Have an open heart, think with your head, and do: A Balinese Feast

 

Have an open heart. And forgive. It’s been over a month since I last posted and that was not the plan, but really, life gets in the way of plans. Not that I’m complaining- I’ve just returned from gallivanting around Billy. Bali. Billy Bali. It´s a suburb of Bali proper. Bali! The island nation of Bali. True Never Been Kissed fans would appreciate those sentences that made very little sense. In between hour long massages and bartering on Bintang singlets, I did my best to learn about the Balinese culture, which involved studying menus, dining out frequently, and entering deep conversations with taxi drivers. Yep, it was hard work, but someone had to do it. My favourite lesson learnt was not food related; it came from one particularly flamboyant taxi driver, a man with beautifully painted nails and an even more beautiful outlook on life. Working for his boss and only receiving a small portion of the taxi fair, we casually suggested to fudge how much our trip cost, so that he could keep a little extra. Not for a few extra beers at knockoff, but so that knockoff could be slightly earlier than his usual 15 hour shift- because if you don't drive, you don't eat. But no- karma is a wonderful thing that means honesty is, and always will be, the best policy. It means that the boss needn’t rigorously check when, where, what- because the thought of reincarnation into a life worse than the current one is enough of a deterrent to lying for this man. I’m going to hold out on the lesson learnt from him for now and share the second lesson I learnt.

 

Think with your head. How do our meal patterns generally work? As children, we wake, eat, have a set time to have a snack, another set time for lunch, then afternoon tea, then dinner. We get told no play until we’ve finished the meal, well done, you've licked the plate clean! Then as adults we may have trouble knowing when we’re hungry or full, because we’re ruled by the clock. I’m not saying eating this way is necessarily a bad thing: eating regularly helps stabilise blood sugar levels (and therefore energy, mood and concentration levels also remain more stable); we are less likely to make impulsive, less healthy food choices, regularly eating lowers cholesterol, and prevents mindless munching. But often, we eat because it’s time to eat, and we eat a certain amount because “thats how much we eat at dinner”, or “that’s how much fits on the plate”. As a result, we don’t know our own bodies. Are they hungry, or thirsty, or bored? The Balinese have found an alternative; my second lesson. Ina communal compound where generations of a family live together, a big batch of whatever is going for the day is cooked in the morning, and family members can come and go whatever time of day and eat to their appetite. Don’t like it? Eat it, or go hungry. Your choice. This makes the concept of a restaurant seem ridiculous to the village folk- but we’re not all hungry at the same time!!??!?! The Pros: eat to your appetite, not to the clock, or to habit. Cons: Children who eat with the family are more likely to have lower rates of obesity, choose healthier foods, perform better at school, and have lower rates of disordered eating and depression.

 

Do I have a solution? No. But at least we can consider that our current meal pattern may not necessarily be the best. Do you eat to the clock, whether hungry or full, oblivious to what is going on with your body? Do you eat alone, or sit with others? Do you cook five different meals for five different individuals under your roof, or is it one pot- take it or leave it? Instead of offering a solution, I can offer you two gifts. 1. Life lesson #1, according to a Balinese taxi driver: Have an open heart, think with your head, and do. Beautiful, simple words, that ensure for a honest, noble, modest life. Ten words which encapsulate the basics for achieving good fortune, whether it be in this life, or the next. The second I can offer is five traditional Balinese recipes I collected. Thousands of kilometres away from supermarket jars of sate sauces and spice pastes, Balinese women in small villages are grinding their own peanuts and galangal and creating flavour combinations no supermarket jar comes close to. My tip: take a half day out to create all five, a Balinese Feast: Balinese basic spice base- Base Gede, Sate Sauce- from scratch, Balinese Coconut Chicken Curry- Kare Ayam, Balinese Chicken and Coconut Meatballs- Sate Lilit Ayam, and Snake Bean and Coconut Salad- Jukut Urab. Like any good working village where each person has their part, so too do these recipes. The spice base is used in the curry and meatballs, the curry sauce is used in the salad, the sate sauce goes with the meatballs- you get the picture. So there you go- a couple of life lessons and a good handful of recipes. Have I redeemed myself?