can
you argue when thereís a picture of Chester Cheetah right there on
the package and it says: ďChester Cheetah makin kerin aja!
Chee-tos Snack yangÖ.KREESSH!Ē So far the only package
Iíve seen that comes close to it is the Cadburyís Crunchie bar a
friend brought me from Brunei with the logo in Arabic and the
ingredients listed in Arabic, Greek, and Spanish.
Snacks are big here, though
you have to be careful when you buy them. The Happy-tos package
looks exactly like Fritos that didnít make it through the
spellchecker, and something tells me they didnít make it through
the taste-checker either. Then thereís the whole line of Hello
Kitty snacks with packages that look about as cheap as a package can
be, without bothering to tell you whatís in them, and have pools
of grease in the bottom. Something tells me Sanrio doesnít know
Here in Bali McDonald's has
Paket Nasi, which is rice with some fried chicken.
While this is a nice touch, itís not nearly as nice as Bolivia
where they expanded the usual drink selection to include tea
made from coca leaves, which coincidentally are the same leaves used
to make cocaine.
But donít lose hope, this is the land of French Fries 2000,
a snack food a friend discovered in a warung. Theyíre
square, fried, reconstituted potato sticks that come in a small bag
which boasts they have ďVitamins A & C!Ē Plus thereís a
little cup of ketchup in every package. And unlike that bogus
Huntís stuff, this is spicy. All I can say is itís a shame they
already gave out this yearís Nobel Prizes.
I mostly eat in warungs,
which are tiny roadside food stands. They range from funky to
ďwouldnít exist if there was anything resembling a Board of
Health on the island.Ē The foodís generally better than the
restaurants and certainly tons cheaper. Providing, of course you
have no moral objections to eating for under a dollar.
I also eat from the food
carts which are pushed through the streets. Iím told the carts are
all made on Java and the men walk them here, selling their food
along the way. Of course they take the ferry across the Bali
Straits, but thatís only because thereís no word for amphibious
in Indonesian. Or waterproofing. But weíll leave a discussion of
the now-in-force rainy season for another day.
If you want familiarity in
food you can find it in a few fast food restaurants. Here in Ubud
the closest thing to fast food is the Dunkiní Donuts counters
which are in two grocery stores. Thereís real fast food in Kuta,
which is a tourist hell beach about an hour away, but I havenít
gotten up the nerve to head there yet. Though I did see a
McDonaldís at the airport.
One thing McDonaldís does which is admirable, aside from keeping
their bathrooms clean and free so people like me can use them in any
city in the world without having to eat there, is put one or two
localized items on the menu. Hence the McSteak and Kidney Pie in
England and the McP‚tť
in France. (And now available in both countries: the McMadCow!) Here
in Bali they have Paket Nasi, which is rice with some fried
chicken for Rp7500, or about 85Ę.
For another Rp500 (6Ę)
you can even get it hot. While this is a nice touch, itís not
nearly as nice as Bolivia where they expanded the usual drink
selection to include tea made from coca leaves, which
coincidentally are the same leaves used to make cocaine. Some
countries have all the luck.
For some odd reason eating with my hands wasnít nearly
as much fun as I think it should be. This will probably please my
mother no end since it means something she spent countless hours
drumming into my head actually took.
|| If youíre one of those people who like knives, this
isnít the place for you. The Balinese traditionally eat with their
hands, though now many of them use spoons. They also use forks, but
only to push the food into the spoon, not to stab anything. Progress
moves slowly here. Knives are
reserved for the tamu (tourists), and even then you donít
see them often.
Itís oddly unsettling to
watch people use their hand to mush food together, scoop it up, and
put it in their mouth. I was raised not to play with my food. In
fact, I was sent to bed hungry a few times for doing it. So what do
Balinese mothers tell their children when theyíre growing up,
ďStop using that fork or youíre going to bed without dinner!Ē?
Or ďHow many times have I told you, play with your food!Ē
Being a good tamu,
Iíve eaten with my hands a few times, usually because Iím in
someoneís home or in a warung where they donít even have
silverware. Actually itís ďhandĒ, because you do not eat
with the left one. Thatís reserved for wiping yourself, but I
donít want to totally ruin your appetite by pursuing that
discussion right now. In fact, itís not necessary to remind me
about it lateróif I forget, thatís fine.
For some odd reason eating
with my hands wasnít nearly as much fun as I think it should be.
This will probably please my mother to no end since it means something
she spent countless hours drumming into my head actually took. Too
bad it wasnít the one about finding a good-paying career.
Finally, Balinese food is
very literal food. Fried rice is exactly what it says, as is fried
noodles. And nasi campur, as Iíve mentioned, is definitely
a rice mixture. But the winner of the literal food sweepstakes has
to be the ice cream sandwich I first saw when it was being sold at a
cremation ceremony. It was ice cream, chocolate syrup, and some kind
of red syrup served between two slices of white bread. Mmmmm! Sounds
like the perfect ending to a Thanksgiving meal. If I could only find
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