The Night Market at Mas

Question:  What do you get when you cross a Hindu ceremony with a Balinese all night market?  Answer: Sensory overload!

When Ketut asked, “You want to go to different market?” and I responded “What is different?” I was operating on the assumption it would be the same kind of market in a different location. Assumptions. Ketut expanded, “Night time, whole night, by temple, big football field.” I sought further clarification, “You mean all night? 24/7? No close?” Yes, that is exactly what he meant.

Of course I want to go, and my friend, Nancy, who is visiting me from the U.S., wants to go too. I picture a series of small shops around the perimeter of a large open area beside a temple. Why does my mind do that? Why do I presume to know what to expect? I do it every time and every time I’m astonished by something so utterly and completely unexpected it blows my tiny mind.

At 6:00 p.m. we’re ready. We have our sarongs in a bag to tie on when necessary. Ketut arrives, takes one look and says, “Pasek already sarong.” Okay, we need to wear our sarongs. At 6:30 we are still struggling to wrap the 2 meters of fabric in a semi secure fashion that doesn’t include an unsightly bulge around the mid-section. We both look about 8 months pregnant. It isn’t working. Finally, sweating bullets and laughing because it beats crying, we agree to quit trying to make it perfect and just go. I’m packaged like a tootsie-roll pop. Walking is a challenge.

I start to mount the motorbike (sidesaddle of course) and Ketut patiently repositions me. Since they drive on the left side of the road it is less likely my protruding knees will snag a passing vehicle if they stick out on the left. (Yes, the oncoming traffic is THAT CLOSE!) I glance at Nancy. She has hiked up her much more loosely wrapped sarong and is straddling the back of of Pasek’s bike. She’s taking no chances.

My first clue that the Mas Night Market may be a cut above the norm is the traffic jam. Suddenly every motorbike in creation has converged on this point. As we inch our way forward I notice a temporary toll booth of sorts. It is a chair in the middle of the road with a sign on it. The attendant standing beside it collects the fee. And then I see them…rows upon rows of motorbikes lined up two deep as far as the eye can see on both sides of the street. Ketut and Pasek make a few adjustments to the arrangement and we’re parked. We join the throngs. The flowing sea of humanity reminds me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Here however, out of literally hundreds of people, Nancy and I are the ONLY tourists.

Nancy pauses outside the huge stone entrance to the temple area and Pasek waits just inside the gate

Pasek on the left, Nancy on the right and in the background a parade of people, all in ceremonial dress, bring  their offerings into the temple

In another area of the temple people sit amid flower petals praying

This altar is adorned with rich fabrics and loaded with offerings

I still hesitate to take photos in the temples during ceremonies. It feels intrusive and disrespectful. The Balinese are always gracious and invite snoopy folks to photograph whatever they want. So it may be just me. But I cringe when I see some guy in shorts with a telephoto lens as long as Pinocchio’s nose, climbing on whatever is handy however sacred it might be, shooting, shooting, shooting. At the very least wear a sarong…try! Fortunately there were none of those types around on this particular night.

We leave the other-worldliness of the temple and are thrust into the earthly business of buying and selling. Carried along with the flow, we pass blankets spread on the ground with mounds of lace fabrics. Women are pulling out colors they like and looking through the merchandise just as I would around a bargain table in the U.S. There are wind-up toys, watches, jeans, t-shirts, underwear, jewelry, sarongs, balloons, tennis shoes, sandals, motorbike parts, and food…lots and lots of food. The aroma from this particular warung cannot to be ignored. We try three different kinds of satays.

Making and selling satays in the Mas Night Market

And they are delicious…smokey, spicy, mouth wateringly delicious!

I’m lovin’ this fish satay. Pasek is being his stoic, patient self. He’s a saint!

