A well seasoned travel writer, Alison arrived in Bali in 2008 and never got around to leaving. Trading global nomadic journeys for explorations of a culinary kind, she now writes about the island's ever-evolving dining scene. Alison also returns regularly to Fiji and has just completed her first book, The Faraway Islands, about her time living with a traditional community in the remote Yasawa Islands.
Tucked into a quiet lane in the heart of Ubud, Taksu translates in Balinese as “the indescribable essence of spirit,” and provides a serene haven in which to relax and unwind. A charming garden filled with cascading rock ponds and meandering paths gives way to a leafy gorge dotted with scenic spa pavilions.
Well established on the Ubud scene, the spa and restaurant have been operating for the last seven years, while the quaint Taman Taksu Garden Cafe makes an inspired new addition. Open-sided wooden pavilions overlook the medicinal herb garden, where leaves are plucked fresh for my Pagagan Juice a traditional remedy known as pennywort in English, believed to be beneficial in maintaining youth. Our round of drinks also includes [Coconut Water] served in customised coconut-shaped ceramic dishes, and a Bali Summer blending watermelon, strawberry and apple with a lemon citrus kick.
The menu, prepared by Balinese chefs Ketut and Adi, offers something for every mood and every appetite, with a good selection of raw food, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as chicken, duck and seafood. Produce comes straight from Taksu’s own organic gardens, located in the nearby hills, and dishes include crunchy organic salads, homemade pasta and panini, Indonesian classics, hearty soups and grills, and divine desserts.
We start with a couple of raw dishes. The Strawberry Bisque is a chilled and frothy blend of fresh strawberries and yoghurt, while the generous slab of Zucchini Lasagne that follows is truly excellent, a tasty testament to the imaginative possibilities of raw food. Thinly sliced marinated zucchini is layered with fresh tomato, basil and peppers, with a tangy marinara sauce, creamy cashew ricotta and an ever-so -slightly sweet pesto.
Changing the pace a little we order some good and spicy Nachos piled high with black beans, homemade salsa and creamy guacamole, and a Salmon Panini made with home baked brown bread topped with swirls of cured salmon, red onion, lettuce, dill and dollops of cream cheese. Dessert is a light and fluffy Cheesecake sweetened with a thick strawberry coulis, and a spongy Truffle Chocolate Cake Gateau with a rich chocolate filling.
As well as daily yoga and dance classes, Taksu offers interesting workshops and retreats of the alternative healing persuasion, as well as Cranio Sacral therapy, Traditional Chinese medicine, ozone therapies and spa treatments including the Divine Pampering Ritual which is accompanied by a two-course healthy lunch.
Taksu Spa and Restaurant Jl Goutama Selatan Ubud +62 361 971490
Permablitz (noun):An informal gathering involving a day on which a group of at least two people come together to achieve the following: create or add to edible gardens, share skills related to permaculture and sustainable living, build community, have fun.
I arrive at the Farmer’s Yard, a permaculture garden, hostel and community space in Canggu, to find a group – made up of foreign travellers and Balinese – planting beans and cucumber in garden beds, and adding the finishing touches to a newly built chicken coop. With a concept of “Putting an end to careless tourism,” the space has been created on the principles of sustainable living, with the idea of connecting visitors to Bali with local neighbours and communities. The flourishing garden, filled with peppermint, eggplant, basil, cabbage and rosella was created during a permablitz, and I am here to meet Djuka Terenzi, who along with his friends, is the driving force behind Permablitz Bali.
A direct action ‘green’ movement that sprouted in Australia and quickly spread across the world; permablitz combines ‘perma’ permaculture theory with ‘blitz’ a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort. Essentially day-long gatherings that combine volunteer labour and permaculture theory, a permablitz aims to transform an unproductive backyard garden or urban space into a productive or edible garden. The concept is simple, a permaculture designer draws up a site specific plan, volunteers provide the labour and the host makes lunch. As well as being a great way to get involved with your local community, joining a permablitz teaches you how to grow your own food at home using simple permaculture principles. The network runs on reciprocity so if you attend a few permablitzes, you then qualify for one yourself. Anybody can come, and everybody wins!
