It’s just shy of the onset of winter – and for any readers who live in Sydney, with the chills and strong winds that we’ve been experiencing lately, I’m sure you’ll agree that winter came early this year! So what better way to escape reality than to relive a food memory from my recent Bali trip.
This was my first visit to Bali. I had previously kept Bali somewhere towards the bottom of my to-travel-to list owing to years of media exposure giving me the impression that all I would find there would be hoards of surfie-type backpackers with braided hair all donning the pseudo-Bali holiday uniform – the Bintang Beer singlet. Let’s just say it took a lot of convincing from Felix that it would be a perfect location for a budget island mini-moon en route to our wedding dinner in Malaysia.
One of the places that we were highly suggested to try out was the seafood restaurant Mang Engking, located in the Kuta/Denpasar area. From the outside, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, with the only indication of the restaurant from the road a small neon backlit signboard signifying its existence. We’re dropped off at the entrance by our driver (a must have luxury when visiting Bali!) and it’s something completely unexpected.
Bamboo is the construction material of choice here. Everything from the tables, chairs, wall dividers are made from this; and to top it off, being close to Christmas, we were also greeted by a gigantic bamboo Christmas tree! Beyond the entrance, the dining area is built around a man-made lake. There’s an area with open seating, but what catches our eye are the range of dining huts sitting over the lake. We point to them in indicate in disjointed Indonesian that we wanted to sit there and are told they’re reserved for groups of four, but for two, the minimum order is 250,000 rupiah. We pause, make some mental calculations and quickly realise that it only equates to only $26AUD – bargain!
We’re led along a dark garden path, around to the other side of the lake. As we pass the huts, or also known as gubug in Indonesian, we notice that there are a number of different sizes with a number of huts being able to accommodate up to 20 people. There’s also two different designs – ones with an inset platform underneath the table to rest your feet and ones with no platform at all, thus allowing you to dangle your feet into the cool air above the lake. Shoes are a definite no-no in the hut.
As we take our seat, peaceful sounds of Balinese music are emitted from hidden speakers in each hut set. Combined with the sounds of insects in the greenery surrounding us, the occasional splash of a fish from the lake and even the distant drone of a passing motorcycle, it’s hard to deny that you’re definitely on a holiday.
Merry Christmas? Okay a bit late for that!
One of the larger huts available to dine in. It’s such a different dining experience to being on the dining floor with waiters rushing past you right and left. With the seclusion of the huts, you’re really able to wind down and simply enjoy the company of those around you.
Not quite what I would call ‘young’. But it was huge and full of sweet, refreshing coconut water.
Udang Bakar Madu (Honey Roasted Prawns)
This was the to-eat item that we were recommended to order here. Sticky, sweet and spicy. The procedure for eating one of these was to pull the sticky prawns off the skewer and then employing all available fingers, pull off the shells to get to the flesh. Sucking the sauce off the shells and fingers before discarding, while definitely defied the rules of dining etiquette, was a must. Luckily for us, there are conveniently placed taps with soap located at the entrance of each hut.
Udang Goreng Tepung (Breaded Fried Prawns)
Fat prawns with a delectably crunchy batter. These were fried to the point where you could eat it shell and all.
Cumi-cumi Saos Padang (Squid with Padang Sauce)
Soft with a decent kick of chili courtesy of the slices of chili lurking in he sauce. Perfect balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot.
Kepiting Goreng (Deep Fried Crab)
Not too sure about this cooking technique for the crab. Frying the already small crab meant that the flesh was a little dried out especially in the skinny legs and crab roe in the shell, but once you got to the flesh of the claws, it was sweet and moist.
Kangkung Tumis & Tempeh Goreng (Suateed Water Spinach & Fried Soybean Cake)
We couldn’t really eat all that seafood without some obligatory vegetables to balance out the meal. Here we chose to go with a very simple stir fried kangkung and fried tempeh which is made of whole soybeans. The tempeh completely unlike to the usual thinly sliced version most commonly found in Indonesian restaurants in Sydney though. Instead these were thickly cut which meant that while the outside was fried, the inside remained moist and soft.
Nakul Road 88 (Sunset Road), Bali, Indonesdia
P: 361 882 2000