Kitchen Sessions: Bali

It's always been fascinating to know where Chef Will Meyrick headed for his next culinary journey. Why? Because he'll soon shares his journey, either in his travel blog, or in a Kitchen Sessions at one of his beautiful premises in Bali; Sarong in Petitenget, and Mama San in Seminyak. And Sarong this year, again receives a worthy notation in Asia's Mielle Guide Top 20 Restaurants 2013.

While he travels mostly around Asian countries, his recent trip is quite in the neighborhood: Bali. Was I ecstatic? For sure, Balinese culinary style has a lot of potentials, and I'm curious on how he will represent those into a fine dining cuisine.

The Visit

Mama San looks gorgeous in the afternoon; with its facade facing west, the setting sun creates this long shadows of everything, and bathed the restaurant's interior in its golden yellow rays.

Raechel was already there, in conversation with another guest for the Kitchen Sessions that night. After being introduced, I excused myself to capture the beautiful moments.

Since Chef Palm Amatawet was already manning his station, so I greeted him and managed to capture this picture of him in action, with his signature wide smile.

While waiting for all the guests to arrive, we were presented with this Balinese finger food which made from the spicy tangy Ayam Pelalah, wrapped in Betel Nut leaf and created this wonderful taste mix. (I eat three or four portions by the way; that good!).

The Dinner

As the food is ready, and all the guests seated, Will Meyrick greeted us, and as usual gave us introduction on the dinner theme for that night. Kitchen Sessions: Bali was born out of his interest in the cuisine of his own neighborhood, his home: Bali. He also explained that everything presented on that dinner are still using original Balinese seasoning; no messing around with the ingredients, and what he's altering is only its composition and balance.

"What you'll be missing though, are plates that wiped with dirty napkins, and food that's prepared with same hands used in handing out changes money to the buyers" said Will Meyrick jokingly.

Will also made a special note that all of the dishes recipe for that evening are came, from Sarong's own "secret weapon", Balinese Chef Budiana. Having been working together for so many years, Will is eager to introduce Budiana. This is important especially with him busy preparing the launching of his latest creation "E&O" in Mega Kuningan Jakarta, Budiana will be overseeing Will's homebase during he's away.

While Hendra is quite camera-conscious :), I couldn't get a good shot in such low lighting, so please excuse this rather candid shot of Chef Budiana. 

As with the dinner menu, for you familiar with Balinese cuisine then you'll find them easily recognizable: common, everyday sold Balinese dishes, right from the streets of Bali. Ready for the journey? Here we go:

Sup Kepala Ikan (Fish Head Soup)

I've read somewhere that serving whole fish to a westerner is a crazy idea, since westerners don't eat a face, hence a fish head soup must be a big no no. Well I had to admit that once, the idea of eating something's face is gross for me too, however after curiosity took over and I got introduced into Balinese Fish Head soup, there's no turning back.

Once you managed to "learn" it (ow yeah baby, it's an acquired taste), consistent with the rules that once a food with an acquired taste is liked, there's no substitute to it; now Fish Head Soup is among my favorite Balinese dishes.

Mama San's fish head soup though, came in a more subtle appearance: sliced snapper meat, in the familiar taste of Balinese fish head soup. What's different though, and I almost moaned out in excitement, is the flavor tuning that introduces heavy amount of sourness; something that's missing from its street food cousins.

The snapper meat itself is succulent and smooth, easily one of the most beautiful dish of that dinner.

For those who prefer the genuine eating experience of a fish head soup though, there's a whole snapper head presented on the table as well. However I hold myself from devouring the dish as eating a whole fish head requires time, patience, and sloppy hands; while the dinner is still early and I didn't want the gigantic head to stall my progress.

I did managed though, to scoop one of its eyes out, and devour the gelatinous fillings inside. A habit that turned out Raditya on the next seat fancy as well.

