Behold! Bawdy and Bold, the Banana!

My slice of heaven opens to a view of banana trees. At no time in the Minnesota years did I ever see a banana tree, not in the wild, and not in captivity. Even the Como Park Conservatory, that fantasy of tropical jungle under glass where I’d go in the dead of winter to be reassured that green still existed somewhere on the planet, didn’t sport a banana tree. I knew oaks, maples, an assortment of evergreens, and could tell the difference between birches and poplars. But when sliced banana appeared on my morning cereal, I didn’t think to wonder what sort of growth it sprouted from.

In Bali, there’s a new world of tropical flora to learn.  Unlike shy Minnesota flowers, Bali blooms are showy and bold, but when I noticed an extra large, bulbous, purple appendage dangling under a broad-leafed canopy, I stared in bewildered wonder.

P1090871“What’s that?” I point at the mutant growth that seems to have materialized in my garden overnight.

“Banana flower,” Ketut says.

“It doesn’t look like a banana, why would anyone name it that?”

“No,” he’s patient as always. “That flower make banana.”

I zoom in with my camera and, sure enough. Atop the eggplant color is a green fingerling hair-do, parted in the middle.

P1090874And above that are delicate flowers that look like rows of orchids.

P1090872It’s like watching grass grow on fast forward. Each day the flower looks more and more banana-like.

P1020806Until finally,

P1020802the bunch is ready for harvest.

Fascinated by watching the exotic transformation from flower to fruit, I do a little research and learn some interesting banana facts:

The banana is a berry.

There are over 370 varieties of banana. Some estimate closer to 1000.

A banana stem, such as shown in the last picture above, can weigh up to 110 pounds and have 3 to 20 tiers with up to 20 bananas on each tier.

The banana tree matures, bears once, then dies, but before that happens, a new shoot has already sprung up from the base. In this sense, the banana is a perennial.

Bananas are naturally, slightly radioactive due to their potassium content.

In Bali, the entire tree is utilized. Small squares cut from the leaves form the base for daily house offerings. Food is wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. A piece of the waxy green leaf often doubles as a dinner plate. The trunk is soft and is fed to livestock or used as the center of the offering towers to secure the pyramid of fruits.

I’ve always loved the flavor, texture, and sweetness of bananas. But since moving to their native habitat, I’ve come to respect the prominent role they play in every nuance of Balinese life. P1090642And when Ketut brings me a plate of banana fritters with shaved palm sugar, and says, “Enjoy!” believe me, I do, every melt-in-your-mouth tantalizing morsel!

A Man in My Kitchen (Part 2)

Yes, I am fixated on food lately. Understandably so. It’s the first time I’ve had a kitchen in Bali. And just setting the record straight from the get-go, I’m NOT complaining about that! Being served every meal is the stuff of dreams. But even better than that, is a man cooking for me IN MY KITCHEN! That, my friends, is the ultimate.

The other day I had a dirth of bananas on hand. Ketut stopped in to ask if I wanted him to cook. Mind you, he is no longer my personal attendant. Ibu came with my new house and she’s a delight. But she leaves by 10 or 11 in the morning and after that I fend for myself. That is until Ketut pops his head in and checks up on me.

Back to the bananas. I love pisang goreng (banana fritters Bali style) but didn’t know how to make them. I barely had the words, pisang goreng, out of my mouth and Ketut set to work.

He found the rice flour, unopened. What do I know about rice flour?

He found the rice flour, unopened. What do I know about rice flour?

P1020969

He dumped some flour into this small dish, added a little water, then cracked an egg on top.

Adding about a teaspoon of sugar he explained it didn't need much. "Banana already sweet," he said.

Sprinkling about a teaspoon of sugar over all, he explained that it didn’t need much. “Banana already sweet,” he said.

He stirred it into a thick, golden batter.

Then he stirred until it became a smooth, thick, golden batter.

He peeled and cut the bananas lengthwise, approximately in thirds.

He peeled and cut the bananas lengthwise, approximately in thirds.

And spooned the batter over them until they were well coated.

And spooned the batter over them until they were well coated.

By now the wok was sizzling with hot oil. Ever so gently, he settled each batter-coated banana slice into the pan.

By now the wok was sizzling with hot oil. Ever so gently, he settled each batter-coated banana slice into the pan.

When they were a delicate gold tinged with brown on one side, he flipped them.

When they were a delicate gold tinged with brown on one side, he flipped them.

Then he slid them up the edge of the wok and onto the plate. There wasn't a grease spatter anywhere!

Then he slid them up the edge of the wok and onto the plate. The man has smooth moves.  There wasn’t a grease spatter anywhere!

Where was my camera for the finale?! We each had two of these marvelous creations, bathed in coconut cream with shaved palm sugar on top. Groan.  

While we were eating on the platform overlooking the banana palms in my jungle garden, he told me about the banana tree. It only bears once, then dies. But by the time it has completed its life cycle, there are many new trees already coming up from its roots. In Bali, Ketut tells me, it is symbolic of a man’s great love for one woman. Where a man in the West might say, “You’re my one and only,” in Bali he would say, “My love for you is like a banana tree!”

A word of advice: men, don’t try this phrase at home. It may not translate well. Just whip up a batch of pisang goreng…don’t forget the coconut cream and palm sugar. That, I guarantee, she will understand!

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