The idea bloomed in the suburbs of Melbourne in 2006 when a permaculture designer, Dan Palmer, met a South American community group. Joining forces one Sunday, Palmer and his friends provided seedlings, compost, plants and ideas, and the community group provided labour, delicious food, music and dancing. By the end of the day a bland backyard garden had been transformed with a worm farm, pond, vegetable plants, herbs and chillis. The seeds of the permablitz movement had been sewn. The movement spread, by word of mouth, from Melbourne right across Australia and onto Hawaii, Istanbul, Montreal, Uganda and, of course Bali, with the first permablitz taking place at Sunrise School.
The network has gone on to transform a number of gardens, including Terenzi’s own and that of the Farmer’s Yard Hostel. He explains that the free, day-long events are open to everyone and aim to create something ‘cool and efficient.’ A site is chosen, a plan made, a date is set and then the event is posted on their fb page. As well as making edible gardens, there may also be workshops on composting or water filtration, perhaps a little live music, and definitely a lot of laughter.
Permaculture is essentially about mimicking nature – integrating people and places in ecologically harmonious systems that provide a good portion of the needs of people living there, with things like water, vegetables, fruit, and eggs. Of course prior to industrialisation, most gardens were based on permaculture principles, but intensive farming, consumer demand for cheap produce, and the growth of cities saw people shift away from a natural way of living. Permablitzes can reunite us with the land and are a great way for first time gardeners to learn some skills. “We are not just using energy, but creating it,” says Djuka. “Its about being super efficient, it’s about creating a self sustaining eco system.” Edible gardens help conserve energy by reducing the need for food transport; they also use less water than agricultural farms, encourage composting and are generally organic.
Keen to see more permablitz sites, I also visit Kaleidoscope house, a riotously-coloured community house on the outskirts of Ubud, with yellow and green brick walls draped in psychedelic wall hangings. In the adjacent communal space a yoga class is under way, and another room at the back has bunk beds that house volunteers and visitors. Heading out back I find a nursery crammed with healthy seedlings, a garden bed edged in recycled roof tiles and sprouting with herbs, and tiny cherry tomatoes, and kankkung (water spinach) rising from a watery pot. As well as being a Community House, Kaleidoscope serves as a base for Rumah Idea (Indonesian Development of Environmental Education and Agricultural Studies,) a Yayasan that works with local kids, teaching English, organic farming, bee keeping, chocolate-making, and dance.
Back in the living room, sipping a delicious organic Balinese coffee infused with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, my eyes rest on a sign on the wall, “Some want it to happen, Some wish it would happen, Others make it happen,” which pretty much sums up the Permablitz network.
We pass a dreamy afternoon in the River Café at the tropical oasis of Maya Ubud Resort, soothed by the gentle flow of the river and satiated by a delicious lunch of ‘Conscious Cuisine.’
Peering over the veranda at the river that winds through the rainforest, I am overcome with that feeling of peace and happiness that comes from being somewhere truly beautiful. The steep surrounding forest is thick with banana trees, bamboo and palms, and below us an infinity pool juts out over the river – a vision of tropical perfection.
The atmospheric setting of the River Grill is enhanced by bright and cheerful tables settings, including pots of wheatgrass and elaborately rolled napkins. Maya Executive chef Australian-born Kath Townsend comes with vast experience in high profile restaurants and resorts from Sydney to Sri Lanka to the Maldives. Her concept of ‘Conscious Cuisine’ sees a holistic approach to dining that emphasises clean, crisp, fresh and natural flavours, with a mix of textures and ingredients intended to nourish the mind, body and soul. Super foods abound, from salmon, to nuts, juices, quinoa, chocolate and avocado. Fresh organic vegetables and herbs are sourced in the hills of Bedugul, and from the resort’s own gardens, and the menu offers dairy and wheat alternatives – such as buckwheat and coconut flour, as well as tasty pizza, and a Riverside Ploughman’s for those looking for more substantial fare.
Healthy drinks makes a logical starting point and we try a Skin Tonic, a delicious blend of carrot and orange juice, and a sweet refreshing Kidney Kick Starter mixing apple pineapple and watermelon. Rather than a bread basket, we are offered crudités of carrot and cucumber wrapped in noori, served with tahini, then move on to the Riverside Bowl, a salad teeming with taste and texture. The long, spiraling strands of carrot and beetroot are a little like eating crunchy colourful spaghetti, while tofu, tempe and seeds provide substance, and a spirulina and tahini dressing lends a certain sweet earthiness. The Gado Gado is the most elegant I have seen, with dainty quail eggs, vegetables wrapped sushi roll-style, triangles of potato and tofu and a scattering of cashews. The highlight is the cashew nut sauce, which is milder, creamier and more subtle than the usual peanut sauce, and is delicately flavoured with turmeric, ginger garlic and honey.