I notice a stall where that beautiful feminine undergarment of torture, the corset, is on display in abundance. I need one. I have the sarong and the lacy kebaya, but to be 100% correct I need the strapless push-up-pull-in-rib-crushing corset to complete the look. In spite of the human current pushing me I slow way down. Pasek, a few steps ahead but ever-vigilant lest he lose one of us, is immediately beside me. “You want to buy?” Somehow the vision of one of those adorable little Balinese girls strapping me into the most intimate of undergarments in front of the gods, and Pasek, and everybody gives me pause. A corset that doesn’t fit is worse than no corset at all, and the retelling of the story of me being sausaged into one would provide enough entertainment in the village for weeks to come. What am I thinking!? Common sense surfaces and we move on.

There must be something about greasy fried food that triggers a neural response. The warungs selling heaps of piseng goreng (banana fritters) and other deep fat fried bready foods are like magnets. We cave to our salivating taste buds. I point to one heaping mound and two handfuls of the stuff goes into a bag. Before I can ask the price two heaping handfuls of something else goes into the bag. I started to speak but STOP!!! doesn’t seem appropriate so I watch in fascinated horror while the bag is filled with two or three handfuls of everything. It comes to a dollar.

We agree it is time to head back to the peaceful sanity of Ubud. The motorbikes are located and the Polisi directing traffic gets us safely on our way.

Leaving the night market

The ride home is uneventful in the best possible sense of the word. Pasek and Ketut join Nancy and me on the balcony for tea and mounds of greasy delights. I forgot to mention that each deep-fried handful was accompanied by two or three whole green chilies.  And what do you know…a bite of fritter and a bite of chili when chewed up together in the same mouthful…bliss!

Oh what a night!

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Snake for Breakfast

I’ll try just about anything once. This morning Ketut was excited. He would bring me a special Balinese breakfast, fruit and tea and…snake.  I’m sure my face registered an element of concern. I asked, “Is it a Balinese dish?” Ketut was all smiles, “Oh yes, makanan kecil, snake.” Well, I LOVE Balinese food and I also have an incredibly tolerant digestive system. “Okay,” I said, “Good! Snake for breakfast! Good!”

So while I’m waiting for this unusual treat to arrive I put on Balinese music and try not to think too hard about what might appear. When I am served fish it comes whole, head, fins, tail, and eyes. The eyes are the worst. I have yet to see a live snake in Bali. What might a breakfast snake look like?

Now, as a storyteller I’m about to do a flashback to yesterday morning. Ketut and Sudi, my neightbor, and I were pouring over the pictures in the Indonesian cookbook I had purchased. We were especially drawn to the large dessert section. They are works of art, and why wouldn’t they be? The same women who make these confections also create the amazing fruit arrangements for ceremonies and the decorations for weddings and cremations. They are a fabulously creative bunch. The photos were gorgeous, mouth-watering, and Ketut explained that all of these delights could be found at the early morning market. We chattered awhile longer then went our separate ways.

About this time (back to my story) I heard Ketut’s soft “Hallooo,” letting me know he had returned with breakfast. “Yes, masuk Ketut, come in…” I was sitting in my breakfast spot on the balcony. Ketut lowered the tray and WOW! In a flash I knew my mistake. The word Ketut had been meaning to say was SNACK! In Bali those dreamy desserts I had been drooling over the day before are called by the English word snack, not dessert, not snake! I started laughing hilariously, a thing I do a lot here. When I explained to Ketut what I had been expecting to appear for breakfast he lost it too. When he could finally talk again he said, “People eat snack, snake eat people!” Well, yes, sort of! And we laughed again.

Here’s the photo of my SNAKE BREAKFAST!

The morsel I found wrapped in the banana leaf was, oh my…delicious!  And the striped goodies were a close second. So life continues to be a series of delightful surprises and before a thought can even become a wish, it is granted.

Getting What You Want

Oh sweet success! Who would imagine what a thrill breakfast could be? I’ve been here three weeks and until now the first meal of the day has been a rotation of 1) scrambled eggs, toast, strawberry jam, and fruit, 2) omelete, toast, strawberry jam, and fruit, and 3) banana pancake and fruit. I shouldn’t complain. In Minnesota I ate steel cut oats and fruit 365 days a year and loved it! But here? I was beginning to see the months stretch out in endless repetition.

