“Aerial View” of the Nasi Campur Set Lunch
It was the penultimate afternoon of our 6-day trip to Bali – an enjoyable 2.5 hours flight from Singapore (thumbs up for KLM btw). W and I were running out of ideas on what to do/feast on and we ended up spending a good part of the morning researching on affordable Balinese restaurants on the island that we could visit for lunch and Bumbu Bali seems to be one of the hot pick on travel review pages.
Since it was situated on the southern peninsula’s (a.k.a Bukit Peninsula because of its hills) luxurious resort strip of Tanjung Benoa/Nusa Dua, we decided that it would be a good area to explore after lunch as we have not covered that part of the island before. Also, we definitely do not have a legitimate reason to be there since it is filled with 5-6 star resorts – think Conrad, St. Regis and Club Med. Bumbu Bali thus provided us with a perfect excuse to mingle with the erhem, up-town tourists.
After a pretty long ride down from Kerobokan, we entered the Balinese gates flanking the entrance of the restaurant and were ushered to our seats in the pavillion (wayyy too hott to be sitting out in the open). The cosy little compound felt like a microcosm of Bali itself, with little fountains, minute ponds with water lilis in it, wooden pavillions, hand-woven table clothes, distinctive Balinese tatch roofs, wooden carvings…and the fragrance from fresh herbs & spices wafting from the open kitchen.
Sweltering day in Bali. Diners hiding in the pavillion.
We were first served some shrimp crackers (more affectionately known among Singaporeans as “keropok”) with some mind-blowing Balinese sambal as an appetizer while we flipped through the laminated menu. Since we wanted to try a little of everything, we decided the the Nasi Campur set lunch (190, 000 RP ~ SGD 30) would be just the right choice. We also ordered the Tum Bebek (Minced Duck in Banana Leaf) to supplement the meal. On hindsight, the side order was totally redundant since both of us were seen struggling to finish the Nasi Campur set towards the end. Should have saved the Bebek for another time!
Best sambal ever!
While waiting for our food to arrive, my order of Bumbu’s Balinese home-made specialty alochol – Brem Bali (Fermented Rice Wine) arrived. Was expecting a strong alcoholic fume when i picked up the glass (like the crazy one i had at my Sapa homestay) but the wine turned out to be pretty mild and surprisingly sweet. There was also a red tinge to it and I never did figure out why that was so. It was served on the rocks, which proved to be really forgiving on a sweltering day.
Being the restless soul I am, I picked up my camera and started prancing around the front of the restaurant where the kitchen was. There were also shelves of Chef Heinz von Holzen’s (owner of Bumbu Bali) cook books on Balinese cuisine. Had a field time flipping through them before I caught sight of the man himself sitting in the corner right next to the kitchen door sipping on a cup of coffee.
Chef Heinz von Holzen
(yea. you can say I was pretty star-struck at that point in time)
He walked into the kitchen next and started putting on his apron before politely dishing out orders to his Balinese sous chefs who were all busily grilling fishes + sates and pounding herbs + spices. Felt like a total papparazzi when I turned into a trigger-happy photographer trying to take in as much as kitchen action as possible through my camera lens. This, was the absolute highlight of my visit there.
Food on the open kitchen counter waiting to be served.
After the major invasion of Chef Heinz’s kitchen privacy, I decided to head back to my table as I was starving by then (i blame the sun). Was more than happy when the entire tray of minature dishes finally arrived. The waitress took pains to introduce every single one to us and left us to enjoy our meal after that.
So, it turns out that the Nasi Campur Set Lunch (called Rijisttafel by night – more quality dishes, and a little more pricey) was a dazzling array of 9 minature Balinese dishes served with rice topped with shallots. The misconception about Balinese food is that it is no different from those sold on the streets. Big no no. Street food in Bali came from the neighbouring island of Java. The Javanese were the ones who brought their Baksos, Padang and Nasi Campur when they migrated over to Bali (more on those in a latter post). Balinese food is completely unique to Bali itself! It is a melting pot of the cuisines from eons of migration and interaction with the regions around and the foreigners who sailed halfway around the world to trade or erm, conquer them. Portugese, Chinese, Dutch, Indian, Malaysian.. you can find traces of them in all the dishes.
The nine dishes were served in cute little ceramic dishes placed on a wooden tray decorated with lemon grass and red chillies. The Nasi Campur set not only smells good.. it LOOKS good. Out of the 9, my favourites were the Sate Ayam/Babi/Lillit. Although both the Balinese Sates and Singaporean Satays share the same family tree, the Balinese ones were definitely a little more refined in both presentation and taste than those we have here. I guess the difference lies in the ingredients used for the marination: lemongrass, shallots, chilli, palm sugar, lime, coconut milk, galangal (ginger)..i don’ttttt think we have that in our regular satays at our Lagoon Hawker Centre. The fresh spiciness and fragrance of the mashed up herbs certainly brings some punch to each bite. Love the fact that it is served on lemongrass stalks too!
The Be Celang Base Manis (Pork in Sweet Soy Sauce) was surprisingly nice too. It is a sweeter version of our “Lor Bak” with a lighter + more fragrant sauce. Another favourite would be the Siap Base Kalas (Chicken in Spiced Coconut Milk) – a more intense version of our chicken curry. The other memorable dish was the Tum Bebek (Minced duck wrapped in Coconut leaf), that looked and tasted very much like a more chewy fish otah. However, as mentioned, please exercise some self control and not order it on top of your set lunch – its really too much to handle for 2!
The only gripe about my experience at Bumbu Bali was that the food was served luke warm and the charcoal fire for the Sates were out. I don’t really know if that was the intention but that did dampen my expectations by quite a bit. Not to worry though,I am sure a friendly reminder before the food is being serve would solve that.
If its your first time in Bali and your itinerary doesn’t allow you to stay for more than a few days, then a trip to Bumbu Bali is a must to experience authentic, fresh Balinese food.
Authentic? How can it be since the chef himself is a Swiss! Yes, he is Swiss but after settling down in Bali more than a decade ago, Chef von Holzen has gone around the entire island to collect traditional recipes from the Balinese themselves since Bumbu Bali’s doors open in 1997 + he has an army of Balinese sous chefs in his kitchen!
Fresh? Are you sure? Well, I dare not vouch for that but I am pretty sure the hundreds of cooking enthusiasts who have attended Bumbu Bali’s cooking classes at the crack of dawn each day (first stop: wet market visit to purchase ingredients/poulty/seafood) would attest to it.
Bebek Betutu shall be my motivation to visit Bali (and this restaurant)again for the upcoming year.