Bendik and Rakel – a love story – of sorts

Unlike my paternal grandfather, I love bananas.

Grandpa Bendik was born to a farming family in Førde, Norway, in 1881. He had a sweetheart, Rakel, on a nearby farm and they wanted to marry. But Grandpa wasn’t satisfied with what he could offer his intended, so he set sail for America to better himself.

As the story goes, the first thing he saw when he landed was a vendor selling bananas. Unfamiliar with the fruit, he failed to peel it before chomping through the tough outer skin. He spit it out and never touched the ‘foul stuff’ again.

This tale has a happy ending. He found work, went home, married Rakel, and brought his new bride to the land of the free. They bought land and built a house in northern Minnesota where they raised twelve children. Number seven was my father.

It’s too bad Grandpa didn’t give bananas another try, although they probably weren’t readily available in northern Minnesota in the early 1900’s. But by 1950, when I was born, they were, and from first taste I was hooked.

Bali has at least forty-two different varieties of bananas and I am addicted to pisang merah, the red ones.

Pisang goreng was one of the first things I ate upon my arrival eight years ago. This isn’t just a naked banana plopped in hot oil. It’s a naked banana, sliced and dipped in batter, then plopped in hot oil, fried, and served with palm sugar and sometimes, if you’re lucky, grated fresh coconut and ice cream.

I’ve never attempted to make them myself…until today. There are two reasons for that:

  • I didn’t know how
  • They’re like dessert, something I rarely eat

This morning I stared at six ripe-and-ready red bananas sitting on my countertop. I cannot – will not – waste a single molecule of that precious fruit! There exist many varieties of red bananas and they’re not created equal. The uber sweet, custardy ones that make me drool are grown on a different part of the island and are not easy to find in Ubud.

As I pondered their perfect readiness wondering how many I could eat before they went bad, another thought materialized. What about pisang goreng?

I obsessed while I journaled, while I yoga-ed, while I meditated, while I dressed, and finally succumbed to temptation.

Google had a recipe. It called for flour. You may recall my hazardous attempt to make naan with banana flour and yeast. That’s still the only kind of flour I have on hand. But this recipe used baking power as its leavening agent so I thought…maybe…red bananas…fried in banana flour batter…why not?

Oh, people!

Even now, hours later, after eating way too many of them, I get a severe case of drools just thinking about the crunchy outside and the buttery sweet inside of my red banana goreng.

I dipped them in palm sugar while they were still warm. The first one I ate with a fork. After that…the fork was way too slow.

I want you to note that I now have two back-to-back culinary successes to my credit. Not to appear overly confident or anything, but I may be on a roll. It’s too bad Grandpa isn’t here to try my banana ambrosia. I think even his pure Scandinavian taste-buds would do a happy dance.

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?

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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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