June 26, 2007

A labyrinth of scents and color


Also along Jl Raya and no more than a 2 minute walk from the Bungalows is the Ubud Market. This was easily one of the places I was most excited to visit. In fact, we went to the market three times, once every day that we were there. Marilyn, the sweet lady manager of our bungalows, taught us an invaluable lesson in one of her many emails to me before my trip: always start your haggling with 30% of their asking price, you will usually end up agreeing at 50%. They are always willing to sell even at the smallest of profits, if they don't agree to what you're willing to pay that means it really is too low.

Armed with this strategy and some techniques I've learned through the years in dealing with persistent-to-the-point-of-being-downright-rude vendors under my belt, I proceeded with confidence. Looking back now I realize I should have expected it but during that first visit, I was taken by surprise when we found ourselves dealing with some of the most amiable sales people in the world. With each stall we passed I felt my guard come down a notch until it was gone. There was none of the hassling and tugging and glaring (when you wouldn't buy) that I expected. Sure, some were gently persistent but reasonably so. They were trying to make a living, after all.


they don't call these the Spice Islands for nothing

What did come in handy was the haggling strategy! There isn't much you won't find in this two-story marketplace, you could shop to your heart's content. I should have listened to Marilyn when she told me to "bring an empty suitcase!". If i wasn't so worried about excess baggage expenses, I would have bought an empty suitcase there (yes they had those too) for everything that I wanted to buy. There was saffron and sarongs, masks and mats, art and antiques, wood carvings and stone carvings, hammocks and handbags, guitars and gongs, paintings and plates, kites and curry. And this was just the ground level. Out in the courtyard, we stumbled onto heaps of fresh produce, donuts the size of frisbees, a mountain of chilis, flowers used for offerings and more sarongs. The second level was a maze of batik fashion, table linen, shoes, bags and toys.


in my best Cookie Monster impression: "COOOOOKIEEEEEE!!!""

A pre-dawn shopping trip for ingredients for our Balinese cooking lessons allowed us to witness the market at it's busiest. Fish and fowl and pig and greens abound, and yet surprisingly there is no stench. It was still cold and dark out, but already the market was abuzz with women from Ubud and nearby villages filling baskets balanced on their heads with foodstuff to feed their families for the day. In a traditional Bali home, there are no refrigerators because everything is bought fresh every day. The few items bought in slightly larger quantities to last a few days are onions, shallots and garlic. I love this concept, it's so... French Women Don't Get Fat .



Who you calling chicken legs?!


Assembling offerings for the day


Last picture added especially for Rowena ;)

June 25, 2007

Mystical island

Ubud is the heart of Bali where Balinese culture and tradition beats strongest; and Jl Raya Ubud (Ubud main rd.) is its main artery. Our bungalows were conveniently located on this road, just a hop, skip and a jump away from everything. After we checked in, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring our little neighborhood. And what interesting neighbors we found!

art gallery

Jl Raya is dotted with bookshops, cafes and money changers but the sidewalks are dominated by art galleries on both sides. The entire village seems to generate creative energy. Paintings spill out onto sidewalks as vibrant testaments to local talent and men, women and children alike are seen everywhere honing their craft, drawing their inspiration from the beauty of their surroundings.

I was intrigued mostly by the intricacy of Balinese architecture, specifically temple architecture. The split gate or candi bentar became an increasingly familiar site. We had seen many of them during our ride from the airport and then now again on this main road. The gates, such as those of the Pura Desa temple below, seemed to beckon to us to pass through and discover what lies beyond. The split gates represent the two halves of a mountain, a symbol of holiness, and symbolising the splitting of the universe.

Pura Desa temple

Pura Desa temple on Jl Raya with it's split gate

Gusti, our driver/guide/bodyguard (against naughty monkeys) explained to us that every village has at least three temples- one each for Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, and that every family, clan or organization has one as well. It is no wonder then that Bali is called the land of a thousand temples.

We found the Balinese to be an extremely spiritual people; Hindu practices and spirit worship combine and make for a life that is wrapped up in the performance of rituals, sacred dances and festivals as well as meditation and prayer. With their unique version of Hinduism comes a strong belief in karma and to this I attribute the kindness and generosity they showered on us from the onset and all throughout our time on the island. Their awesome attitude was just astounding!


Even more ubiquitous than the split gates are the offerings. They come in many forms, simple ones made with colorful flowers or rice to appease the demons or bigger and more elaborate ones with fruit and other food reserved only for the gods. We found them outside our bungalow each morning, on the sidewalk by the restaurant next door, on the dashboard of Gusti's car and in the middle of the rice fields.


typical simple offering to appease the demons


more elaborate offerings for the gods

We considered ourselves very fortunate to witness two colorful processions in which the remains of a deceased on a decorated cremation tower are carried by pallbearers to the cremation grounds. To the Balinese, death is a joyous occasion as it frees the mortal soul until it is reincarnated in another form.


