Indonesia- A culinary delight

For anyone who knows Kelly and I, you’ll know we’re massive foodies. We actually planned a huge proportion of this year away based around having a culinary oddesey, and we definitely haven’t been disappointed that’s for sure. We spent nearly six weeks in India eating pretty much entirely street food or home cooked meals, ate our body weight in Banh Mi across all of Vietnam, seriously over indulged on incredible curries in Thailand, and and helped prepare the local delicacies of Kava and Lovo on a tiny island with the villagers in Fiji,to name but a few. Cambodian cuisine was a bit of a let down really, but other than that we’ve been truly blown away by the quality of everything we’ve got to sample, and we’ve certainly been adventurous! I must say, New Zealand was also a big surprise for us. Obviously nowhere near as exciting or spicy as the cuisine in Asia, but the quality of produce and food, and the beer was so high it was impossible to have a bad meal!
Having said all that, Indonesia definitely needs a special mention (or its own blog, which is why you’re here). We didn’t expect a great deal I think it’s safe to say, apart from the obvious dishes like Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), but there were so many special dishes we discovered we were literally in heaven! This post is based more around advice for fellow woodies exploring Indonesia, so you can get he most out of your food discovery there!

Animal friendly feeding



The first thing to say, is the vegetarian and vegan options on Bali and the surrounding areas are out of this world! Similar to India, the primarily Hindu population on Bali are mainly vegetarian. Mix that with the hippie-chic yoga/surf culture at runs through the veins of the island basically mean on every street, there is somewhere preparing something wonderful and bursting with flavour. The Indonesians love their chilli, and a theirs pack a punch, so take care if you aren’t a fan of hot food, but there are so many traditional dishes that don’t even register on the Scoville scale you shouldn’t really have to worry so much. You’ll be given the opportunity to cover your food in sambal if you like your food spicy. Every place you go will have their own recipe, just watch out as some are seriously hot! 

We spent the first week on Bali basically eating pure vegetarian and vegan meals in an attempt to save some cash, but if you look around and find the good local Warungs (traditional local restaurants) you can find some great deals and certainly find some great grub! If you’re after local food, this is definitely my best recommendation; only eat at the Warungs, and check the menu first. Many places charge tax and service on top of the advertised costs, meaning in some cases you can pay up to 20% on top of the bill! We got caught out by this a couple of times, but you tend to see increased costs like that at the more opulent restaurant or hotel. Just avoid them, the local food is so good, you shouldn’t pay more just to get a nice place and shiny cutlery! 

I’d 100% recommend sampling Tempe, a sort of coarse tofu alternative. If cooked right, it’s bloody lovely. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it from now on. 

Western creature comforts

 
If however you aren’t that adventurous with trying new grub, the more western offerings around Bali vary from pretty dire attempts at pizza and pasta, burgers and shnitzel (for all the Aussies obviously) to some absolutely sublime eateries who deliver some outrageously good grub, ranging from super food salads, beautiful home baked breads, avocado and feta on EVERYTHING and some proper good smoothies to accompany. Without question, I’d highly recommend eating around the Canggu area, north of the super touristy (and a bit shit) Kuta, ever so popular with the Aussies again. We stayed here for about 4 days before flying to Malaysia, and didn’t have a bad meal.

 But you find places like this all over Bali and to a point, the island of Gili and Lembongan. Whilst they may not exist in abundance, they are out there, and if you’re lucky enough to find them you won’t be disappointed!