Udang Bakar Bumbu Plecing (Grilled Prawn in Plecing Sauce)

Coming up next, Will Meyrick's experiment on Plecing sauce. Well known for its super spicy flavor, Plecing applied at the dinner was resided on a more moderate level, meaning you still get the flavorful character of Plecing without having to sweat all over it.

The Udang Bakar Bumbu Plecing itself was accompanied by the Pepes Klengis (snapper with roasted coconut sediment), and Lawar Rumput Laut (Seaweed salad) which closely resembles Pulau Serangan's Jukut Bulung.

The grilled prawn itself tasted a degree too raw for my taste, since it still has this amaebi (sweet shrimp sushi) flesh character, but the dish itself is again, easy to like.

Serapah Sapi With Sup Buntut Ares (Beef Serapah with Banana stem and oxtail soup)

Among the dish I haven't been able to taste during my 3+ years of living in Bali, is Serapah; while it's name immediately reminds me of cursing ("sumpah serapah" means cursing in Indonesian), and on second thought it reminds me of a giraffe (Jerapah in Indonesia), this dish remotely resembles those two. It's a very exotic dish that immediately screams "rustic" and "delicious" at the same time.

The use of beef short ribs is perfect in this dish, since its strong beefy aroma mixes well with this Balinese version of black-pepper sauce. Its unique moderate peppery spiciness is the result of using Balinese Long Pepper.

What I found beautiful as well is the inclusion of chunky slices of kikil into the dish which adds to the texture.


Next came the iconic dish of Balinese cuisine: Lawar. Usually presented only in traditional ceremonies, it finds way some while ago into everyday meal.

Still considered challenging by some, Lawar is a wonderful dish that truly represents Balinese taste; you should try this at least once in your visits to Bali.

The pork Lawar as pictured above, praised by many of the Balinese-based guest as really delicious. As for myself on the other hand, considering that was the first time I encountered Lawar too (now I admit it), can't make a comparison but found my beef Lawar really enjoyable. What I recognized immediately though, is the taste and aroma of corned beef, and strong traces of fried shallots.

Bebek Betutu (Balinese Roasted Duck)

What came next is the gigantic leaf parcel with burn marks, that emits a lovely herbal scent: it's the Bebek Betutu; Balinese Roasted Duck.

Preparing it on the other hand, was quite tricky, carving a Bebek Betutu it is not an easy feat, even for the experienced people at Mama San. Well some dishes are best eaten bare hand though, that's for sure.

Taste wise however, it's among the most succulent, creamy, smooth poultry I've ever had. With the smokey aroma sneaks in between the duck's mellow taste, and flavors lent by its herb-rich stuffing, it's another favorite from the dinner that night.

The Jukut Undis soup that accompanied the dish was also a good pairing; flavorful without being overpowering, it's among Balinese dishes that deserves more attention.

The cassava leaves in base genep seasoning is another good treat, but it just couldn't shake off the lingering taste of Bebek Betutu.


To close our dinner, there's a variety of Jajan Bali usually found in traditional markets; however they're done with better ingredients so it was a new experience as well.

Some of the guests found them too sweet and they're maybe right, but taste wise they're simply good. A good closure to the taste journey Kitchen Sessions: Bali delivers that night.

The Aftermath

As always, some of the menu tasted in Kitchen Sessions will make it to Mama San's regular menu, while some don't. As winners of that dinner I'd surely recommends Bebek Betutu, Sup Kepala Ikan, and Serapah. The other dishes are wonderful but for me those three each represents the succulent, tangy, and robust character of Balinese cuisine.

And it's nice to see how a common daily Balinese dishes could be transformed into a fine dining experience, while still retaining its original characters. Thank you for the invitation Chef! (byms)


Unknown said...

Wow! This is a complete food review. I am a foodie as well, and this experience reminded me to my previous job!

Unknown said...

Must be wonderful... or stressful? ;-) A lot of good eats certainly.