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


Kaffir Lime Leaves

Pandan Leaves




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.

Meeting Julie

Another special day! About 2:00 I leave my key at the office, their signal that I’m ready for clean sheets, towels, and a light touch-up of the room, and head out. My mission: keep a 3:30 appointment with author, Julie Silvester. The directions she gave me take me along Monkey Forest Road lined with shops selling beautiful batiks, fine silver jewelry, wood carvings, musical instruments and art. I make note of several that require a return trip for serious shopping!

Around a long curve, up a hill, right at the 24 hour grocery to the reception desk, then another right along a narrow, walled walkway and I’m there. Julie sees me coming and welcomes me to her second floor bungalow. Sitting in the treetop balcony sipping Balinese coffee we chatter away. Then she suggests we walk over and see “the house” before the rain starts. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Julie has lived in Bali for two years and now she’s building her own home. I have read about its progress on her blog but I’m extremely eager to see it in person.

We walk to the building site, literally one house away. I make Julie stop on the path so I can snap a photo of her with the house in the background.

There are women sitting on bamboo scaffolding sanding the beams that support the roof over the balcony.

But the major work today is being done in the bathroom. She now has running water! Soon there will be a pond with fish, a rock wall with orchids growing from it, and a fountain.

As she leads me through the rooms, pointing out different features and reminding me to watch my step, her excitement is tangible. But when she shows me the giant sculpture crowning the intricately carved main door delight simply radiates from her face. Everything has been done by hand. The sculpture was just finished yesterday by a man, on bamboo scaffolding, carving the details into the plaster.


The tour is completed and as we leave she points out the detail at the end of each one of the roof tiles. They are frangipani blossoms, the crowning touch! I marvel at this labor intensive project. Everything has been done by hand. Imagine what that kind of work would cost in the U.S.

The tour completed we return to our coffee on the balcony. The sky has been a saturated gray all day and it looks as though it is getting ready to really pour. I have a bit of a walk home but before I leave I want to buy the book Julie co-authored with Steve Castley, A Taste of Bali. Julie has one signed and ready in no time. I tuck my autographed copy into my backpack and wave goodbye.

As I am nearing home I see the warm lights of Atman Cafe across the street. It looks so inviting and I feel a little hungry. About the time I step inside the heavens open and rain pours down in solid sheets. Curled up on a platform amid a profusion of pillows I engage in conversation with the woman next to me. She’s from Oregon and has been traveling for 3 months. I eat my tropical fruit with a sweet chili dressing (I can’t even tell you how delicious that is!) and sink into the deep sensation of contentment that envelopes me. About the time I finish eating the rain has slowed to a skin-moistening mist. I walk the three minutes home, retrieve my key from the office, and unlock the door to a fresh, clean room. Somebody pinch me!

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