Indonesia's very complicated "basic" sauce
"Do they have rice fields in New York City?" Wayan asked me, apparently serious.
"Yup," I said, apparently serious.
Wayan and his wife Puspa had invited me and a few other paying guests to their home for a lesson in Balinese cooking. But before we began, we'd have to start with where it all came from. Which was pretty much right outside their front door. Wayan and Puspa live in Laplapan, a quaint little village near Ubud, Bali. Each village family owns a plot of rice, and they're allotted plot sizes based on nothing more complicated than their ability to keep up with supply. Much of the rice is farmed using organic fertilizer, which Wayan made a point of proudly mentioning. But neither one of us wants to waste our time talking shop about rice, now do we?
"We'll start with Indonesian basic sauce," Puspa announced (pictured above), after Wayan had shown us around town and then to his outdoor kitchen. More than understanding where the rice came from, understanding the preparation for "basic sauce" is crucial to learning how to cook like a true Indonesian, because this sauce is the backbone for some of the most delicious delicious in our galaxy, and the starting point for a lot of local Balinese cuisine.
What's interesting about basic sauce is that there is absolutely nothing basic about basic sauce. Anything that involves pounding nineteen very specific ingredients with mortar and pestle is exactly the opposite of basic. For example, the recipe calls for four candle nuts and two salam leaves, which can be, but probably shouldn't be, substituted with macadamia nuts and bay leaves. And then there's the distinction between "galangal" and "lesser galangal", both of which needed to be added to the mix in thumb-sized proportions and eventually sauteed for precisely seven minutes on very low heat.
Wait, I know what you're thinking, and you're thinking you'd much rather see some pictures of the feast Puspa helped us create, rather than write us both into a hungry stupor. In all, we made eight different dishes - from clear mushroom soup (something like a tom yam) to coconut curried chicken, steamed fish in banana leaves, vegetables in homemade peanut sauce, coconut and snake bean salad, deep fried tempeh, and a dessert of boiled banana and jackfruit in palm sugar syrup. That meal was three days ago, and I'm still not hungry. So, without further adieu, the photos are as follows (and excuse the formatting; Blogger is not your friend when posting multiple photos).
Top left: making "basic sauce", or bumbu kuning
Top right: kuah wong, or clear mushroom and vegetable soup
Middle left: sauteed bananas and jackfruit, something like bananas foster
Middle right: Wayan in front of his outdoor cooking stove
Bottom: Puspa and just a few of her many ingredients
As for how to get in touch with Wayan and Puspa, which I very highly recommend if you're traveling to the paradise that is Bali and think that you might be hungry at some point while you're there - you can reach them on their website at www.paon-bali.com.