The good old black stuff



Obviously Indonesia is known for its amazing coffee, which is best known to come from the Java region, but hunt out some small coffee houses and you’ll be hard pushed to not find some artisan brewer with a direct relationship with some small plantation somewhere else in Indonesia. I’d highly recommend sampling the Bali coffee, served in the traditional style with the thick grains stuck to the bottom of the cup (remember this before you neck the whole cup), it’s about 10000 (about 60p) rupiah per cup at most places, so way cheaper than an Americano, but still damn tasty. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a proper maestro of coffee production and preparation. We were so lucky to discover a small shop called Tales of Coffee right next to our last hotel. This place had only been open four days when we first dropped in, and Kobe, the young Belgian owner was a true master of coffee and chocolate. I’d go as far as comparing him to a molecular gastonomist of coffee and chocolate. We only found this place by chance, when Kelly had a hankering for a hot chocolate, and we ended up back there every day after at least once. Without question, this place made the best hot chocolate we’ve had since leaving the UK, and I’d probably say it’s up there as one of the best I’ve ever had! I sampled a number of coffees, but the best was definitely using beans grown on mount Rinjani, and prepares using the v60 method of slow drip, with meticulous care and attention being paid to the amount of coffee used, the speed of pour, the amount of water soaking the grains, and the final amount of coffee in the pot. Seriously, this attention to detail was definitely worth it, the coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had. Whilst chilling out at this coffee house, Kobe told us how he ended up opening the store. During his travels three years earlier, he fell in love with Indonesia mainly drawn for his love of good coffee, so spent the next six months trying to hunt out a local grower and the best beans. Following a huge effort, he found his array of growers, set up collaborations and business deals, and began to market the product with impeccable delivery, sound business strategy and a solid marketing concept. A couple of years later the company had enough capital to open its first shop, designed entirely by him, decorated with locally sourced woods and products, and covered head to toe in beautiful design and stories of the growers and the origins of their coffee and chocolate. It really was rather inspiring to see a guy so young following his passion and taking the plunge into entrepreneurialism in a foreign land like Indonesia: to do it so successfully is a pure testament to his efforts and love for high quality products. 

This is just one of many stories I could tell like this though. It’s clear many foreigners have decided to do the same in Bali; setting up restaurants and cafes that reflect their personal values, and enable them to live the lives they want to live, whilst delivering quality to the locals and guests of the area. Again this was so good to see, and meant we got to enjoy so many great meals and gear so many stories of how these establishments came to fruition. 

What to look out for



Okay so you get the idea; there’s some damn good grub out there. But as I mentioned earlier the local food varies way more than the well known Nasi Goreng, which is probably one of more boring (albeit filling) dishes you’ll end up eating. There are so many dishes that need a special mention.

Nasi Campur: A great thali like dish often served vegetarian. This normally consists of about 5-6 small dishes. Most Warungs will offer Tempe in Kekap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy, bloody delicious), Urap Urap (steamed green beans served with grated coconut, crispy onion and beansprouts), Perkedel Jagung (spiced corn fritters), rice and sambal. Every warung will have a slight variance on what’s on offer, what’s in season, and what animal or fish they got in that day, so definitely something to eat again and again.
Soto Ayam: a spicy chicken soup served with noodles and egg. Again is can vary quite a bit, but is normally full with flavours of Kaffir, Lemongrass, garlic and chilli, and will have a lovely dark yellow colour from the ladles of turmeric added. You don’t see this everywhere so if you spot on a menu, get involved!
Bakso: Another broth based dish, this contains beef meatballs, and normally served willed with crispy wontons, egg, beansprouts and bok Choy (if you’re lucky). You’ll see street vendors all over Indonesia selling this for super cheap (£1 a bowl or there abouts) and you’re expected to season as you please with Kekap manis and chilli sauce. Get involved. It’s delicious!
Nasi Lamak: A coconut curry in essence, but normally served on/in pandan leaf. Apparently this is a poplar Malay dish but it’s definitely made a mark here!
Babi Guling: an absolute must if you’re a carnivore. Essentially this is BBQ suckling pig served with a sambal. It’s very simple, but bloody delicious! The meat is marinaded and cooked whole over coals forever. We tried this at a few places and there’s definitely some clear variance, but pretty consistently it was amazing!
Beef rendang: Well, not much needs to be said about this, apart from it MUST be eaten! Rendang is a slow cooked beef curry stewed in coconut milk and filled with an amazing array of spices. This is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time, so I ate my fair share in Indonesia. This really is a must eat meal here, make sure you eat lots of it!
Meat on a stick: Does as it says on the tin. Across all of Indonesia you’ll see tiny stalls cooking tiny skewers of various meats under coals, normally accompanied by a fan to keep the coals roaring. They are sold in bunches of ten normally, and served as spicy as you like (spicy normally means they are dipped in a home made sambal). Just be careful with what you order, there’s been reports recently of some places in Bali serving dog and disguising as other meats, and I ordered some chicken ones that consisted of, let’s just say, less desirable cuts 🤔. Most places serve sate of some kind, but if you spot sate posut BUY IT IMMEDIATELY! Posut is minced beef and coconut, and was just stunning. Sadly, the best places are nearly always off the beaten track, so speak to a local at your home stay about getting the good stuff.