Crispy Salmon comes as a plump fillet topped with watercress and a drizzle of citron dressing, and is served atop a tasty chickpea and spinach fritter, with pipa verde – an excellent Mexican-style sauce made with pepitos, coriander, garlic, onion and jalapenos. We finish with a Heavenly Vegan Chocolate Mousse which is rich in taste, with a smooth velvety texture. Dairy free, this lush dessert is made with avocado, honey, raw cacao and vanilla bean and has the occasional surprise crunch of a hazelnut or cacao bean.
The Maya Spa is adjacent to the restaurant, with atmospheric treatment pavilions scattered along the river. Famed for its exotic sensory journeys, a spa session is perfectly completed with a nutritious and tasty lunch at the River Café. Outside guests can immerse themselves in the tropical healing vibe, and treat themselves to a ‘Day at Maya’ spa package which includes yoga, a riverside walk, cooking class, spa treatment and lunch. Alison
Maya Ubud Resort & Spa Jalan Gunung Sari, Peliatan, Ubud +62361977888
Foraging is one of the hottest gastronomic trends to sweep across the globe, with chefs and home cooks alike heading out into the country to gather wild vegetables, herbs and forest fruits. Here in Bali, foraging has always been a way of life, and the beautiful landscape is rife with wild greens, tropical fruits, roots and edible flowers.
The forests, river banks and fringes of Bali’s picturesque rice fields host a plethora of wild herbs, spices and fruit trees, and in order to learn more about Bali’s wild side, I join a fascinating, customised rice paddy walk with Bali Eco Cycling Tours (www.baliecocycling.com). We begin in the coolness of early morning and make our way through the ancient lichen-covered temples of Goa Gajah on the outskirts of Ubud. Weda, a rice farmer from Ubud is my guide, and is passionate about foraging, deeply knowledgeable and has a great sense of humour. The narrow trail leads us along the edge of a steep riverbank shrouded in sub tropical rainforest, where gnarly roots of giant trees cling to the ravine, and dappled sunlight dances through the leafy canopy. We stop to pick fragrant stalks from an [ilak ]bush – used in place of sticks in sate lilit (minced fish satay). Nearby, the leaves of a [simbaman] bush are used to flavour a uniquely Balinese dish known as [be cundang] – where the losing rooster in a cock fight is cooked up and presented in a victory feast. Crossing the muddy creek Weda points out my favourite Balinese delicacy, dainty fern tips, that are tender, juicy and fabulous with shredded coconut.
Climbing up the ravine, we pass a heavily laden soursop tree – its leaves are believed to have a similar effects to chemotherapy when it comes to treating cancer. Winding through a dense coconut grove we see immense jackfruit trees, their large bulbous fruit makes a great addition to curries, soups and [rujak] – Balinese spicy fruit salad. Suddenly the forest opens up to a glistening verdant sea of green that stretches as far as we can see. This is the Bali of postcards, and a view that I never seem to tire of. Palms and big-fronded banana trees line the path that threads across the sawah (rice fields), where dragonflies flitter and the sound of trickling water is ever present. The ancient irrigation system, known as [subak], allows a number of edible plants to thrive spontaneously along the edges, including succulent lentor (snake beans), tiny wild eggplant, and pumpkin – the deep yellow pumpkin flower makes a very tasty tempura. The cassava tree has pretty umbrella-shaped leaves, and its starchy roots are used to make[tape] (tapioca), while its young leaves grace pork soup. Wena shows me a bunie tree, in season it will have delicious dark berries that taste great in jam and also in rujak.
We spot papaya, cacao and mangosteen trees, and young cows resting under the shade of massive durians. Taking a break, we sit on the edge of a small ridge and eat sumping, and bantar, traditional Balinese sweets of sticky rice, coconut milk and sugar, and enjoy the sound of rindik from a distant temple that mingles sweetly with bird song and rooster crows, and the gentle rustle of a breeze in the palms.
