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Sublime Spanish Eats in Bali

When Restaurant magazine released their prestigious list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2013, Spain slaughtered the competition with three restaurants in the top ten, including the number one spot (El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, in case you were wondering). No other country managed to grab more than one spot in the top ten, which is perhaps a testimony to the ingenuity of Spanish chefs and the superb produce that comes out of this incredibly diverse Latin country. With this in mind, is it any wonder that some of Bali’s finest dining establishments are Spanish or Latin inspired?

El Kabron

el kabron

Photo courtesy of El Kabron

Nothing beats the stylish digs and picturesque location of El Kabron, resting high atop a cliff in Uluwatu and overlooking the swells of the Indian Ocean far below. By day, the place is part Mediterranean-style beach club with a freeform infinity pool overlooking the ocean and comfy blue and white bean bag chairs surrounding the pool. Come sunset, it’s all about signature cocktails at intimate tables, authentic Spanish tapas and laid-back grooves by live bands and DJs.

Spanish-born Executive Chef Marc Torices inherited his passion for cooking and love for the natural flavours of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine from his grandmother, and he brings his gastronomic flair to El Kabron’s tapas, paellas and sweet treats. Small plates include imported Spanish Bellota ham and cured Manchego Cheese served with toasted bread sprinkled with fresh tomato and olive oil, Pulpo a la Gallega, Sliced Octopus with Potatoes seasoned with smoked paprika and olive oil, and Montaditos de Butifarra Catalana, Grilled Homemade Catalan Sausage with toasted bread. If it’s sweet treats you’re after, indulge in some of the best Crema Catalana this side of Barcelona.

Torices recently revealed his ‘Rustique Dining’ menu, which features dishes made with fresh ingredients that are loyal to what the ground can deliver at different times of year and prepared simply, avoiding unnatural approaches. This way, the true flavours of the ingredients come out and are celebrated in their essence. The a la carte rustic menu is available from 7:30pm to 9:30pm daily.

When the sun has well and truly set and the stars are twinkling above, El Kabron heats up into a stylish and sophisticated nightlife venue, with live music every night of the week, including smooth jazz bands, acoustic sets by talented local and international crooners and DJs from around the world. Head mixologist, Carlos Gutierrez, keeps the good times flowing with his special version of sangria served by the pitcher, cool cocktails and an enticing selection of international wines and beers.

Tel: 0361 7803416            www.chiringuitoelkabron.com

 

La Finca

Pintxos-f

Photo courtesy of La Finca

Just as you would expect from a vibrant Latin restaurant, La Finca offers heaps of character in their beautiful open-air setting with soaring bamboo beams, rustic wooden chairs and tables and outdoor garden seating amid lanterns and fairy lights. The vibe here is easy-going yet lively, and no attention to detail is spared, right down to the bright ceramic plates and beautifully presented Basque and Mediterranean dishes. The owners at La Finca work under the philosophy of ‘Alimenta El Alma’, which means ‘food for the soul’, so each and every dish is made with soul to feed the soul, using fresh organic ingredients and artisan methods and recipes.

Besides the usual tapas suspects like Jamon Iberico, Patatas Bravas, and special selections of Spanish cheeses, La Finca thinks outside the box with creative dishes like the Paquetito de Foie Gras con Salse de Remolacha y Estragon, Wrapped Foie Gras in creamy red beet tarragon sauce, Paquetitos de La Finca, artisan pasta pockets stuffed with sundried tomatoes, feta, and basil and complemented with capers, olives, rocket and butter sauce, or their famous Carne a la Piedra de la Finca, hot stone-grilled Australian rib-eye steak served with fresh spices, herbs and sauces. Keep an eye out for their weekly croquette specials made with various fillings like truffles, roast chicken and jalapeno, and squid with squid ink.

For those looking for a midday fix, La Finca also recently open for lunch with light bites like authentic Basque Pintxos—bite-sized tapas from the Basque region, and heartier fare like the Fideos Torcidos con Gambas Trufadas al Ajillo, hand-twisted noodles with garlic truffle prawns, as well artisan sandwiches and burgers made with fresh bread prepared in house. Refreshing sangria makes for the perfect liquid lunch, and if that isn’t quite doing the trick, try the Nieve de Leche, an icy dessert made with mint, condensed milk, lime juice and vodka and topped with shaved ice. La Finca is conveniently located between Canggu and Seminyak, just minutes from Batu Belig Beach.

