In spring 2017, my restaurant in Bali was already open for more than one year. I had three staff in my small viewpoint restaurant. A male chef and two girls managed the rooftop eatery with a fantastic view on Mount Agung and the wide-open ocean to the north. Agung is the highest volcano in Bali and is seen as a God. Once in a while, the mountain God gets a cough. Then, small plumes of smoke emerge from the top of the crater. Totally stunning! Luckily, it does not pose a threat to the Amed community.
One day we received a booking from an Indian person for about ten people. At first glance, nothing unusual! But then, we hardly could believe our eyes. A group of 10 women of all ages climbed the stairs up to our rooftop. We soon learned that the group consisted of 4 generations, from the great grandmother to the youngest daughter. Another surprise surfaced because the group only consisted of women. They explained laughing that they left their husbands, fathers, brothers at home in India. This was a female journey exploring the world.
They liked our food very much and offered to teach us South Indian Cuisine. We only served North Indian Food. It was a fabulous opportunity to expand our knowledge. We arranged a date and waited eagerly for their return.
Our expectations were exceeded within minutes after their arrival on the appointed cooking class day. They quickly engaged in soaking rice, blending spices, grating coconut, and tearing leaves from different herbs. Clouds of unusual smells filled the small half-open kitchen. The 74-year-old Great-granny was our kitchen guru. Proudly, she told us, “I have more than 60 years of cooking experience.”
They prepared an incredible feast. It magically and instantly transferred me to India. The smells were so real. I wished that I could eat for three.
Our waitress, Ayu, was not impressed. She always refused to try new recipes. I was concerned about her diet. She hardly ever ate any vegetables. Instant noodles were her favourite fast food. Although she knew, this kind of unhealthy food damaged her weak body. She often complained about headaches, dizziness, breathing problems, and generally felt uneasy. From her tales and eating habits, I believed that she suffered from the so-called China syndrome. It manifests as intolerance to taste enhancers and preservatives like MSG. One evening, I tried to discuss with her the issue. She escaped my questions and just said, “her doctor said to eat cucumbers”. I understood his intention and tried to argue that other vegetables and fruits are beneficial too. She must have been relieved when I finally let her go home.
But now, a mouth-watering feast lies on the table, waiting to be devoured. Ayu tried to make her usual excuses. She said, “this food is too spicy.”
“Too spicy? Balinese food uses more chilli than Indian food.” The women looked disappointed in disbelief. I explained that Ayu meant that their food has too many different spices. It is not too hot but made with too many different flavours. After intense talking, questioning and laughing the family persuaded her to try a bit from each dish. I was moved by their sweet-talk. In the long term though, Ayu, unfortunately, did not open her mind to new, unknown food.
We enjoyed our late lunch with many laughs and stories. The family moved from Amed after a couple of days and went home. Of course, they invited me to visit them on my next visit to India. I hope I will make it to Bangalore and look forward to meeting their whole family.