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The Food of My Island Home, Bali by Janet DeNeefe

It all began with a family vacation in Bali. The year was 1974 and our 1st stop was the building Tjampuhan, within the slope city of Ubud.

Back then, this quaint grass-roofed lodging was exploding at the seams with rustic charm which infectious Bahasa Indonesia heat. i used to be instantly smitten.

The food was a full new cooking expertise and i used to be instantly thrown into a wonderland of exotic spices and foreign seasonings.

Picture the scene: lunches and dinners during a bamboo marquee on the sting of a shimmering jungle; dishes that defied description; the all-pervading scent of vegetable oil and bush amongst those once delineated by David Attenborough as “the most generous, friendly and proficient folks on Earth”.

The Food of My Island Home, Bali by Janet DeNeefe

5 Senses – Touch  Cooking Class

Casa Luna Cooking Classes by Janet DeNeefe have proved massively popular with visitors who are keen to take the flavors of their holiday home in the form of recreating their favorite dishes.

Meals were brought to the table every day, rijsttafel-style, by a procession of Balinese sta‘ wearing batik sarongs. 

The Food of My Island Home, Bali by Janet DeNeefe 

Fireflies, the lull of the nearby river, the sound of peacocks and the magic of a tropical paradise kicked in. A passion for Balinese food was born.

On my come back, 10 years later, i started my cookery spot and am still learning to the present day. 
I spent hour upon hour in the simple kitchen of my now sister-in-law, dazzled by the process of creating the food I love. 
The food was a whole new culinary experience and I was immediately thrown into a wonderland of exotic spices and unfamiliar seasonings.
I soon realized that love is one of the essential ingredients, as precious as the blend of spices, of the layer upon layer of gingers, seeds and leaves that are fundamental to each dish. 

The cuisine is the mark of a mother's domestic ingenuity, born from a need to feed and nurture her family. And it doesn’t stop there.

In Bali, the mortar and pestle are affectionately called mother and child, rice is the domain of the rice goddess, and the market is governed by her daughter. 
The island’s most celebrated warungs (small family-owned businesses) are owned by mothers.

Mothers’ recipes are the ones that interest me the most. There’s a sense of nostalgia, humility and old-fashioned wisdom that modern interpretations often miss.

Let me start with a simple Balinese dish, Ayam Betutu, which is a  regular on warung menus. 
Ayam Betutu is a whole chicken, slow-cooked in Balinese spices until it falls o‘ the bone. 
Ideally, it should be roasted in rice husks, á-la smoked-duck style, but slow-simmering in chicken stock will suffice.
When the essential ingredient is love,  all the rest will follow.
In nearby Kedewatan village, Ibu Mangku has been serving this dish with her nasi campur as long as I can remember. 
Her warung has expanded to meet demand and, like her cooking is fuss-free, down-to-earth, and quintessentially Balinese. 
As with all warungs,  the focus is on the food, nothing more, nothing less. And the key  to Ayam Betutu is the melding of spices made more fragrant by frying in fresh coconut oil.

How to resist? Ginger, galangal, turmeric, and kencur are combined with coriander seeds, lemongrass, lime leaves, candlenuts, and shrimp paste, along with red shallots, garlic, palm sugar, and tamarind.

What sets Ayam Betutu apart from the rest is that the spices are chopped with a cleaver, not ground.  

The Food of My Island Home, Bali by Janet DeNeefe 

Frying the spices in a splash of fresh coconut oil follows, and then the stock, aromatics and whole chicken are added. 
The result is a  marriage sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter, astringent; of succulent chicken slow-cooked in a glorious, golden broth.

But when I am in Melbourne, I take artistic license to cut corners and throw the spices in the blender, resulting in a smooth paste. 
Braising and simmering come next. Who’s to know?  When the essential ingredient is love, all the rest will follow.
Like all those with a passion for what they do, Janet DeNeefe was compelled to pass on her love of Balinese cooking. 
Running since 1987, Casa Luna was listed among the world’s best cooking schools by The Australian newspaper. 
The school offers beginners’ classes and market excursions for essential ingredients, as well as gourmet tours for die-hard foodies.

A book featuring DeNeefe’s infectious enthusiasm has also been released. 
Containing her most beloved recipes and stories, and packed with luscious, stunning images, it’s more than just a cookbook; it’s an inspiring, personal and evocative labor of love.

By: Janet DeNeefe
In 2004 Janet created the international Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. It has been named by Harper’s Bazaar, UK, as ‘one of the top festivals in the world’ and by ABC’s Asia-Pacific network as ‘the next Edinburgh Festival of Asia.’ In 2011, her cookbook Bali;  The Food of My Island Home was released  and includes her favourite recipes.  Bali, Indonesia

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