Finishing in the charming restaurant set amidst the rice fields, we sip fresh coconuts and feast on organic rice, smoked duck and chicken and tofu skewers. If you would like to know how to cook with Bali’s native herbs, fruits and spices, the following offer an authentic village style experience, including visiting the local markets.www.lobongcooking.com
Inodnesia has one of the highest tropical forest loss rates in the world with 74 million hectares of forest destroyed in the past 50 years. The lucrative hardwood trade; a lack of effective conservation laws; and endemic corruption have left the forests at the mercy of loggers, and the looming ecological disaster is well documented. But sadly Indonesia’s forests now face the biggest threat of all, an insatiable global demand for palm oil.
These days the roar of chainsaws is often followed by raging fires as the land is cleared and the ancient forests, home to some of the earth’s greatest biodiversity are replace by orderly rows of oil palms, standing like rows of soldiers. The battle lines have been drawn and hectare by hectare the forest is being claimed. Sound overdramatic? If only it was, but the facts paint a sad picture. In the 1980’s about one million hectares of forest were cleared annually, now it’s over two million and much of the land that has been deforested in the last 20 years is due to the planting of oil palms. Over half of the forest cover in Sumatra and Borneo has now been destroyed and along with the forest and the species that inhabit it, an ancient way of life is disappearing. There are also global ramifications for us all, in terms of the air we breathe, as these forests provide nature’s filtration system, storing toxic carbon dioxide and releasing life-giving oxygen.
What is palm oil
Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the oil palm and has been heralded as a wonder product. It is the most productive oil crop in the world, low in saturated fats, cheap to produce and highly versatile. It is found in cooking oil, confectionary, margarine, cakes, biscuits and snacks. As well as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, household and industrial items and bio fuel.
Growing palm oil is a lucrative business and the price of crude palm oil has risen steadily, with demand expected to triple by the year 2050. Ninety per cent of the world’s palm oil exports come from the plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil in itself is not a bad thing, the problem lies in the degradation of primary forests in order to produce it. An estimated fifty million hectares of degraded land lays wasted in Indonesia, but palm oil companies prefer to use forest land where they can also make a profit from the timber they cut down.
The Quest for Green Gold
The biggest irony is the increasing use of palm oil for bio fuel, a supposedly ‘green’ fuel, proclaimed to be a low carbon solution to climate change. This quest for green fuel is actually causing more damage to the climate than the fossil fuels it was designed to replace. Once the useable wood has been removed, fires are often used to clear the land and peat bogs are drained to plant oil palms, a process which releases hundreds of millions of tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere making Indonesia the third highest contributor to CO 2 emissions in the world.
Greenpeace claims that more carbon emissions result from deforestation and peat fires than are produced by the entire global transport sector. Currently, over seven million hectares in Sumatra are utilized as oil palm plantations, and the plan is to extend this by a further 20 million hectares, in order to meet EU targets of ten percent of all transport fuel to come from crops by 2020.
While fortunes have been made from palm oil, it is a mistaken assumption that everyone involved in the process is getting rich. Plantation companies claim that that they create employment, especially in rural areas which in turn leads to economic development. Impoverished land owners often see few financial alternatives and many give up their land to become small stake-holders or to work on the plantations. But the social costs are high. Traditional communities have lived in the forests for generations, hunting bush meat, eating fruits and seeds, harvesting traditional medicine and planting subsistence crops. They were often poor but led a naturally sustainable way of life. Now they find themselves at the mercy of market forces and tied to a 25 year cycle on a single crop. Those who have retained small holdings can eke out a living as long as the boom continues, but those who have sold their land and now work for a minimum wage are often worse off as they have to pay for imported goods. Conflict is inevitable, and according to Sawit Watch, a local environmental organization, more than 500 cases of conflict have been reported.
Although illegal, the fires that are set to clear the land and can quickly burn out of control. The devastating fires of 1997 burned five million hectares of Indonesia’s forests and of the 176 companies accused by the Indonesian government of starting fires, 133 were oil palm plantations companies. The battle between big business and the environment is not new, and all too often the environment is the loser.