Tel: 0361 2740088            http://www.lafincabali.com

 

La Sal

la sal

Photo courtesy of La Sal

 

Bali’s first Spanish-Argentine restaurant is the brainchild of chef Lino de Zordo and Gonzalo Sanchez, who have been tantalizing palates with their contemporary tapas, tender BBQ meats and creative Latin-inspired specialties since 2005. Here the culinary concept of good food paired with good drinks and good company reigns supreme in their breezy al fresco dining area decked out in warm wood tones and surrounded by frangipani trees, and in the covered dining room with intimate white tables and soft lighting. The space is conducive to long leisurely dinners with friends and family over a few bottles of wine, and La Sal’s unwavering attention to detail in cuisine, ambiance and service makes it no surprise that La Sal is the recipient of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2013.

La Sal works on the philosophy that ‘Life is no life without salt’—a statement that calls into question blandness and mediocrity in food and in life. This philosophy manifests clearly throughout their menu, which features a healthy mix of hot and cold tapas, innovative salads, hearty mains and decadent desserts with an Argentinian twist. Complementing the culinary creations, the drinks list features classic Spanish sangria, fine international wines and creative cocktails made with top shelf spirits.

The tapas at La Sal never fail to impress, as they are made with the only the best imported and local ingredients and are a mix of both traditional and modern culinary construction. Cold tapas include the Carpaccio with Foie Gras grass and a Manchego cheese cloud, Marinated Spanish Olives, and the fresh and vibrant Bruschetta with vegetables and goat’s cheese. If calientes is more your style, you can choose from Calamari deep fried and drizzled with white and black aioli, Grilled Garlic Prawns with truffle oil, or the sailor’s style Clam Casserole. Fresh salads can also be shared and are hard to resist with offerings like the Soft Shell Crab Caesar Salad or the Warm Goat’s Cheese Salad with a sweet and crunchy honey-walnut vinaigrette.

For those with bigger appetites, the main course menu offers an abundance of savoury meat and seafood dishes. Try the rich Crispy Pork Belly with casserole lentils and chilled mango, or the Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder, roasted for 72 hours so the meat is soft and buttery, and served with a two-pepper sauce and steamed vegetables. The Paella Mixta also gets rave reviews for its generous portions of chicken, vegetables, fresh seafood and subtly seasoned saffron rice. Finish the meal off with a sinfully smooth white chocolate and dark chocolate mousse or the Helado de Dulce de Leche, caramel ice cream prepared in true Argentinian style.

Tel: 0361 738321            www.lasalbali.com

 

Tapeo Gastrobar

tapeo gastrobar

Photo courtesy of Tapeo Gastrobar

 

A welcome addition to Beachwalk’s already vibrant dining scene, Tapeo Gastrobar is both cutting edge restaurant and sleek rooftop bar serving up chilled sangria and Iberian fare in a contemporary setting overlooking Kuta Beach. After a long day of surfing, shopping and sun worshipping, head to their second floor location and grab a seat outside on the expansive wooden deck with oversized day beds adorned with comfortable cushions, or head indoors for a more intimate vibe. Soak up the tropical breezes, ultra-modern decor and chilled beats playing in the background as you dine on rich and flavourful fare prepared by Barcelona-born Chef Victor Taborda.

Taborda’s innovative menu features a mix of traditional Spanish flavours mixed with modern creations. Take for example, their sangria list, which includes six different options to choose from made with either red, white or rose wine. Throw in a creative tapas list, and you’re simply spoiled for choice. Try the wildly popular Queso Brie Frito, fried Brie served with mango marmalade, Atun Marinado, Marinated Tuna with soy sauce and seaweed salad, or the Mini Hamburguesa de Oxtail, which is exactly what it sounds like—a mini hamburger with a oxtail patty, seasoned to perfection and garnished with mayo and rucola. Mains include six different types of paella as well as fresh salads and a wide selection of fish and meat dishes.

After the feast is done, stick around to rock out to live bands or groove to the DJs hitting the decks on the rooftop patio under the stars. The drinks list here is impressive to say the least, with refreshing mojitos, international wines by the glass, draft beer on tap, and the super strong Ibiza cocktail made with eight different types of booze. Check with the staff to see if there are any specials on, as drinks specials and food promotions are almost always running.

