At the end of 2014, I met Sydney ex-pat turned Balinese-local Penny Williams in a retail store.
I overheard her speaking Balinese and was immediately struck by her linguistic skills.
Upon chatting, I discovered that this talented and experienced Executive Chef had created nirvana in the far east of Bali.
Combining her love of Asia, the incredible freshness that is Balinese produce and honouring local traditions, Penny has created Bali Asli.
A 30 minute drive from the popular town of Candidasa and overlooking the stunning Mt Agung on the far east side of the island, is where you’ll find this slice of heaven.
A restaurant and cooking school surrounded by green, green and more green.
On-site produce, traditional cooking techniques (woodfire) and deliciously authentic Balinese cuisine.
With a name (asli) that literally means to create something authentically Balinese, I knew that I was in for a real treat when visiting Penelope’s slice of heaven.
After an early start from Ubud (roughly 2 hours drive), we arrived at Bali Asli for our Day in the Village experience.
Part mini-trek, village experience, cooking class. All parts rad.
Our morning began wandering through what I would literally call Parts Unknown (my sly Anthony Bourdain reference) and soaking up Penny’s infinite knowledge on all things local.
From identifying medicinal and food uses of plants, sharing with us the true beauty of seasons and the baby pineapple she planted two Christmases ago, a greater understanding of temples, agricultural insights and the general way of life for villagers in the area.
Over freshly-brewed, local coffee and sweets, we were fortunate to meet a gorgeous local family that Penny has known from years and has helped support in a business-to-business sense.
With each step that we took and hearing each soft, passionate word that she spoke, I could easily see where Penny’s immense love for the area came from and why the idea of establishing her own business here 8 years ago felt so right.
Arriving back at Bali Asli, it was time to cook.
We worked through the foundational backbone of Balinese cuisine, bumbu Bali, one seriously epic spice paste and the making of which is an art form.
Using firm though nimble strokes upon our volcanic rock mortar and pestles we worked the incredibly rich tapestry of fresh flavours to a fine paste. Quite the experience in itself and one which I learnt would be used in almost every meal.
In the home, both man and wife would have their own mortar and pestle, and a hell of lot more chilli than we used!
Just writing about it, I can conjure up that incredible aroma now.
For someone with a love for the flavour of chilli though unable to handle too much heat, I was surprised to find out that authentic Balinese food didn’t blow my head off.
Yes, as Penny mentioned, we were using less chilli than a local would however the flavour profile was incredible all the same and every dish that we created and consumed was better than the next!
I especially loved hearing Penny’s vast knowledge on local produce, the differences between what we’re used to in non-Asian countries, say between limes for instance, and also about the intensely rich flavours that make up and balance so beautifully in Balinese cuisine.
It wasn’t just me either. Our entire (international) group were fascinated and engaged, asking questions and keenly offering to sample the food we were making.
A favourite dish of mine, especially as a salad-lover, was urab. A uniquely Indonesian salad dish including a variety of textures (love that!), cooked and raw vegetables utilising various techniques, beans and just look at that gorgeous freshly shredded coconut! So good.
The staff at Bali Asli are Balinese and cook as they would at home. Over woodfire and often preparing recipes from their own homes. Honouring traditions and bringing that heritage and love to the kitchen at Bali Asli.
It’s a true pleasure to witness, smell and eat – how fortunate I felt to experience it all in such a gorgeous setting.
After a couple of hands-on hours, we ditched the aprons to sit down and enjoy the ultimate Balinese feast overlooking Mt Agung.
Smiling from ear-to-ear.
If you would like to experience a real culinary experience and Bali Asli for yourself, I highly recommend it on your trip to the island. You can check out all the details here.