Pollution problems are also caused by effluent from the milling process and the intensive use of pesticides and herbicides in the plantations, creating toxic run- off which poisons the land and the water system. The low land forests of Borneo and Sumatra – the last remaining habitat for orangutans and a number of other species are the areas favoured for conversion and all unprotected areas are at risk. The fires of 1997 decimated one third of Borneo’s orangutan population; while the Sumatran orangutan population has decreased by half in the last twenty years and the estimated remaining 6500 animals have been classified as critically endangered. These endearing creatures make great ambassadors for Indonesia’s forests, and their plight has captured hearts around the world, but the orangutan is just the tip of the iceberg. They are known as a cornerstone species and play an important part in forest regeneration through the seeds and fruits they eat. If they become extinct there will be a knock-on effect on many other species
Palm oil factory near Bukit Lewang
A Glimmer of Hope
If palm oil could be planted without decimating the remaining forests, a potential ecological disaster could be averted, and there are signs that some companies are willing to explore this option. RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,) was set up in 2004 and is a not-for-profit association formed of companies and groups involved in palm oil production. Its mission is to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Forty percent of palm oil companies have joined RSPO, as well as banks, NGO’s and high profile companies such as Unilever, Body Shop and Cadbury. Last year the first batches of certified sustainable oil were shipped to Europe and now account for 3% of CPO. It’s a step in the right direction, but there is still along way to go. Sustainable plantations do not produce much at the moment, and the global demand for palm oil continues to grow.
There is also “Project POTICO” (Palm Oil, Timber, Carbon Offsets,) a partnership between WRI (World Resources Institute,) an American think tank, and NewPage Corporation. This initiative was set up earlier this year and slated to combat illegal logging, reduce greenhouse emissions and preserve virgin rainforests in Indonesia by diverting new oil palm plantations to degraded land. Over one million hectares of wasted land is marked for conversion under the three year program.
There are also indications that things are changing at a local level, In Aceh, Sumatra, officials recently gave 100 hectares of fallow agricultural land to 59 households in the village of Lami so they could grow oil palm without cutting down rain forests. The Indonesian environmental group YEL is overseeing the organic cultivation. Also in Aceh, the tiny and remote village of Tangkahan is another prime example of grass roots conservation where the community rejected the lure of palm oil and decided instead to set up eco-tourism. Elephants are used to patrol the jungle searching for illegal loggers, and small guesthouses provide the quintessential jungle experience. It was while staying in this hidden and untouched paradise that my interest in palm oil was ignited. Each evening I would eat with the local guides and the conversation always turned to palm oil. They hope to lead others by example and show that there are alternatives. “One step at a time,” Jungle Bob tells me, “we can’t do much, but at least we can do something.”
Within Indonesia the key lies in education and SOS (Sumatran Orangutan Society) runs a number of programs to this end. Their aim is to empower the next generation of Indonesian conservationists, and programs include: touring educational road shows: the development of a conservation curriculum for schools in North Sumatra: community forestry schemes to reinforce national park buffer zones and provide sustainable alternative incomes for people living adjacent to natural orangutan habitat; and a tree planting program that has seen the planting of over a quarter of a million indigenous tree seedlings to date.
Responsibility lies with the Indonesian Government and companies, but also with us because as end consumers we have the right to choose. It is fashionable in Australia and Europe to call for boycotts of palm oil, but this won’t solve anything, a cheap and versatile vegetable oil is necessary, and other alternatives such as corn and soya bean oil pose similar problems.
Conservationists call for labeling of products and claim that consumers have the right to choose to buy from sustainable plantations, much as they have the right to buy fair trade products or items that have not been genetically modified. Consumer pressure and preference might lead companies into using sustainable oil. Greenpeace, SOS and Rainforest Action Network urge people to talk about palm oil in order to get the issues known. You can also sign online petitions, make financial contributions to their campaigns, and write to supermarkets to tell them you want sustainable palm oil. It might not seem like much, but as consumers we do have power and doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you want to get involved, or to learn more, have a look at the websites listed below.
In the five years that I have lived in Bali I have visited three different traditional healers, each providing a unique and profound experience that my western mind has struggled to fully comprehend. With my most recent treatment for a painfully damaged rib, I resolved to stop questioning “how” and “why,” and instead simply accept the experience for what it was and be grateful for it. I had gone to see one of the island’s well known healers, Pak Sircus who specialises in bone problems. The traditional Balinese compound was packed with people, and he worked from an open air pavilion in the corner, in full view of everyone. Each patient would take their turn and he would take his time chatting with them, often giving a massage and perhaps disappearing out the back to whip up a potion of some kind. The atmosphere was light hearted and relaxed, and Pak Sircus drank tea, smoked kretek cigarettes and told jokes throughout the sessions.