Hunting out the good grub



As I just mentioned, some of e best grub was carefully hidden from tourists, sold down a tiny alley from somewhere definitely not resembling a restaurant. This is pretty common, so make use of the guys you’re staying with to find the hidden gems. 
A simple litmus test anywhere you go though should be the clientele. If a place is empty, there’s probably a reason for it. Nearly every home stay you’ll see will also be a restaurant, tour guide, booking agent, masseuse, and seller of shit touristy stuff, so probably don’t do all things well. The best meals we had were often small Warungs with a few locals sat around chatting and munching. Likewise, if you see groups of expats (for example, the guys working at dive shops) that’s normally a good indicator of good local restaurants. 
And finally, if you want good western or fusion food, or something more polished, I can’t recommend anywhere higher than Canguu, there’s just so much choice and so many quality places to eat, drink, and chill.

Where’s good for what?

Ignoring regional variance here, and talking entirely from my own experience (so definitely not an exhaustive list), but here’s my recommendations for where to go for what.



Nasi Campur: Le Kan in Canguu. This was a perfectly crafted and delivered rendition of this super popular dish. Whilst it was more expensive than we’d pay previously (89k for one big portion with meat) it was light years ahead of other versions we’d had previously. Just be prepared to add about 18% onto the bill for service and tax.
Nasi Lamak: Head to Uluwatu and check out any of the places near Single Fin (a top spot for surfers). There’s loads of places offering great food for good prices.
Vegan grub: Canguu and Ubud are filled with high quality places serving only vegan food. Specifically though I’d recommend Biah Biah in Ubud (a very cheap but excellent place only serving traditional Balinese food in tapas style tiny dishes. You can get a good feed for about £4 easily. Also worth a special mention is the Eco Cafe on Nusa Lembongan. You pay a bit more, but this place really cares about the world. They don’t use any palm oil or products with MSG, Source all their produce from local growers, and only buy rice from a plantation where the staff are paid a good wage and take a cut of profits. They also don’t use any plastic and give discounts on food if you drop off plastic bottles for recycling. 
Rendang: There’s only one place to mention here; Bernadettes in Ubud. This is specially mentioned in lonely planet apparently, and for good reason. They triple cook their rendang and stew in coconut milk for 24 hours. It’s out of this world! There’s no point in eating rendang anywhere else after going here, it’s THAT good!
Babi Guleng: Again, there’s only one contender here. Ibu Oka in Ubud now have three sights because they are that good, but we were recommended to drive out to no3 by locals we chatted with. The opening hours vary daily (basically when it’s gone it’s gone), and it’s kinda tough to find (it’s down a tiny alley but covered in pig statues), but if you go for an early lunch there you won’t be disappointed. 

 Coffee: You’ll probably know this one already if you’ve got this far, but for me, Tales in Canguu is the clear winner for excellent coffee and even better hot chocolate, but also because I really bought into the values of Kobe’s approach to his company, and wanted to support him as much as possible. Rinjani coffee is a real world player in my eyes now!

Meat on a stick: This is almost impossible to recommend, and I couldn’t tell you where to actually go to get it! But the best we had was on Gili T by a mile. I went off cycling with one of the guys working at Cheeky Monkey Homestay to get it, and it was amazing! Just take my earlier advice and speak with locals to find the hidden secrets.

Healthy grub: Betelnut cafe in Canguu (again, I know) delivered some sublime food and smoothies, all delivered to a super high standard and damn tasty. I highly recommend the sustainable fish curry. This varies day to day dependent on the catch but is damn tasty!

Ethical eating

Indonesia is pretty well known for its palm oil growing on Borneo. If you don’t know how much damage this growing is doing, watch this.

 It’s damn hard to avoid palm oil in food anywhere in the world, it’s literally in everything from toothpaste to crisps, but we are trying to avoid it from now on. I had no idea the sagas this is doing to Borneo but also the environment in general. 

Also, lots of places use sauces laden with MSG, which I would recommend avoiding wherever possible, it’s horrible stuff for your body! Places cut corners to save money, and the life of many of the animals served in your meals is probably pretty questionable. If you want to consider ethical consumption, obviously eat predominantly vegan or at least vegetarian, but also search out the places that actively promote their corporate social responsibility. There are so many you’re bound to find somewhere good to eat!

Finally, and I only mention this because you’ll see it everywhere, but I’d recommend avoiding Lawak coffee. This is super famous in Indonesia but particularly in Bali. Driving back from Batur we stopped at a plantation growing teas and coffee, but also producing Lawak coffee. For those that don’t know, this is weasel coffee. The wealals are fed the coffee beans in their husks, and the undigested remains are made into coffee. Unfortunately though, these little guys are almost certainly mistreated 90% of the time. 

