And…The Woman In My Kitchen

I’ll get to the woman in my kitchen, but first: Galungan. There is no translation for that word. It is what it is, a sequence of days in the life of Balinese Hindus that represent weeks of preparation, the assembling of massive penjors to adorn the streets, and elaborate offerings. The belief is that the spirits of the ancestors visit their original homes during this time. Extensive offerings are made in observence of their return. Offerings are also made on the graves of family members who have died and have not yet been cremated. Business slows to a crawl, schools are closed, and the village concentrates on the events surrounding this sacred period.

Ibu informed me early that my house offerings this week would be “Mahal!” (expensive) because of Galungan. Expensive. When I quizzed her for exact numbers, the typical $3.50/week for the beautiful creations that she places around the house and yard every day would be a whopping $5.00. I happily shelled out the additional rupiah and eagerly awaited the auspicious date.

She had drawn an elaborate diagram on the tablecloth with her finger showing me exactly where each offering would be placed and how many were required at each location. How do the woman keep all the endless details of the hundreds of ceremonies tucked neatly away in their heads? I have seen Ibu studying the Balinese calendar hanging on my wall. Every Balinese home  and place of business has one. In the west, we pencil our appointments and ‘to dos’ in the blank space around the dates. Not so on the Balinese calendar. It’s filled in for you.

P1030138

Balinese Calendar for March

I’m guessing there may be some hints in the massive amounts of information contained in this document that would help jog the memory. It doesn’t help mine!

But back to Galungan…

I watched as the 67 year old woman made her way along the path to my house. She was in full ceremonial dress, but her sarong was wet up to the knees. Every morning she wades the river to come here. I knew the huge, square woven basket on her head was filled with gifts for the gods. Ibu began the process of sorting and arranging the offerings. Some have fruit. Bananas are an important offering ingredient for Galungan. All have flowers. And there are celophane packages of treats, cupcakes, doughnuts, peanut chips, and little vials of…could it be…jello?! After arranging the proper items in the offering bowls and trays, Ibu began.

Ibu sprinkling holy water

She dips the flower in the holy water and sprinkles each offering

The dining table offering

The dining table offering

The top of the refigerator offering

The top of the refigerator offering

The kitchen window offering (so only good things come in)

The kitchen window offering (so only good things come in)

The stove offering

The stove offering

Ibu was in the kitchen for a long time. When she finished, that tiny space had no less that four beautiful offerings. She completed her rounds, offerings at either side of both the back and front entrances to my home, the front and back yard, the altar, until the scent of incense was sweet and thick in the humid air.

Having completed the ritual she changed into her work clothes and again disappeared into the kitchen. This time when she emerged she had a treat for me. Pisang Lawi. I had never seen this dish before but it is now my favorite treat.

Pisang lawi, banana dumplings with fresh shaved coconut and a sprinkling of sea salt. TO DIE FOR!!!

Pisang Lawi, banana dumplings with fresh shaved coconut and a sprinkling of sea salt. TO DIE FOR!!!

We sat together on the platform, each with our heaping plate and steaming cup of Bali Kopi. A friend stopped by who has been in Bali much longer than I have and Ibu rushed to prepare the treat for her, too. She had never exprienced this particular dish before and gushed her enjoyment.

I could try to suggest that I, too, cook in my kitchen, but what I do is a sorry excuse. I heat up leftovers of the fabulous meals that others have prepared for me. I tried, I really did. And I’ll try again…maybe. But with experts who can whip up such things as this in a heartbeat, without scouring the internet for recipes, translating the ingredients into Indonesian, snagging a lift on the back of a motorbike to the market, then fumbling through the unfamiliar equipment that occupies my kitchen…I ask myself, why would I?

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shanemac
    Mar 28, 2013 @ 06:52:36

    Sherry, I’d like to try making the pisang lawi after reading your rave reviews but I can’t find a recipe. Can you tell us how to make it?
    And, by the way, your description of galungan is wonderful and so accurate. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Mar 28, 2013 @ 09:38:22

      I’ve watched her take the regular rice flour and mix enough water to make a fairly thick batter. Then she coats the bananas thoroughly and slides them carefully into a large wok of shallow (1 1/2 inches deep) gently boiling water. She only does 3 or 4 at a time, flipping them once. When cooked, she slides them out onto a plate, has already grated about half a coconut and she covers the dumplings with what would amount to a good 1/2 cup of fresh grated coconut, then sprinkles it liberally with sea salt. That’s it! I hope it works for you.

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  2. jessa
    Mar 28, 2013 @ 15:54:28

    Mom, You must be in absolute heaven these days…considering your lifelong love of bananas! 🙂 J

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  3. Carole and Dale McLachlan
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:03:48

    Fun to read Sounds delicous

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  4. Nancy Braun
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 15:20:26

    The offerings are so elaborate. Just beautiful.
    My daughter Elizabeth is taking a gap year and one of the programs she is considering is in Indonesia.
    Would you email me? I may head to your part of the world if she is there for a semester. Best, Nancy

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