My turn eventually came. I was brittle and nervous, especially as I had noticed that most treatments seemed to involve a painful yelp or two from the patient. My friend had described it well, “He hurts the hell out of you – then you feel better.” As I sat down he pointed straight at my rib, “Its not broken,” he said, “but it is badly stressed.” I gingerly lay down and he massaged my side, it was painful but not too bad, and I tried to relax. After a while he tapped my shoulder and looked deep into my eyes. It’s hard to explain but I felt this incredible sense of connection, it was like he could see right into my soul, and in this moment he drew me out of myself and our energy melded into one. He smiled serenely and said, “Remind me, what is your name,” and my tension melted away as I took a breath and responded, smiling back at him. Right then he jabbed my rib with his fingers. I screamed – the shock of the pain sent me bolt upright. It was intense, but fleeting, and then I couldn’t stop laughing. “You tricked me,” I said. “I know,” he replied “and I know you understand,” and we laughed and laughed –with each peal of laughter a layer of pain fell away. I will not say that I was suddenly and miraculously cured – I still felt tender and sore, but it was as if the core of the pain had been removed, and most importantly, the depression that had accompanied it had been instantly lifted. Balance and harmony were restored and I felt like myself again.
It is this sense of harmony that lies at the heart of Balinese Hinduism – the constant struggle for balance between the opposing forces of darkness and light; sekala (the seen) and niskala (the unseen.) For most Balinese, sickness is deemed the result of an essential disharmony between a person and his/her surroundings. While natural herbal cures and western medicine are seen as appropriate for more tangible (sekala) forms of illness like a skin infection of a common cold, when it comes to less easily diagnosed, intangible (niskala) maladies, a traditional healer is generally the first point of call. Known as balians, these healers work on a number of levels, but generally practice an intuitive form of healing that is very different from a more western clinical style, and may have been learned from a parent or grandparent, of acquired directly from a Hindu deity. Some balians are essentially herbalists, while those like Pak Sircus, who specialise in bone problems may work with massage and manipulation. Some act as mediums or will contact the spirit world for guidance on certain issues related to your health, and you may end up having inscriptions drawn on your body or wads of chewed up herbs spat at you. A common thread with all these healing modalities is the opinion that sickness is often caused by the deeds of an individual, who might have acted disrespectfully or done something inappropriate. In this way, rather than providing a cure per se, a balian may grant atonement or neutralise bad intentions.
A balian usada, known as a literate balian is often in possession of sacred ‘lontar usada’ (healing books) that he may have studied with a guru to learn his craft. He might use natural medicine obtained from plants, which can be enhanced with amulets or ritualistic ceremonies. A balian tulang is a bone setter and will be called upon in emergencies to set dislocations or severe muscle sprains. A balian apun will generally work with massage, while a balian manak is a midwife. The role of a balian tasku is a little harder to define, they definitely work with niskala – the unseen forces – and are believed to take power from nature or holy spirits, and may create medicines from holy water, flowers and plants, or conduct cleansing rituals. The balian ketakson is generally a women who will communicate with spirits (often ancestral) to seek insight into an illness. This is particular useful for chronic illness when other treatments have failed. With knowledge gained through divine blessing, she may heal people through trance possession. Strictly speaking, not all balians are healers, but will provide advice and guidance on how to deal with troubles caused by unseen spirits, or even emotional problems that may be manifesting as physical illness.
My very first ‘healing’ experience in Bali perhaps fell into this category. Dressed in a sarong with a sarin canang (offering) in hand, I arrived at a house in Gianyar and was greeted by Cokorda Bagus Astawa, a wise and kindly man. We sat down facing each other. “Why are you here?” he asked softly “I can see there is nothing wrong with you.” I explained about the recurring problem with my chest – I struggled to breath and felt like I was suffocating. Assuming it was a chest infection I had taken three courses of antibiotics, but the problem remained. A year before I had ended a long-term relationship, “And now I feel lost, its like my spirit is broken,” I told him. “But of course,” he replied, “that is normal, you feel bad because your heart is aching, it will take time to heal.” And with these few simple words a huge weight was lifted, and I realised that I had been denying myself permission to grieve, and that this enormous sense of loss was necessary to honour the most significant relationship of my life. He told me I was storing sadness and negative emotions in my solar plexus, which was creating pressure in my chest. “This part I can help with,” he said reassuringly, as he stabbed my little toe with a stick. It felt like there was blood gushing from my toe, but actually it was emotions that were pouring out as this incredible sadness coursed through my body and passed out through my toe. It was such a relief to finally let go and surrender to this grief, and the pain in my chest disappeared immediately. Of course I still felt sad, but accepted that this was a necessary stage in my journey and learned to made peace with myself, in so doing I shifted into a greater state of harmony and the healing process began. He was right, when it comes to personal loss only time can heal, but you need to let it.