My first attempt at requesting a whole papaya, cut in half, skin on, and peanut butter for my toast turned out badly. I was served my regular breakfast but the bowl that usually included watermelon, pineapple, and banana had only chunks of papaya. A bubble of desperation formed in my throat. That afternoon I went to Ganesha Bookstore and bought an Indonesian Dictionary. As soon as I got home I looked up the words for butter and peanut. Selai kecang. Good. Moving right along I found words for papaya, skin on, cut in half, etc. etc. The complex mixture of consonants and vowels were baffling and overwhelming to me. I found Ketut in the garden, and with sign language and the dictionary I tried again. The next morning the egg was absent, and the papaya appeared in quarters, peeled, on a plate this time instead of a bowl, with toast and strawberry jam. We had gotten a teeny-tiny bit closer.

About that time the afternoon meals were encountering the same issues. I realized that if I wanted to enjoy the wonderful Balinese food that I love, I needed to accelerate the learning curve. I needed flash cards! On an outing to CoCo’s Supermarket, I found wooden ice cream spoons and began writing on them the new Indonesian words and phrases I was learning. Then I practiced, and practiced, and forced my atrophying brain to simply memorize all those unfamiliar sounds.

Studying my flash sticks.

Fortunately, Ketut is a willing tutor. Each morning I tried out my emerging language skills on his Balinese ears and noted the subtle corrections he made in my pronunciation. Sometimes he had to look at the Indonesian word I’d written to understand my version of it! Take for instance, peanut butter. I was pronouncing it see-lie ke-kang. The correct sounds are seh-lay ke-chang. No wonder it had not shown up with the toast! But I’m slowly making progress and he is getting steadily more adept at interpreting my pantomimes. Then this morning his patience and my persistence finally paid off!

Half a papaya with skin and toast with peanut butter!

Bliss! You cannot imagine my excitement and the expressions of gratitude I showered on poor Ketut in English and Indonesian and probably a little leftover Spanish that still hangs out in my memory banks. After I finished the delightful and long awaited breakfast I scurried off to CoCo’s Supermarket and snatched up four more packages of wooden ice cream spoons. Getting what you want, especially when it’s food, is a powerful motivator. Wasn’t it Pavlov…?

Balinese Feast and the Invisible Bee

I’ve been recuperating for two days. How do they do it? Chefs, cooks, women with large families? I spent one day cooking a Balinese meal for 13 and I am fortunate to be alive to tell about it.

Look at all those steaming pots! And the countertops are littered with other dishes all awaiting the finishing touches, a sauce here, a garnish there. I had a sneaking suspicion that there would be some strategic planning involved in an undertaking of this magnitude. So I spent several hours making a schedule of exactly when to do what. It saved my life. The plan was to prepare my very favorite Balinese dishes so that I could enjoy the flavors and share them with others. There was one small problem: I had too many favorites.

There are many things I am not, but stubborn isn’t on that list. I am doggedly persistent when I have a plan, and even though at about 2 p.m. when I realized I had not stopped for lunch and would not be able to if my time-line was going to work out, I refused to adjust my agenda. I was going to pull this thing off if it killed me! Diners were scheduled to arrive at 5:30. At 5:00 I left the messy array of food groups for 15 minutes to pull on a clean dress, jewelry, run a comb through my hair and dash back to my stove. I knew when people began to arrive there would be offers of help. There would be no delegating. My regimented schedule would not flex to that extent. If I paused to figure out how to tell someone else what to do it would throw me off my game. Guests had to stay out of the kitchen.

The sweet aroma of sauteed vegetables for curried tempeh wafted through the window to greet the arriving participants. I could hear muffled compliments as their voices floated into the kitchen from the open windows to the deck. I checked the clock…on time…good. I could hear happy chatter and the clink of wine glasses.

