Slow Stories

by Cat Wheeler

Mindful Dining

Mindful Dining

One of the pleasures of being in Bali is the amazing range of wonderful food that’s available in the tourist areas. You name it – Indonesian, French, Turkish, Cuban, Chinese, Thai, Indian, vegetarian – someone is making it, usually quite well. It’s all very pleasant… and very anomalous. There must be very few places in the developing world where international diners expect and receive this level of dining quality and diversity.

But where are the ingredients for all this food coming from? The four corners of the earth: North and South America, Australia, Europe, even Africa. There’s something very wrong with this picture. Much — maybe most — of the food on the plates of Bali’s better restaurants is produced industrially (you can’t produce food intensively without chemical inputs) and travels tens of thousands of kilometres. Actually, quite a lot of it could be produced right here.

The restaurant business, like any other, is about profits. Often this means a compromise on the quality of ingredients. Take chicken, for example. PT Superhygiene produces the only chemical-free, humanely raised and slaughtered, and hygienically processed chicken that’s commercially available on Bali. But most ‘health food’ cafes and the higher end restaurants buy industrially raised chicken from Java because it’s cheaper. Yes, the good stuff costs more. Yes, it’s worth it. Just don’t eat it as often.

“We would like to see restaurants and cafes in Ubud participate in this real food movement, as they do in many other parts of the world,” says PT Superhygiene manager Tri Sutrisna. “It would be good if the community supported what we’re doing. It’s very challenging raising free range chickens here, especially during the wet season, but we really believe in what we’re doing.” Omnivores might find it interesting to ask their favourite cafe or restaurant whether it serves industrially produced chicken or real chicken. You’ll probably find that most don’t know how or where the chicken they serve was raised, or what it was fed.

“How many of Bali’s food and restaurant reviewers ever even think to ask and inform their readers about a restaurant’s food sourcing credentials?” a local foodie recently demanded. “The single biggest input about food, its origin, is routinely omitted as irrelevant. Reviewers here are increasingly out of step with the world food movement.”

Ubud-based Slow Food Bali, established in 2009, promotes good, clean, fair food. That means food that is fresh and wholesome, grown locally without chemicals, and with fair return to the producer. It holds regular educational events and supports a number of projects. See www.slowfoodbali to become a member and help create or participate in one of its projects.

One of Slow Food Bali’s goals is to create a bridge to market for farmers who are growing clean food but lack connections with consumers and restaurants. (I seldom use the word ‘organic’ because of its many interpretations.) The success of this concept would depend on strong relationships between producers and consumers, especially chefs. Farmers need help to meet Western expectations; growing high quality vegetables is a fairly new concept in Bali. If anyone out there is or would like to be involved in this, please contact me.

Slow Food Bali’s Snail of Approval program awards certificates to restaurants which can demonstrate that they use at least 75% local (Indonesian) ingredients, pay their staff fairly and responsibly dispose of their waste. This year Bali Buda, Bali Silent Retreat, Batan Waru, Juice Ja, Plantation at Alila Ubud, Sari Organik, Warung Schnitzel and The Elephant won their Snails. Slow Food members from around the world (there are about 185,000 internationally) have been known to check the SFB website and select Snail restaurants for their Ubud holidays. If you know of restaurants that may comply with Snail standards, please let me know.

The world wide Slow Food movement is about locavorism, a concept thought to have been coined in 2005 and noted in the Oxford American dictionary in 2007. Locavores choose to eat seasonal, chemical–free foods which are produced within a reasonable distance of where they live. There’s some debate about whether locavorism is a good thing or not, with most of the argument coming from the context of the United States. Here in Bali we are looking at a very different set of circumstances; doesn’t it make a lot more sense to source quality ingredients from Indonesia than to fly them in from Chile or France?

Why eat locally produced food? We know what we’re eating by buying from known chemical-free growers. The food is fresher and more nutritious. We support our local community of growers and producers and reduce carbon footprint. Because it’s not produced on an industrial scale, this food may not be cheaper. As with everything else, we pay more for quality.

I know it’s not realistic for tamu here to eat 100% Indonesian-grown foods. We need our olive oil, butter and cheese. This is not about a perpetual diet of brown rice and mung beans, it’s about being more conscious of where our food comes from and making more thoughtful choices in our daily purchases and dining choices.

And it doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Restaurant Locavore, which opened its doors in October on Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud, is already a hit with local expats and visitors. Chefs Eelke and Ray, who ran an outstanding kitchen together at Alila Ubud, are passionately committed to creating intriguing menus using local produce as well as chicken, pork, duck, rabbit and fish with very little imported input. Restaurant Locavore proves beyond argument that it’s possible to achieve international-level fine dining in Bali using over 90% quality local ingredients, and the food is both fabulous and affordable.

“The concept of locavorism has been increasingly popular in the west since 2005, but still new to Indonesia where most chefs rely on expensive imported ingredients,” says Sumatran-born Ray Adriansyah who trained in New Zealand. “By developing lasting relationships with local producers and starting our own farm, we ensure our guests the freshest of seasonal produce and ethically fed meat animals. We are proud to support local farmers and food artisans.” Batan Waru, Locavore, Juice Ja and Sari Organik (and soon the Elephant) are some Ubud restaurants that maintain their own farms to ensure fresh, high quality ingredients.

More quality local food and drinks are appearing these days. Several cafes in Ubud are now featuring Indonesia Arabica, which The Coffee Review claims to be the single malt of the coffee world. And thank heaven for Plaga — a drinkable, affordable local wine at last! Slow Food Bali has a working group studying the production of hard and soft goat cheese. There’s an experimental project in North Bali researching the production on gluten-free flours. I’m sure there’s much more going on, and I’d love to hear about it.

I’m not the only one on this soapbox, by the way.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has just released its Review for 2013. Its third Key Message reads as follows, “The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development from a ‘green revolution’ to an ‘ecological intensification’ approach. This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependant industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small scale farmers.”

So there.

Well, that’s my final rant for 2013, Gentle Reader. Bless you all, and let’s vote with our forks for high quality, locally produced food in 2014.


Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available from :

- Ganesha Books in Ubud, Sanur and Seminyak

- Amazon downloadable for Kindle



Copyright © 2013 Greenspeak


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