Dining out is first and foremost about delicious food, but a truly memorable restaurant experience engages all five senses. Sometimes it’s a special occasion with plans and reservations; even better are the surprises that are happy chains of coincidences.
We had an exciting travelers’ surprise on a stormy afternoon in Ubud, Bali when a local chef and Mother Nature transformed a simple meal into pure razzle-dazzle.
The bustling Monkey Forest Road is Ubud’s main tourist thoroughfare, and whether you need a bed, meal, T-shirt, or tourist tchotchke, it’s the place to go. Scattered along its length are scads of small, family-owned restaurants overlooking verdant rice paddies. On our search for a late lunch, we did the usual walk-by-peek-in, menu perusal, and in the end, picked the place with the nicest view. What drew us to this particular place was a deep, shady porch which was literally inches from a vibrant green carpet of rice stretching to the nearby forest.
We love late lunches, because normally, the crowds have moved on, and the restaurant is deserted – which it was. So we picked a table, relaxed, ordered a couple of Bintangs, and casually studied the menu. Of course, we were jonesing for some Indonesian fare, and this cafe had exactly what we were questing
Most of the food in this part of the world is based on the carb-duo of rice and noodles. Usually, you get LOTS of starch, with smaller amounts of veggies, and even smaller amounts of pork, chicken, or seafood.
Some of the spices used are familiar to western palates, but the lion’s share are unique to Indonesian dishes and the food is complex and often full of intense flavor. One thing you learn quickly is when the menu says hot, it really means hot. So if your taste runs to mild, pay attention.
We started with lumpia, which are flaky-crust, deep-fried spring rolls with dipping sauce. They’re stuffed with a noodle and grated veggie filling, and could be a meal in themselves.
The main courses were world-famous chicken sate with peanut sauce, and Indonesia’s national noodle dish mie goreng. The veg was thin green beans, with a to-die-for coconut sambal, a unique hot relish made with vegetables, peppers, coconut, and spices.
We were the only customers and the staff showed the perfect level of benign neglect, so we took our time savoring our food and drinks. About half way through the meal, we couldn’t help noticing the distinctive darkening on the horizon that signaled the typical afternoon thunderstorm that happens during monsoon season. We didn’t fret because our experience had been that these storms came and went quickly: the proverbial tempest in a teapot.
But as the darkness deepened, it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be just another quick shower. Lightning flashed, thunder rattled our bones, and the bank of steel-gray clouds changed day to night on our cozy porch. And suddenly, Mother Nature started her show – and it was, without a doubt, a tempest out of the teapot.
We knew it was serious when the waitress and cook came out of the kitchen and started collecting condiments and moving tables and chairs. Thank goodness the porch was deep, because even with what felt like hurricane-force wind gusts, and horizontal rain, we stayed dry.
We’ve lived on the coast in Florida, Georgia, and Oregon, and we’ve become avid storm-watchers; so violent thunderstorms aren’t new to us. But nothing could equal the intense deluge in Bali. It was a meal, a show, and a five-sense memory that we’ll never forget.
Our blogging friend Bama over at What an Amazing World is a foodie extraordinaire when it comes to sampling and savoring the food of Bali. From Nasi Goreng (perfect for beginners) to the unique jukut ares, for the more adventurous. So for the perfect introduction to Balinese food, you’ll love his descriptions and mouthwatering photos in Tastes of the Island of Gods. Enjoy!
James & Terri
P.S. We had another surprising and pleasant restaurant experience that could only happen in Bali – at Starbucks, if you can believe it! We got lots of feedback on this post, so check it out.
6. Šarūnas Burdulis via Wikimedia Commons