Indonesia in Focus
A Culinary Trip across Singaraja: Bali
The dusty, old colonial town of Singaraja has more to offer than just royal palaces or the embarrassingly dilapidated Gedong Kirtya, the island’s largest repository of the ancient palmyra manuscripts of Lontar.
“Provided the visitor has an intrepid taste for local cuisines then Singaraja is the island’s culinary hotspot,” writer Made Adnyana Ole said.
He did not mean it in a figurative way. A native of Tabanan’s quiet Marga village, where the rice is sweet and vegetables are part of the daily diet, Ole suffered the gastronomic equivalence of a cultural shock when he relocated several years ago to Singaraja.
He learned the hard way that the coastal people liked their food as hot as the merciless sun over their heads.
“If you have a weak stomach, the food here will give you a feverish rush up your spine. It happened to me,” he said with a grin.
“Then you get used to it and begin appreciating its provocative quality,” he added, still grinning.
Sitting next to him was his enthusiastic girlfriend, Sonia, a town local and our trusted scout for the oncoming culinary expedition. Her glittering eyes and uninhibited laughter assured us that it would be a memorable, joyous trip.
“So, what will be the first course of the day?” she asked.
Unanimously we picked siobak, a delicacy that convinced us of the importance of having a traditional Chinese community around. Ever since its heyday as the island’s primary harbor, Singaraja has always been hospitable to Chinese migrants.
One of the most obvious legacies of the mutually-enriching relationship between the Chinese and the Balinese is siobak. The meaty food clearly has its roots in the Chinese culinary tradition. However, it has been adjusted and re-adjusted to meet local tastes.
“Siobak is the signature food of Singaraja. In this city you can find dozens of siobak sellers. In fact, you can find Siobak Singaraja in several other major cities in the island,” Sonia said.
A few minutes later we found ourselves inside a small, modest food stall in Singaraja’s northern neighborhood of Kampung Tinggi. An inconspicuous wooden panel hung above the main door read “Siobak Khe Lok“.
In the corner, a shy young girl meticulously sliced fried and grilled pork, along with pig livers, lungs and hearts. She placed them all on a clean plate before drowning them in a rich, brown soybean sauce.
“Khe Lok is synonymous with the best siobak. The family has done it for decades,” Sonia whispered.
The current Khe Loks did not disgrace their ancestors. Their siobak was a generous treat to both the stomach and the tongue. Moreover, it didn’t come as a heavy blow to the wallet. For Rp 10,000, you will get a plate of siobak and a portion of steamed rice. The amazingly hot shredded green chilies are free of charge, eat as much as you can stand.
Khe Lok family operates three siobak outlets in Singaraja, two in the nearby town of Seririt and another two in the island’s capital of Denpasar. The siobak had wetted our appetite for hot, spicy food so much that our entourage spent the whole afternoon exploring various corners of the town looking for Singaraja’s second best signature food, sate plecing.
“The secret of this pork satay lies in its addictive sauce made of special terasi (shrimp paste), a large quantity of red pepper and one or two drops of lime juice,” Sonia said.
Unfortunately, all the sate plecing outlets were closed, as if they had something against us, or maybe our insatiable appetites.
As night fell on the sleepy town, we took refugee at movable food stall belonging to a camera-shy, soft-spoken woman, affectionately called Bu Dora by her loyal customers. The stall is located just a few meters east of the intersection between A. Yani and Anggrek streets.
Bu Dora, who repeatedly rejected any efforts to interview her, has given a new meaning to the term one-stop-shopping. Neatly arranged behind the stall’s glass case were at least 22 different delicacies, including an exotic soup of Undis black beans and five different kinds of sambal.
After a fulfilling dinner, Ole sat leisurely on a mat-covered sidewalk. Before him was a glass of hot Balinese black coffee. It was a scene that was made perfect with a hand-rolled clove cigarette.
“Don’t worry, you can sit here as long as you like because Bu Dora’s stall opens until dawn,” he said before lighting his first cigarette.
I Wayan Juniartha
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