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Pleasant surprises of the Balinese cuisine

Janice Rodrigues | NT BUZZ


The term ‘Alila’ is said to mean ‘surprise’ in Sanskrit according to the chain’s website. The Goa property, the only one in India until the one in Jaipur is set up and running, does not cease to surprise you and all in good ways. The Alila Diwa Goa has a lot more to flaunt, than the incessantly talked about infinity pool that overlooks the verdant Majorda fields; and food tops the list.

We were South-bound after a long day at work, at the invitation of an old friend, to spend a relaxing evening. The reason this enticed me was the mention of Balinese cuisine. I have been rather captivated by the Thai curries, and this was an opportunity to try the cuisine of the neighbouring Indonesian archipelago, mainly that of Bali. Executive sous chef, Eko Purjiono has been brought from Alila Villas Uluwatu, in Bali to bring some of the best in the cuisine to Goa.

After exchanging pleasantries with the team, we made our way to the bar, and since there was a threat of a persistent sore throat looming on the horizon, I opted for a ‘Bit Ginger’ the description read – ‘sweetened ginger syrup, galangal, lemongrass, midori and citrus vodka’. On request my ‘cocktail’ was made sans the ice and the alcohol level to the minimal. This proved to be a wise choice as the ginger did soothe my throat. Doing the rounds on a platter were crisps with a rather spicy dip, a shallot and chilli paste – Sambal Matah. The dip although spicy and gave most of us a bout of cough at first bite, was pleasantly flavoured.

Conversations with old friends come easy, and by the time dinner was served we had downed our drinks and were well into the night. The first course was served with Soto Ayam Bali – Balinese chicken soup with shredded chicken, a wholesome soup with Balinese spices and rice noodles. A meal by itself, it is reminiscence of the chicken soups you can have in a larger bowl on a cold day. But for us, it was just the beginning.

The starters came in next, with the Sate Campur, a platter of three meats – beef, chicken and fish – skewered individually and spiced with Balinese flavours. Interestingly the fish was wrapped around a blade of lemongrass rather than skewered, lending an enhanced tang to the fish. The chicken and beef, marinated in spices, were good too. But what grabbed my attention was the Serombotan, mix vegetable salad (a very healthy mix of boiled vegetables like, spinach, bean sprout, eggplant, long beans, red bean, fried peanuts and fried soybean)  served with spicy peanut sauce and the latter was what took the cake. An ardent fan of peanut butter, for me the sauce introduced another route to savour the humble groundnut – sublime with a dash of spice.

Still raving about the peanut sauce, we were then served the main course – Babi Pangang (roast pork), Sambel Be tongkol (tuna salad with shallot and chilli), Ayam Betutu (steamed chicken with cassava leaf) and Sambal Udang (spicy prawn with Balinese red curry) served with Balinese Red rice of these, the tuna salad was spicy, the pork was well marinated. The chicken was a contrast – a little bland for the Indian palate bred on the chilli and spice – but, yes it was wholesome. The Sambal Udang with the rice was a tad bit similar to the Goan prawn curry rice or more closer to the Thai red curry, but with spices from Bali and not the Thai ones.

When asked about the difference between Thai and Balinese cuisine Eko states that they do have similarities: “Most of the spices are similar in both cuisines, the major difference lies in the use of Thai basil, which is absent in the Balinese cuisine. Additionally the food of Bali makes use of something called the candlenut paste for the curries and that there are four kinds of ginger that make their way into the cuisine.”

No cuisine is sampled thoroughly if you haven’t had the dessert! And Bali gives you probably the healthiest of them all. Sumping waluh – a pumpkin cake, with coconut, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed; Pisang Goreng – a banana fritter made from fresh banana dipped in a batter of rice flour and fried; Dadar Gulung – crepe filled with coconut and palm sugar (probably a far Eastern cousin of the Goan alle belle); accompanied by a palm sugar sauce. These were the healthiest, wholesome desserts I have ever had.

If you’re looking to entice your taste buds with another cuisine from the South East Asia do head to Alila Diwa Goa’s Bistro and Vivo restaurants till January 22.

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