“With the advent of Coca Cola into Indonesia, the entire population began calling it Chocha Chola” chortled my guide in Bali a few years ago. In Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia that has 8844 named islands and over 10,000 more that have not been dignified with a name, the letter C is pronounced as Ch. There are no exceptions to this rule. Which is why the public went crazy over the new Chocha Chola drink! And of course, headquarters in Atlanta couldn’t possibly change their logo for just one country!
The simplicity of the Balinese – the only part of Indonesia that I have visited – was brought to mind forcibly when I had dinner at The One at Le Meridien. The two Balinese chefs Ayu Santhy Lestary and Wayan Suparti had prepared an array of the simple, almost homely flavours of their island: squid in a pale yellow curry in which the coconut milk was fragrant with galangal and lemon grass; a hearty pork curry with a hint of fried onions and chilli in addition to grated coconut, an ultra-simple stir-fry of kangkung or water spinach to counter all the meats and seafood, all accompanied with steamed rice.
Bali is famously Hindu – the only part of Indonesia to be so – and the population follow the four castes in much the same way that we do. There are, however, interesting differences: Brahmins eat duck and do not stick to vegetarianism. “Ducks are very clean, fastidious birds” I was told time and again during my ten days in Bali. “They strain all the mud and weeds through their beaks and are particular about what they eat”, the implication being that duck meat was entirely kosher! And Bali has a number of duck restaurants that serve the bird as the main attraction, though there may be satay lilit (minced fish satay) and squid and/or chicken on the menu too. The most famous of all Bali’s duck restaurants is called, somewhat irreverently, Bebek Bengil or dirty duck, but that’s because of the trademark Australian humour of the owner.
The one aspect that struck me forcibly during the buffet dinner was the presentation of the dishes. While a Thai chef would have made sure that the colours of the ingredients were shown off to the maximum effect and the cut of the vegetables was as attractive as possible, Chefs Suparti and Lestary concentrated on the flavour and variety of the dishes and the freshness of the salads more than eye appeal. Fresh turmeric, ginger and lemongrass were just some of the notes of the buffet dinner. And you would have had to struggle to bag a table during the duration of the Balinese festival.