Tel: 0361 8465645

 

Serenity Spanish Restaurant & Bar

Serenity Spanish

Photo Courtesy of Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant

 

With an unassuming facade and simple red and white sign reading Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant, you might be tricked into thinking that this is just another run-of-the-mill dining venue. However, like so often is the case, the modest exterior belies what lies within. Drive past it on the Sanur Bypass, and you would be missing out on one of Bali’s newest hidden gems—a temple of opulence, romance, space and muy delicioso authentic Spanish flavors.

A quick tour of the restaurant reveals two levels, with the main dining room and al fresco terrace on the ground floor and a swank cigar lounge, private party room and intimate tables hidden in cozy corners on the upper level. The lavish decor carries throughout each of the rooms, and the sense of light and space is compounded by large windows and a wide balcony that looks down onto the main dining room.

Serenity Bar & Restaurant comes to us from Singapore, where it has a long-standing reputation for Mediterranean-style ambiance and delicious Spanish fare, including tapas, paella and their famous Cochinillo Asado, which has often been referred to as the most succulent roast suckling pig in the city, possibly even giving Bali’s babi guling a run for its money. In traditional Spanish style, the tender pig is carved with a plate at the table (proof of the superlative tender texture of the meat), and the plate is smashed on the floor afterwards for good luck.

Popular tapas choices include the Patatas Bravas, golden chunks of potato drizzled in a mildly spicy romesco sauce and smooth aioli and the Rollito de Bacon y Esparrago for its crisp green asparagus wrapped in warm salty bacon. The Crema de Mariscos, a seafood soup with a rich velvety tomato broth laden with tender pieces of fresh dory, squid, prawns and scallops in the shell is another winner, and of course, the paella and suckling pig is not to be missed. Wash it all down with a red sangria made with smooth Spanish Rioja or a white sangria made with a fruity Australian Sauvignon Blanc.

**This article was previously published in the Yak magazine Sept/Oct/Nov 2013 issue. To check out the latest articles from the Yak, go to www.theyakmag.com.

Unraveling Alternative Healing in Ubud, Bali

Stroll the streets of Ubud, and it may seem like the entire town is one big new age healing center. Flowing white clothes abound, ecstatic dance sessions pack out, and it seems as though ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ healers are more ubiquitous than the motorbikes and cars that plague the streets during high season.

© Romko | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Whether deserved or not, Ubud has earned a reputation as a center of spirituality, and the numbers of people who travel here looking for spiritual enlightenment and self-transformation are increasing at a rapid pace. There’s no denying that there is something special about Ubud, but is it really the magical and spiritual place that so many claim it is? And are all these healers and gurus all they’re cracked up to be?

The name Ubud actually comes from the Balinese word ubad, which means medicine. Once a small village renowned for its medicinal plants and herbs, Ubud soon began to attract the attention of foreigners for its incredible arts, culture and temples. As far back as the 1930s, foreign artists and musicians would visit the town, become entranced by its ‘magic’ and set up camp along river gorges, amid the jungles and perched on the edge of rice fields.

Skip ahead to present day, and Ubud is a rapidly developing international tourist destination, with visitors from all corners of the globe booking into hotels and luxurious villas, frequenting the hundreds of cafes and restaurants that line the main (and not-so-main) streets, and signing up for detoxifying retreats, yoga teacher training courses and raw food classes.

Dig a little deeper and you will find self-proclaimed clairvoyants, aura readers, tantric and sacred sex gurus and past life interpreters. In fact, take a quick flip through one of the local free mags here and you might find that every second article or advertisement contains phrases like ‘harmony transformation process’, ‘absorb shamanic energies of holy volcanoes’, ‘intuitive channel counseling’, or ‘transformative global energy’. And no, I’m not making that up, all of those phrases actually appeared in one issue of one magazine.

Authentic Balinese healers are now outnumbered by global gurus that hail from exotic climes such as California, Melbourne, Manchester and Ohio. Judging from the price tags attached to the spiritual tours, healing sessions, soulmate readings and life transformation workshops, business seems to be booming.

The truth is, Ubud has had its fair share of people seeking and teaching alternative lifestyles and self-improvement for decades. For example, the Anand Ashram opened its doors in 1991, AsiaWorks has been giving its 12-step program of self-discovery here since 1993, and the Ubud Bodyworks healing center has been offering holistic therapies to travelers and locals alike for a staggering 26 years.