June 20, 2007

Puri Saraswati Bungalows

Puri Saraswati 3

Our home in Ubud was the Puri Saraswati Bungalows which is located right smack in the center of the village, just a stone's throw away from the Ubud Royal Palace, the Ubud Market, the Puri Lukisan Museum and the Pura Desa Temple. It shares a perimeter wall with Cafe Lotus and Ubud's main temple complex both of which can be accessed via a private pathway directly from the bungalows.


Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati,
Ubud's royal family temple behind our bungalow

The bungalows are set in a serene garden environment, each with a private verandah ensonced in lush foliage. Every morning, offerings are placed on the verandah steps to ensure the well-being and happiness of guests. Now, wouldn't that make you feel special? The rooms are modern and sparsely furnished with no distractions such as TV or radio and very comfortable.


the intricate gold-leaf carved door that opens up to our modern bedroom below

Puri Saraswati 5

Every night we were lulled to sleep by the chanting of frogs outside the window and every morning we woke to the lilting sounds of the gamelan orchestra practising at the temple next door. Like wind chimes, the melody of the gamelan is so soothing that once it turned what was supposed to be a quick power nap in the morning into a full blown 3 hour siesta.

Puri Saraswati 2

the breakfast bar,
that's our bungalow on the left hidden behind the plants

Now here is where it gets really special! To stay at the Puri Saraswati Bungalows is to be a guest of the royal family. The bungalows are built on palace property and on what was once a garden playground for the palace children and their friends. Today, members of the royal family make their home on the grounds and go about their lives much like ordinary folk. Once while waiting for our driver to arrive, we watched the prince's wife feed their baby on their balcony.

The sprightly lady whom I recognized from the framed picture hanging on the wall behind the front desk as one of the King's wives, cheerfully waved at us as we ate our toasts and banana pancakes in the breakfast bar. It is this same good nature and warm-heartedness extended by the rest of the staff that made us feel right at home and made our stay here so memorable. They were just delightful! I've never met a more gracious and charming bunch and I cannot say enough good things about them.

Puri Saraswati 4

PS: A million thanks to Anne who recommended this place to me! :)

Puri Saraswati Bungalows
Main Rd. Ubud, Bali Indonesia
Tel. (62-361) 975164
purisaraswati@yahoo.com ; Website: www.purisaraswati.com

June 15, 2007

Bali High


Bali...it's very name evokes images of an exotic isle; images of mythic landscapes, emerald rice terraces, spectacular sunsets, flamboyantly dressed dancers, tropical spas, brooding volcanoes, pristine beaches, and a lavishly spiced cuisine. Last weekend, I discovered Bali was indeed all that and much much more.

The forty minute ride from the airport to the town of Ubud was absorbing. Rina and I stared out the windows of the hotel car, rubbernecking, trying hard not to blink lest we miss something. Most of the time we were trance-like and speechless but once in a while there was an audible sharp intake of breath from either one of us, and an occasional shout to "look at that over there!" or "hurry, check this out!" as we jabbed our fingers against the glass pointing at something out-of-this-world unusual or beautiful outside. This type of exchange between us was repeated many times over during our short trip.

Bali is steeped in tradition and the Balinese are extremely spiritual and talented folk. Art and ceremony is part and parcel of daily life here and the best place to experience all this is in Ubud, a town in the middle of the island, where the culture and people have not been tainted or ruined by outside forces. Here everyone is an artist in one form or another, be they dancers, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, batik designers or puppet masters. So this is where we chose to stay, in the heart of it all.

Bali is magical. It is an island full of wonder and surprises. And we tried to drink in as much of it as we could in such a short time, but in small languorous sips, the way you would fine wine. My succeeding posts will be dedicated to this enchanting island and my romance with it. Please bear with me as I linger, I'm not ready to come down from this high I'm feeling. :)

June 7, 2007

They make me think happy thoughts

I am tickled pink! My dear friend, Jo-jo, who you all know as Joey of the very charming and delicious blog 80 breakfasts, (Jo-jo is my pet name for her) presented me with the The Thinking Blogger Award. I was taken by surprise to say the least and extremely flattered, considering the many exceptional blogs I know she reads. Despite having a multitude of choices to include in her list she picked lil of me, awww... thanks Jo, that really made my day . :)

If someone else had presented me with this award, Joey would definitely be on my own shortlist of bloggers who make me think. She inspires me everyday with her joie de vivre and she approaches life with a childlike wonder that I adore so much. But because the award came from her I will pay it forward to five other bloggers who make me think.