Then, suddenly, everything was done. How do you serve a plated meal to 13 people simultaneously? Hmmm. You don’t, at least not without help. At that precise moment Dan, Jessa, and Nancy walked in. They took one look at my panic stricken face and said, “Tell us what to do!” For the next five minutes my support team packed rice into cup size molds and turned it out onto plates, scooped green beans with gado-gado sauce and sprinkled peanut garnish adding a plop of carmelized onion to the rice mound. After strategically placing two perfectly browned tofu satays next to the rice, a scoop of curried tempeh was added and the finished product was rushed out to the drooling guests while the assembly line prepared the next two plates.

There was a moment when I paused to look at the results, to actually see what was leaving the kitchen. You know what? It looked like what it was, Nasi Campur, red rice surrounded by Balinese delights.

It was an adventure and now I can say, “Been there, done that.” I won’t be applying for a job cooking. I may not want to chop, dice, mince, or slice anything for a very, very long time. And when I return to Bali I will have a profound reverence for the wonderful people who feed me.

Now I have to double up on my yoga routine. I see how quickly and habitually I fall into old patterns of performance, striving, perfection. The beautiful tranquility that permeated my being when I first arrived home from Bali disappears in a flash.

So I’m off this morning to the Invisible Bee yoga studio to return to my centered self and recapture peace of mind.

“Look how desire has changed in you, how light and colorless it is, with the world growing new marvels because of your changing. Your soul has become an invisible bee”…Rumi

Shopping Bali Style

I have a week left so what’s uppermost in my mind? Shopping, of course. What do I want to bring back that will remind me of these leisurely, sun drenched days, the tantalizing smells, the sounds, and food, the glorious food! I decided, having taken the cooking class, that being able to recreate Balinese dishes I love when I get home would be a really great idea. So I made a list of ingredients then narrowed it down to the ones that I’ve never, ever, in all my years of grocery shopping, seen in a Minnesota grocery store. Here’s the list:

Pandanus extract

Palm sugar

Asam

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Pandan Leaves

Suji

Galangal

Belecan

Tamarind Pulp

Photo by Ollie L.

Armed with my list I headed resolutely for CoCo’s Supermarket and made a bee-line for the spices. I poured over the labels then poured over them again. Nothing. One of the adorable twelve-year-old employees (they look so young) asked if she could help me. Gratefully I showed her my list. She painstakingly read through each word, then headed down an aisle at the end of which was a stunning fifteen-year-old (maybe 18). The younger girl handed the list to this new one with a string of Balinese words by way of explanation. The young lady read it and we were off again to presumably find the manager who turned out to be a male of indiscernible age. This time I got answers. “We have no leaves,” he said first. Then took off with me in hot pursuit. He found the belecan and the palm sugar. Hurray! Two down! Then told me to go to the market early in the morning. They will have leaves.  So these are fresh leaves? They aren’t dried leaves? “Oh no,” he assured me. “Fresh leaves.” Silly me. I had pictured something like dried basil leaves in a sealed container that would easily clear U.S. Customs. For some reason custom’s officials do not look kindly on REAL foliage being smuggled onto U.S. soil. Well, that saves me the early morning trip to the market. As for the other five missing ingredients…I will stop by Dayu’s Warung tomorrow and ask Dayu where she gets these exotic potions. I’ll also ask what I can substitute for leaves. They’re her recipes, after all! If anyone knows the answers she will.

The rest of my shopping was delightful. I’ve always enjoyed the art of negotiation. Here in Bali it is expected. I wanted a hand-made batik fabric. I found the shop I was looking for where the woman makes them herself, and the process began. How much? “Oh for you, special discount, 20%, more if you take two.” I only took one and ended up getting it for about 1/2 of the original quoted price. It takes awhile, you have to be so sorry, maybe tomorrow, start to leave, then you find out the real price. It doesn’t matter if the price is marked on a tag on the item. That is what I would call the “suggested starting price.” There are, perhaps, some exceptions. The high end hotel shops probably would look down their noses if someone attempted to bargain. But in the hundreds of small retail cubbyholes that line Hanoman St. and Monkey Forest Road you can get some fabulous buys.