With the book, and subsequent film, Eat Pray Love the spotlight shone brightly on Bali’s healers, with balian’s such as the books central character, Ketut becoming a ‘must see’ on many tourist itineraries. However, it’s important to remember that a balian is not a tourist attraction or object of curiosity, but rather a well respected member of the community with a crucial role to play, and should be respected accordingly. If you feel like you may benefit from a visit to a balian, find out if you need to make an appointment (not all balians will see tourists,) make sure to dress appropriately (cover your shoulders and legs,) and never point your feet at a healer as this is considered very rude. Most balians accept donations, but do not hand over money directly, either conceal it in a canang (offering) or place the donation in the family temple after the treatment. Be warned, not all healers are genuine so its best to go on personal recommendation and choose the correct type of healer for your predicament.
Finally my detox is over and I am dying to go out for dinner, but still want to keep things healthy so I meet up with a friend in one of our favourite catch-up spots – the garden of Green Ginger. One of the first cafes to spring up in Berawa, Green Ginger is a collaboration between Britta Boyer, a designer with a penchant for vintage, and Jonathan Russel, well known on the island as DJ Rock Solid. You can still find him mixing it up at Ku de ta, but these days you are more likely to find him indulging in his passion for creating good food that is also good for you.
A hotch potch of styles and influences are at play, creating a unique space. Food is firmly of the Asian vegetarian persuasion; the vibe is quaint tea house – think ornate china tea pots, floral wall paper and tiered cake stands; while retro beaded lamps and bird-themed art work create an antique feel. Much of the bric a brac, including the stamp collections, second hand books, and funky furnishings are also for sale. The enchanted garden out back is filled with dappled sunlight, frangipani, scatter cushions, hanging plants and tinkering chimes, definitely a place for lingering. The picturesque Balinese temple that looms over the garden provides a fitting backdrop.
What Green Ginger lacks in space, it makes up for in spirit. This is a cafe with soul! As Jonathon explains, he hopes to add “Positive energy as well as fresh flavours to the local food scene.” The cafe certainly isn’t going to change the world, but does act as an inspiration to others with its thoughtful environmental practices. Apart from Italian coffee, almost everything is sourced locally, and all dishes (including sauces and curry pastes) are made from scratch. A keen gardener, Jono has also been known to put together field trips to visit suppliers in Bedugul so visitors can learn about organic farming. He is also committed to recycling, sustainability and minimal impact, encouraging customers to bring their own containers for take away. In the spirit of community, local Balinese receive hefty discounts, and weekly free Indonesian classes help teach foreigners the lingo.
Good ethics aside, Green Ginger also served up fabulous food. I have been hooked on the Laksa since I first discovered the cafe a couple of years ago. Prepared Singapore style, this deeply aromatic coconut curry soup is thoroughly intoxicating, served with just a hint of chilli, wedges of tasty tofu, wilted bokchoy and sprigs of fresh dill. Big, fat Rice Paper Rolls are equally moreish packed with fresh vegetables and just a hint of mint, dipping sauces include a light and fragrant homemade peanut sauce. Tofu Puffs are delightfully fluffy, while Crunchy Corn Fritters are made with the plumpest corn kernels that really do burst with flavour, and are lovingly enhanced with thick homemade chilli jam. Salads include Yasai Sarada, a Japanese vegetable salad with seaweed, and the Mango Avocado Salad combining greens with the sweetness of mango and the crunch of snow peas and bean spouts. For dessert we split a Coffee, Cardamom and Ginger cake – it is truly extraordinary, even better when enjoyed with a pot of authentic chai.
Aside from Green Ginger, Jono also operates, Zucchini on Oberoi (famed for its salad bar) and the newly opened Elephant inn Ubud (Will check it out soon.)