We were fortunate to stop at a place that really cared for the weasels, but I still didn’t want to enourage the production so didn’t buy any. I must say, it smelled amazing though. 

So there you go! An unexpected culinary delight found in Indonesia. For any foodie, this is now a firm recommendation for a visit from me! I’m sure the grub on Java and other parts of this vast country are just as good too, so don’t go just on my experience and recommendations. 

Bengal Diner Colchester. One hell of a curry house

Ahead of the big trip, my best buddies thought we’d meet up to discuss future business ventures. Fortunately enough, we all fancied a curry, so headed to the newest curry house around, Bengal Diner, just outside of Colchester.

Colchester has been starved of a good curry house for quite some time. I’m sure you’ll agree this is absolute sacrilege for any town. Sadly, when my favourite curry house in Colchester started using Cheddar as their paneer I gave up all hope, until now.

The building Bengal Diner is housed in has had a number of businesses occupying over the years, from a straight up pub to a Mexican cantina, all of which have sadly failed within the dreaded 6 month period of opening. BD seems to be going strong though. I’ve been in before to pick up a take away and on many occasions i’ve had conversations with other collectors about how there’s nowhere good to eat INSIDE Colchester now, and this place does very well, and more importantly CONSISTENTLY well.

So, me and my buddies sat down over a pint of Bangla beer and perused the menu. So lets start with the beer…

It’s such a nice change from the traditional Cobra/Kingfisher array you see at any curry house. Bangla is a lager, but a really nice fruity lager, that goes excellently with curry. It isn’t that far off the generic lagers you see anywhere, but it’s a nice change.

Now onto the main discussion point, what we ate!

The array at BD is impressive. The expected curries are there but there’s also a nice array of specialities you don’t see everywhere, including a number of Keralan inspired dishes (I say inspired because they aren’t authentic, and they openly admit this). However every dish i’ve ordered at BD in the past has been a delight.

We all agreed we’d go starters and mains, and a couple of sides. To start, we had the classics to really test the water; prawn puri (times two, because why not), a Nagris Kebab (effectively a spiced lamb mince dish wrapped in an omelette) and a Shami Kebab. Now, a tell tale sign of a crap curry house is when everything tastes very similar. The ‘base curry’ is the same across the board, and everything has similar spicing. BD was not doing this clearly. The puri was beautifully cooked in the tandoor, and the prawn itself was delicately spiced with a lovely lemon kick at the end. Likewise with the lamb dishes; very similar but also very different. These definitely set the night going in the right direction.

Now with mains. I came to the realisation that every time I come here, I get the same thing (my classic for judging a curry house), a Dhansak. I love Dhansak because of the complexity of flavour and texture; literally every curry house you go to will do it differently, but all should be spicy (heat), with a decent tamarind sour kick, a nice thick gravy from the vegetable and daal base, and tandoor cooked meats. So I ordered different tonight, and went for a King prawn Jalfrezi. We all agreed to share everything, and had a Chicken Tikka Dhansak (I managed to persuade someone else to eat that, so I win), a South Indian Garlic Lamb, and a Zinga Delight (no idea what that is, but who cares). As sides, we had fried Okra, Saag Paneer, and Tarka Daal (another classic test of a good house).

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Lets just start by saying everything was superb. I genuinely couldn’t fault anything except how the prawns in the Jalfrezi were cooked. Everything tasted sublime, and like it had truly been made with love. My winner of the night was definitely the south indian garlic, which is like no traditional Bangladeshi curry you’ll normally see or eat around the UK.

So, we were happy. Very very happy. And even with a stonking bill (we drank far too much beer) we were still happy. It’s fantastic to see such a great curry house around this area again, and i’m so happy to see it on my doorstep. It was also great to see it so busy (i.e. absolutely packed) at 8pm; i’m so happy others are starting to see how good this place is.

I look forward to returning after my time in India with a greater knowledge of PROPER curry, so I can critique again then.

If you want to see for yourself, here’s there website, and here’s their Tripadvisor page. Obviously it’s worth avoiding the music nights which don’t appear to go down too well….