Then a silver shop reached out and grabbed me. Oh I hate it when that happens! I love rings. I’ve been looking for a particular ring for years…truly…years. And today I found it “No!” I told myself. “You are shopping for gifts. Gifts are for other people.” I tried oh so hard to resist. I didn’t even attempt to negotiate. I didn’t say a word. I just kept fighting with my conscience and the quieter I became the lower the price dropped! I kept shaking my head, “Oh, no, no, I can’t…” and it dropped 100 thousand rupiah. “Please, stop!” down another 50,000. Finally I was afraid if I didn’t buy it they were just going to give it to me. It is fabulous! After looking at so many rings you begin to know the ones that are one-of-a-kind, designed and crafted by an artist in the Balinese style.

So tomorrow I will visit another kind of store. They are everywhere and they’re called Money Changers. Then I’ll continue shopping for Other People.

Directionally Challenged Meets Cuke as Fruit

To suggest that I am directionally challenged is a kindness. In truth, if there is a wrong way to go, I will find it. Its a gift. Today was no exception so its good that I had no particular place to be and no particular time to be there. My goal was to try a different restaurant, one that I had never visited before, in a different part of Ubud. After wandering for about 3/4 of a mile I saw Gayatri Cafe with a broad doorway and a little bridge over a coi pond. That’s my kind of aesthetic.

The menu was displayed on a stand at the entrance and there were plenty of Indonesian dishes to choose from. I’ve found its best to stick with the local fare. Why would I order Italian food or a Mexican burrito in Bali? I’ve seen the looks on the faces of tourists who make that mistake.

It was as pleasing inside as it was from the street. I took this shot just before the whole place filled up with hungry diners. The sweet servers in their Balinese sarongs and long shirts were delightful and this one graciously allowed her photo to be taken holding my banana/papaya smoothie.


As I sipped the delicious drink and waited for the main course, Kare Sayur (Curried Vegetables) the sun slipped behind clouds and a torrential downpour lasting all of four and a half minutes watered the already lush landscape. Most of the restaurants in Ubud are open to nature. Very few choose to shut it out and refrigerate it.

My dish arrived with a towering cone of rice! “Mt. Agung.” my server explained, then laughed. Mt. Agung is one of four volcanoes on Bali and is home to the mother temple, Besakih. My taste buds were poised and ready for the rich curry sauce and I was not disappointed. Polishing off the last flavorful carrot, I remembered seeing a page of desserts in that menu. This really has to stop…tomorrow!

I selected Rujak Manis, a fruit bowl with a chili tamarind sauce. Now last time I read my fruit chart I did not notice cucumber included in the list. This fruit salad definitely contained cucumber…papaya, pineapple, melon, and cucumber. I’m not sold on the cuke as a fruit. I am much more comfortable with it in the vegetable family. So, I’m sad to say, this dessert failed the taste test.

Stuffed to the gills, I paid the cashier and exited the Cafe. Why did I not pay attention and make a mental note to self like “Go Right When You Leave” before I went in? I went left. Of course I did. And it was the wrong way. Of course it was. But you know what? This is just another one of those little glitches that make me who I am, and my new mantra is:  I’m okay with that!

What a day!

It’s 6:30 a.m. Light rain is falling as I head down a deserted Hanoman Street. For days now I have allowed the morning rain to deter me from walking to the Yoga Barn for the 7 a.m. Early Bird Yoga class. It is one of the few Level 1 classes offered and my body is happiest at Level 1. I am the third to arrive. I take a mat, blocks, and a blanket and make my way to the far side of the room settling into a seated, meditative state. When I again open my eyes, the room is filled. There are, at quick glance, at least 20 people on their mats, waiting. The class is perfect, flowing from one pose to the next, fluidly, slowly, with the breath. I leave, calmed and energized.