There is no disputing that certain holistic therapies and practices are good for the body and the mind. Yoga is a highly beneficial form of exercise, meditation has been proven to lower stress levels, and lets face it—massage just feels damn good. While some may scoff at energy healing like reiki and light therapy, practices like aligning the chakras or re-balancing the body with sacred crystals, or courses designed to ‘Discover the Goddess Within’, others swear by them; and if it makes you feel good, why not do it?

The problem lies not with the practices themselves, but with the simple fact that where there are people willing to part with their cash, there will always be others willing to take it. That’s not to say that all healers or gurus are scammers. In fact, many of them are quite good at what they do and can considerably help people, whether it be with with physical health issues or mental or emotional damage. However, when you visit a traditional Balinese healer with a compound packed with tourists and not a Balinese person in sight, or come across young Australian women claiming to be Balinese shamans offering healing sessions for upwards of $300 AUD a pop, you have to wonder.

 newage

 

Then there are the stories of starry-eyed travelers falling head over heals for that deep, oh-so ‘in tune with the universe’ guy or gal (local and foreign), only to go home at the end their trip with half their life savings gone and nothing to show for it.

The bottom line is—yes, Ubud is a spiritual place and it can feel like magical at times. And yes, there are people out there who truly are healers and people who can improve the lives of others through counseling, holistic therapies and good old psychology. If you really, truly believe that alternative healing may be for you, then by all means, seek out a tarot reader, take some life transformation sessions or get some crystal therapy if that’s what you want. But be sure you know what you’re getting into before you part with your money.

Ask around to find out who the trusted healers are, do some research and read reviews from past clients. Know what to look for when you’re on the search. For example, most Reiki Masters train for at least a year or more before they gain certification, and a massage therapist in the United States must have anywhere from 330 to 1,000 contact hours in addition to classroom training in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology before they can obtain a license to legally practice massage therapy. Even an entry-level psychotherapist must study for at least six to seven years before they can practice – four years for a BA and two or three more for an MA.

Be wary of people who claim to have a great deal of experience but no certifications, or ‘healers’ who take a four-week course and call themselves a ‘master’. Would you take your broken computer to a self-taught, self-proclaimed computer fix-it guy or would you want to go to a trained and qualified professional? The same should be true for your body and mind.

When it comes down to it, you don’t have to be paranoid, suspicious or uptight when it comes to healers, therapists and self-help experts. But at the same time, just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean your common sense should be too.

Bali’s Favorite Dish: Babi Guling

 Bali’s Favorite Dish: Babi Guling

Ask any Balinese person what their favorite food is, and they will most likely tell you it is the ubiquitous and much cherished babi guling, or in English, roast suckling pig. This delicious and authentic Balinese fare can be found in small warungs (simple local eating establishments) and restaurants in almost every village and town on the island, and it is also commonly served at important events such as weddings and coming of age ceremonies.

Preparation begins by stuffing freshly slaughtered juvenile pigs with a mixture of savory and fragrant ingredients such as garlic, ginger, ground candlenuts, kaffir lime, black pepper, turmeric and chilli. Then the pigs are slowly roasted on a spit over a wood fire for hours, and continuously basted in coconut oil or water to ensure that the meat stays tender and moist while the skin turns a rich golden brown.

Typical servings of babi guling include thick slabs of juicy white meat, thin slices of crispy aromatic skin, rich blood sausage and succulent innards prepared a myriad of ways. Side dishes can often include a vegetable dish such as diced long beans with grated coconut, a spicy sambal, a rich pork broth soup, and of course, the staple of every Balinese diet, rice.

The most popular place to eat babi guling in Bali is without a doubt, Warung Ibu Oka in Ubud. Since the restaurant opened over two decades ago, word of mouth and rave reviews by notable food writers, including author and TV host Anthony Bourdain have ensured that this small warung is packed to the gills with both tourists and locals alike every day. At the time of writing a “Special” plate with all the trimmings cost 30,000 Rupiah.

Other popular places to eat babi guling include Warung Mika in Batubulan, just south of Ubud on the main road to Denpasar, Warung Babi Guling Sanur, on the Sanur bypass, and Warung Babi Guling Bapak Dobiel in Nusa Dua. Prices vary depending on the restaurant or warung. Of course, if you are invited to a Balinese family ceremony, this is a great way to sample this delicious dish for free and experience authentic Balinese culture.