Who knew the real Bali and our little slice of heaven would be located just 2 km south of Ubud, which I have a newly formed love/hate relationship with? Our accommodation is fantastic; located in rice fields that provide a scenic backdrop that literally nourishes my soul every time in look at them and the only restaurant within a mile is vegetarian, cheap and really, really good.
We love it so much here that we instantly start to consider making this Vegan Food Quest HQ for the rest of our days. The staff who work at our place, called Lodtunduh Sari, are genuinely warm, friendly and caring people. When we want to rent a moped one of them helps Paul refresh his 20 year old moped riding skills in a really patient way, without judgement (even though the idea that someone doesn’t know how to ride a scooter is unheard of here). And when he drives it into the wall no more than 5 seconds after beginning his test drive, she is more concerned about him than me (who can barely contain my fits of laughter, cruel wife that I am). On his return (after he finally got going) she issues the wise advice “I think you better take taxi”.
They make the most amazing nasi goreng for breakfast (by far the best we’ve eaten in Bali) adding tempe or tofu to mine and leaving out the egg as requested. This national dish is made up of fried rice with small chopped up vegetables and greens if you are lucky. It’s sweet and salty as a result of its seasoning with with ‘kecap manis’, a sweet almost syrupy soy sauce and it can be a little spicy too.
They blend up fresh juices of pineapple, papaya or avocado and make us pots of strong Bali Kopi which has a gloopy coffee-silt at the bottom and is not for everyone, but I’ve tested enough of it to know its generally good, strong and fresh so it gets my vote.
They also make us a pretty impressive gado-gado salad which is a moment to be celebrated as despite numerous attempts to find a version of this famous Indonesian dish that was good enough to write about, we had been unsuccessful until we got to Lodtunduh Sari. Gado-gado salad is made from lightly steamed vegetables (normally carrot, beans and cabbage here), raw beansprouts, tofu, tempe and a rich peanut satay sauce.
The non-vegan version also comes with a boiled egg and prawn crackers. A bad gago-gado (sadly very common here) has a sickly sweet and gacky peanut sauce poured over overcooked, waterlogged vegetables, so you get a bland plate of boiled cabbage with over-sweet peanut gravy, which then tends to go a bit watery. But the Lodtunduh Sari gado-gado has vegetables that are steamed perfectly so they retain a bite, there is a generous serving of fried tofu and tempe cut into slices and the sauce is fresh and rich.
It’s very nearly my favourite dish that they make but them I try the tempe satay and I’m seduced by the crispy caramelised tempe skewers. To top all this food bliss off, we also have a tempe, tofu vegetable curry which is a comforting mix of coconut milk, turmeric and very mild, subtle curry spices. I’m so impressed that I ask her for the recipe expecting it to be a well guarded family secret that’s been handed down through the generations and I must admit I’m a little disappointed to hear her tell me, as I’m gushing about how good her cooking is, that it’s just coconut milk and packet curry powder.
The tempe satay must have gone to my head, along with the travellers’ romantic idea that every meal we eat is a local delicacy originating from generations of hand-me-down knowledge, but it tastes good all the same.
Aside from the eating, we waste hours each day sitting in the pool looking out over the green, green, oh-so-green rice paddies. We sit, watching in awe as the local villagers tend to their crop in the sweltering heat and as they walk, balancing skilfully on the narrow paths in between often carrying huge sacks or piles of branches on their heads.
We go exploring and take a path through the rice fields only to get lost almost instantly in the maze like paths. One of us fell in twice (I won’t say who) before the skies opened up and we got soaked by a thunderstorm. We relay our adventure to the girls at Lodtunduh Sari and their concern for our ability to survive regular Balinese life grows; more advice to take taxis ensues…
The icing on the cake of this very perfect slice of paradise is a place called 9 Warung, which is a little local vegetarian restaurant right at the end of our street where a very lovely man from Jakarta makes mainly vegan food, accompanied by two equally as lovely rescue dogs.
For the humble price of 18,000 IDR (about £0.80) you get a serving of six of whatever dishes he’s made plus a bowl of soup and if you want more, you’re welcome to seconds. Not only is this a total bargain but the food which is simple, home cooked dishes that are mainly stir-fries of some sort with either tempe, tofu or just vegetables, served with steamed rice, is good too. We love spending time there chatting with the owner and we fall slowly in love with his dogs. We eat, we chat, we stroke dogs, we eat some more.
This place is the true meaning of ‘relaxed and homely’, full of the good spirit of the owner and his canine adoptees and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have such a nice place on our doorstep. I go and help with preparing the food one morning (he also does cookery lessons) and the encouraging, yet laid back coaching from Tony as I self-consciously chop the vegetables for the food he will be serving to his customers later, fills me with reassurance and reminds me how much I miss being in my kitchen at home.
Somewhere in the middle of all this eating, pool lounging and gazing at rice paddies is ‘Nyepi’, the Balinese New Year. For weeks we have seen communities building giant statues called ‘Ogoh-ogoh’ that represent evil spirits and all this work culminates in amazing processions and ceremonies through each local ‘banjar’ (area).
After the evening of processions there is a silent day where everyone stays at home (including the staff from the resort) and so we are left in our new home to enjoy the peace, contemplate the world and the new year ahead.
The Vegan Food Quest is in serious danger of reaching a premature end with TravelMush and I toying with the idea of putting down roots in this lovely spot and whiling away the hours with our new found friends (dogs included) but we love searching for vegan food in far flung places and so we set to shaking things up a bit and pull ourselves out of our cosy existence.
A few days later, without a proper map but with much adventuring spirit in our hearts, we hit the road (in a car that’s so small it could be mistaken for a roller skate) having already booked to return because when you find a place that touches your heart like this, it’s hard to say goodbye forever…
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