Back to my homestay for breakfast and a quick change of clothes, then I’m off to the market. The sky is now a brilliant blue with bright sunshine. I gaze upward and can’t resist this shot. Who says you can’t take a picture directly into the sun?!

One must be mentally and physically prepared for a visit to the market. As with markets everywhere (with the possible exception of stoic Budapest) I am accosted every step of the way with, “Miss, a sarong today? A beautiful sarong?” “Miss, silver bracelet for you? Silver jewelry?” “Miss, Miss, good price for you today!” I find that the best answer is to respond in a sing-song voice, “Not today…thank you.” Most often I get a sing-song “Thank you…” in return. Sometimes I hear, “Miss, tomorrow?” I smile and move on.

The air here doesn’t move. There are offerings and incense at every vendor’s stall. I’ve wormed my way deep into the bowels of the marketplace. In the mid-day Bali heat I start feeling slightly woozy. I find my way to a balcony and inhale a deep breath of fresh air.

Yes. All those rooftops house more of the market. I wonder how many of the thousands of sarongs available here are sold on a given day, or how many of the I “heart” Bali T-shirts?

Finally, 200% over-stimulated, I look for an exit and escape. Uh oh! This street isn’t familiar. I go back inside, wend my way in the opposite direction, or as close to that as possible, and emerge somewhere else. Once again outside I recognize a landmark. The Oops Bar. I strike out confidently in the wrong direction. After a short distance I realize my mistake and make the necessary correction. I am heading for the Wayan Cafe, sweet oasis in the midst of sensory overload. It is a fair distance from the market but, dripping with sweat, I am bound and determined that a long, leisurely lunch there is just reward for the trials I have endured.

My persistence pays off. I ask the blue turbaned attendant if there is an available table in the garden. He invites me to go in and choose for myself. As I follow the winding path through rich foliage bursting with blossoms, I hope that I will find the perfect spot, secluded and tranquil. I pass many opportunities for seating but they aren’t quite what I’m hoping for. Then, on my right, is a high platform with a thatched roof overlooking a lovely lotus pond. It sits all by itself as if just waiting for me to find it. I remove my sandals and ascend the platform, sinking gratefully into the cushions.

And now the part my “foodie” friends have been waiting for. You know who you are! The menu is extensive and every dish delectable. I decide on an iced latte to start. The smiling blue turban appears and wallah! Iced coffee.

I’ve decided on an Indonesian dish called Cap Cay (pronounced Chop Chay) for my main course. It is described as “cabbages, carrot, cauliflower, onion, and green vegetables in  a red sweet chili garlic sauce served with plain rice.”
My mouth waters and my stomach rumbles anticipating the flavors.

Oh delight! I am not disappointed. I savor every mouthful and wonder how I will summon the capacity for dessert. Exercising tremendous restraint, I do not lick the bowl. My happy attendant returns to remove the empty dishes and I tell him I must have dessert but I will have to wait a bit. “Take your time,” he says. I’m grateful for that. It is the perfect opportunity to take a few more photos of my idyllic surroundings.

The view to my right…

The view to my left…

And the view straight ahead. I’ve studied the dessert menu and, much against my better judgement, I order two: coconut meringue pie and green tea ice cream. The ice cream comes first. It is every bit as refreshing as it looks.

Yes, I should have stopped there. But Wayan Cafe is also a bakery. One should never leave without tasting at least one of their specialty desserts. Their coconut meringue pie is a pastry lovers dream.

The pie arrives. Gorgeous! I manage to polish off the whole thing. Did you have any doubt?

Reluctantly I know the time has come to leave my little island of calm and head home.

I thank my server again and slowly take myself and my very full belly, down off the platform and back through the serene gardens and home. It has been quite a day and it’s only 3 p.m. I make myself comfortable on the balcony with my laptop and find the place in the Word document where I left my protagonist hanging yesterday. The story starts to unfold in my mind and my fingers follow it, clicking over the keys.

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