Eating my way through London Street Feast

So if you’ve read anything else i’ve written so far, you’ll be aware I kinda like my food, especially asian cuisines like Thai, Malaysian, Mexican and Indian. I’m a keen cook, and love to experiment, so when I had the opportunity to go to go to one of the London Street Feasts I was very excited about all the goodies i’d be surrounded by!

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I’d heard a huge amount of hype about these pop up restaurant locations to be honest. For me this is concept is great! Find people who do one or who things really well, and love their food, stick them all together with some great crafty beers and in a funky location; what’s not to like?  For me, this is perfect as I can eat such an array of things that I wouldn’t necessarily cook myself, and any fussy eaters can eat whatever the hell they want!

I spent all (well nearly all) of my teenage years working in restaurants, in all the roles you can imagine, both front and back of house. Being immersed in this environment gave me a real appreciation for GOOD food, not just something that tasted nice and looked okay, so this more recent explosion of high quality, cooked with love, high quality produce based grub is just what i’ve wanted to see for a long, long time. Again, you can understand my excitement when going to street feast!

Dalston Street Feast; first impressions.

Well firstly, the style of the place is awesome. I really like the upcycled industrial feel of the Dalston venue. It’s got the feeling like a bunch of food lovers just built up a co-operative in an old warehouse, which is pretty fun! It’s all very ‘no thrills’ decor, which again, i really like. The space isn’t huge, so it’s quick to discover what you can munch pretty quickly.

The array of grub is vast, from you traditional American smoke house (with traditional smoker=AWESOME) as you walk in, over to the slightly more obscure (like Wood Pigeon Kebabs, i’ll come onto that later), and everything in between that you’d expect (burgers, pizzas, etc). However you can really tell that each vendor really cares. They all screamed quality and customer service was second to none. I went with a bunch of mates, so we all set off in search of our ideal meal..

All looking pretty good so far.

Eating my way around the world

My buddies tucked straight into the Taco stall, Breddos Tacos. They knew i’d wanna sample this, so was lucky enough to get a bite too. First impressions= GOOD! Really nicely seasoned and spiced, well cooked meats, lovely purple taco shells, little on the small side and for £10 I would have expected more, but would definitely go back.

I tucked into Rola Wada, the Indian Street food vendor. I’ve literally been dreaming about Indian street food, as we’re now only 2 months from our year away, starting in India. I had a very similar experience to be honest. Portions were very small (3 small naan’s topped with Chana, Chicken, or Lamb). For £10 these lasted about 2minutes. They tasted REALLY good, and again, really well cooked and crafted, but I just felt like I was paying through the nose for something I knew was not REALLY that expensive to cook (so a healthy markup on everything they sell?) However, with London pricing I suppose this is expected really.

Kelly then went off to sample a Chinese bun, filled with Pork Belly. This, I must say, was sensational, and for £4 I could deal with the cost. I used this opportunity to try something very different that I wouldn’t really cook for myself. I got enticed by the pigeon breast kebab, with a beetroot hummus, harissa paste and pickled cabbage, and I’m sad to say this was a real let down. To finish this off, my mate Frank went for the infamous Bleaker Burger (something of legend according to a couple of London based friends) and I can safely say this was an exceptional burger!

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For me, pigeon breast is a full of flavour choice, the meat is delicate but with a strong and gamey flavour. Sadly the flavour of this breast was totally masked by the heavy cumin based rub. Alongside this, the breast was overcooked, which any fan of pigeon knows is a cardinal sin! The Harissa was very average indeed, and overall this was a real let down, and for £6 and again, a pretty small feed, I was a bit miffed.

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So to top this off, we sampled many of the drinks stations (as you would, obviously). The Tequila Treehouse was less of a treehouse and more of a 2nd storey with some green fake grass flooring, and a pretty disappointing array of Tequila (I LOVE tequila, so was again disappointed by this). Fortunately however, the Gin shack was a delight, with a great array of Gin’s, and very knowledgable and passionate staff. Because the staff were so awesome and the array of Gin was so vast, it somewhat took the sting out of the £17 round (2 drinks).

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So overall, a bit of a mixed bag really. This sadly was nothing in contrast to my experience of the NYC equivalent, Urban Space NYC, which was an absolute delight from start to finish. Would I go back? Yeah, probably, but i’d be careful in what I ordered, take A LOT more money, and would do my best to avoid believing the hype associated with the street feast movement. To be honest, I think I was just unlucky, but it was definitely an  unexpected disappointment. What made the night though was the company and the atmosphere for sure.

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UrbanSpace, NYC