Those of you who know me personally or have read a handful of my blog entries would know that travel, food, photography and books are high on my totem pole of things I am passionate about. And though the blogs I read encompass a variety of subject matters, I tend to gravitate towards those whose authors share my passion. And if the blog combines two or more of those passions? Well then they've most definitely got themselves a new stalker!

So here they are, the five blogs I stalk because they inspire me and make me think:

Ariela of Baking and Books - From the first moment I stumbled upon Ari's site I felt we were kindred spirits. We both love baking, reading, breakfast, coffee and we both have a big dog we adore to pieces. Her posts are all at once informative, enjoyable, absorbing and addicting! Many times I catch myself thinking about what cookbook she'll be reviewing next, who interesting personality she'll be interviewing or what exciting and funny culinary adventure (and misadventure) story she'll have for us. Ari has also taught me a lot about Jewish culture and cuisine, and it is because of her I have added Israel to the list of places I must visit before I die.

Ilva of Lucullian Delights - If I were to choose one word to describe Ilva and her blog, it would be captivating. I am in awe of this woman's talent! She has this gift of seeing the beauty in everything even the most mundane which she captures so precisely and beautifully in her photographs. And if food porn is your thing, her recipes include images that are, simply put, eye candy. It just so happens that as I write this I am in the middle of a photography course and I draw a lot of my inspiration from her, so thank you, Ilva! :) Oh and another thing, she makes me seriously think about throwing caution to the wind and moving to Tuscany!

Mimi of French Kitchen in America - Mimi charmed me with the first sentence I read on her blog and she still continues to do so. Everything about her site makes me think of curling up in front of a fireplace with a soft warm blanket on my lap and my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of cocoa. She tells the most fascinating, thought-provoking and heart-warming stories about life, family, food and everything in between. To quote Mimi, her blog is not about food, "it's about tasting life." Can it get any better than that? Yes, because all that is peppered with glimpses of life in the gorgeous French countryside. :)

Carlos of Walk This Way - Yeah, Carlos is an old friend who I've known since I was in diapers so you may think this is a wee bit biased, but heck, the man makes me think! And what can this guy who practically slept through high school make me think about, you may ask? Well, for one, the city (and country) I live in. He has taught me to look beyond the grimy surface, to recognize the beauty that we thought was lost forever and to love the country I live in . His passion is infectious and those who meet him are changed forever. Carlos sums it all up perfectly with his philosophy: "I can't change the way Manila looks, but I can change the way you look at Manila."

Rama of Poch Ang Ina Mo - Rama is a 5 yr. old who will make you laugh and cry, charm your pants off and melt your heart. Her stories, as told by her mom Poch, will make you think you want a child of your own right this minute! (Yes, I said think because as much as I adore kids, I am quite happy and content to be surrounded by my nephews and nieces - who I love to pieces - at the moment) To see life through Rama's eyes is to learn to appreciate the simple joys, to be reminded of the thrill of discovery, and to realize that all is good in the world again.

So there you have it. Phew, that was no easy task as there are so many deserving blogs to choose from.

A heartfelt thanks to the five of you who make me think, you've enriched my life beyond measure. :) If you'd like to play along (again, for some of you), please write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

June 4, 2007

Mango & Tomato salad

Mango Salad

It's finally becoming a little cooler these days, I wasn't sure how much longer I could take the heat we've been experiencing. What I don't like about such extreme climes is it makes you lazy, or at least it makes me lazy. The heat zaps my energy and for as long as I'm within city limits, I'm imprisoned indoors in the comfort of airconditioning.

Sure we've got electric fans in every room including the kitchen but they're powerless at this point, successful only at recycling the hot air around. And so it was that I stayed away from the oven for the most part of the summer. I was asked a couple of times by friends to make cupcakes but seriously, I'd have to be a masochist to confine myself to the kitchen (which if it weren't for the appliances present I could have mistaken for the steam room at the gym) and work with the heat from the oven.

Salads, of course, are a favorite especially during summer. They're quick and easy to make, and very refreshing. The simpler ones don't require any heat in the preparation, and hence no sweat from our pores. This particular dish could be classified both as a salad or condiment because it's great on it's own or added to complement a major dish such as fish. It's also a great alternative to chutney in tempering hot curries. The original recipe calls for green or unripe mangoes but I like to save those to be eaten with bagoong (shrimp paste). And since we are never without ripe mangoes at home, I can make this everyday if I wish.

I got this recipe from my sister, Ginny. It's excellent! I am really a big fan of the distinctly Asian mix of fish sauce, vinegar and sugar. The way it works together in a sweet, salty and sour burst of flavor is simply ambrosial. Then you add the juicy sweetness of my favorite fruit, the mango and the crunch from the tomatoes, and you have one mind-blowing experience. Chalk another point for simple, no-fuss and absolutely delicious food.

Mango & Tomato Salad
2 ripe mangoes, cubed (you can also use green mangoes if you wish)
2 juicy red tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Start with 1 tbsp each of red cane vinegar, Thai fish sauce or patis and brown sugar
Coriander leaves, chopped
Adjust dressing to taste

The easiest way to cube a mango is to slice it in half on either side of the seed. Then with a knife, make a checkerboard pattern on the flesh of each cheek and then scoop the cubes out. You'll be tempted to scoop them straight into your mouth, be strong and try to resist! Combine the mango with the tomatoes and toss with vinegar, fish sauce and sugar.

If you use green mangoes, use less vinegar to compensate for the sourness of the fruit. For a variation on the dish, and one which would make it more Thai, add some chili powder to the mix!

Blush the tomato

Thank you to Alanna of A Veggie Venture for this cute image of Blush the Sweet Tomato, and for her efforts in promoting produce from hometown farmer's markets!

June 1, 2007

Degustation Menu by Chefs Sunshine & Rob

Degustation or tasting menus are win-win situations: the chefs are given the opportunity to play mad scientist in the kitchen and showcase the full range of their talent and creativity, observe reactions to their experiments while diners blissfully surrender their taste buds to the melange of flavors, textures, shapes, colors, and aromas presented so artfully to them.

I've been fortunate to guest at about a couple of such types of dinners prepared by Sunshine Puey, but usually in private homes with kitchens closed off to the dining room. In Global Academy, where Sunshine Puey and Rob Pengson spend their time educating aspiring chefs and hospitality industry managers and where we had this wonderful experience, the only things that separate the kitchen from the dining area are glass windows, giving us front-row seats to a most entertaining show.

The kitchen at Global Academy

Boy, did these chefs and their sous chefs earn my utmost respect. There is no doubt in my mind that they felt an enormous amount of pressure, they had very discerning diners they needed to please after all. But they were cool as the cucumbers on their Insalata with ready smiles for anyone looking their way. They were understaffed, we found out later, but we would never have guessed it. We were too happy, savoring the lingering sensations on our palates in between courses.

To put it simply, it was superb. Using only the finest quality ingredients, they designed courses small enough to tease and tickle our taste buds but with flavors that blew our minds. And so folks, I'm gonna let the pictures do the talking. Here is Sunshine & Rob's degustation menu for the month of May:

The Amuse Bouche
Amuse Bouche:
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
Truffle and Cream Cheese Pastry
Watermelon and Basil Napoleon
Foie Gras and Almond Praline Cone

Mushroom Veloute with Gruyere and Truffle Oil
Mushroom Veloute with Gruyere and Truffle Oil

Insalata Tricolore
Insalata Tricolore:
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette with
Whipped Ricotta and Candied Walnuts

Crisp skined salmon
Crisp Skinned Salmon,
Spinach Ravioli in Beurre Blanc,
Shaved Asparagus and Prosciutto Salad

Duo of Beef:
Braised Shank with Saffron Risotto
Braised Wagyu Shank with Saffron Risotto and

Seared Boneless Rib with Foie Gras Sauce
Seared Boneless Rib with Foie Gras Sauce, Primavera Vol-au-Vents

Fluffy dessert
Poached Pear in Grape Jelly,
Crème Patisserie and Cotton Candy

Chocolate Plate

Chocolate Plate:
White Chocolate Mille Feuile
Milk Chocolate and Praline Truffle
Dark Chocolate Soufflé

As is our custom during these dinners, we go around the table proclaiming our favorites. What were mine? The foie gras and almond praline cone hands down, the Insalata Tricolore, the Braised Wagyu Shank with Saffron Risotto and the Milk Chocolate and Praline Truffle. Oh and the Truffle and Cream Cheese Pastry! Sorry, there's no way I could have picked just one or even two. :)

~ * ~
Sunshine & Rob intend to host monthly degustations at Global Academy, with each month showcasing a different menu, to a manageable crowd. Just call or email them for more details:

Global Academy: Culinary & Hospitality
2F Amber Square, Don Escriva Drive,
Ortigas Center, Pasig City 1600 Philippines
Telephone: +632 638 5949
Telefax:+632 638 6183