Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bali Day 5 - Anika Balinese Cooking Class

Anika Cooking Class

Going into Bali, I was beyond unplanned and unprepared. We had no activities worked out, nothing booked and no real idea as to how we were going to spend the next 4 days (beyond booze and massages). Something I was actually keen on doing was a cooking class.

It's obvious from this blog that I'm a fan of food. Although back in my younger days I featured cooking posts and restaurant reviews equally, these days I mostly review restaurants. It's not that I don't cook much (well, it is that too) but in our day to day we try not to eat too extravagantly so we can save calorie splurges on dining out. Nevertheless, I still ENJOY cooking and I love doing cooking classes so I asked my girls to sort something out.

Anika Cooking Class was recommended to us by our resort concierge. It was glowing feedback on Tripadvisor and now that I've attended, I can understand why. Our class package was on the pricier side (around $100AUD pp) but that included round trip transfers, a morning market exploration, ingredients, cookbook and of course the completed lunch at the end.

We did our cooking class on our very last day in Bali. Literally after we had checked out of our resort, the guys from Anika came to pick us up. They came a bit earlier than we anticipated so we didn't get to have breakfast but that turned out to be ok because they start feeding you as soon as you get there.

After doing a round of pickups at other hotels, our tour minibus stopped at a busy intersection and we followed our guide into a Balinese marketplace. I was born in Shanghai and go back frequently so an Asian fresh food market place isn't too dramatic for me but I can imagine someone who had never experienced anything like it to be at least a little confronted.

There's always an element of dirtiness with food scraps and who knows what else on the floors. Vegetable and fruit stalls are ok to look at but catching a glimpse of mountains of chicken carcasses or whole fish can really bring your attention to how ALIVE the food we eat is (or at least used to be). The hygiene of this marketplace is probably fine for locals but sensitive western stomachs may not cope. Luckily our guide assured us that we wouldn't actually be cooking with or using any ingredients from this market and that they sourced our ingredients elsewhere (presumably someplace super hygienic; we can only hope).

I've done a number of Thai cooking classes before, some actually in Thailand but I still learnt a bunch of new ingredients and new facts at this marketplace. They introduced us to herbs and vegetables that we would be using before moving onto spices and some equipment. I found it interesting that the Balinese mortar and pestle was made from volcanic rock that had to be seasoned before use.

Breakfast treats

After our market trip, we boarded the bus and drove a little way further to the cooking venue. The Balinese don't rush so there's no jumping into ingredient prep. We dawdled a bit and sat around and were given breakfast foods of pandan sticky pudding with various fillings. There was also an exotic fruit platter that contained something I had never seen before: snakeskin fruit. I tried some and hated it.

When we got into the actual cooking, we divided ourselves across 4 stations. Each station prepares and cooks identical dishes so you're almost in an individual class at your own station. With my 3 girls, we took up one of the stations.

After all the chopping

The chefs walk you through techniques for chopping up the herbs and spices. Then follows a long-winded chopping phase which I found very therapeutic. I realised that with my own cooking at home, it's the washing and cleaning up that I hate. Chopping and cutting is fun!

Werk it

Once everything was chopped up, we mashed them up in lots with our volcanic mortar and pestles. The technique here is hard to master. It's not so much pounding or grinding but a smearing of soft ingredients across the surface of the stone to release juices. This took quite some time and despite our best efforts, none of our pastes were truly 'ready' and had to be finished up by one of the experts. And yes, they do make everything look so easy.

The cooking part came next and we each took turns at the wok. I'm not confident in front of a hot wok but the chefs help you with temperature and keep it all calm and easy.

As we cooked, we plated. After a while, as though a magic wand was being waved, everything had finishing touches put on and we were ready for lunch.

My plate

I'm not sure if dishes change per cooking class but when we attended, we learned how to make chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce, nasi goreng, yellow rice, corn fritters, crispy beef strips, fish curry, coconut green beans and chicken mince and fern warm salad. Yup, that was a lot of food. All for our one group of 4. Add to that the fact that 3 of our girls had stomach issues and you can safely assume I did a LOT of eating. I was taking one for the team ;).

I was very proud of our dishes. It looked like an amazing feast spread out on the table. My favourite items were the satay skewers and peanut sauce (amazing combination), green beans and fish curry. We had tasted similar green beans with most of our meals throughout Bali and it was great to see how it was prepared in that manner.

Banana fritters and caramel stew

As full as I was after my ginormous lunch, Anika wasn't done yet. We didn't have to physically prepare the dessert but we were taught the process and given recipes. Then, it was dessert time! Our desserts of the day included banana fritters and a sort of caramel stew with pineapple and bananna. The stew was a bit too sweet on its own for me but tasted great as a dipping sauce for the banana fritters. Together it was like a deep fried caramel Paddle Pop. Surprisingly delicious!

Anika offers a well-planned, professional, entertaining and thorough cooking class. The guides and chefs speak excellent English and are engaging and friendly throughout their explanations. There was a high degree of interaction in each step of the cooking process and best of all, the lunch we created was delicious. We even got a certificate to mark our completion of the class. I'm not sure how many recipes I'll be able to implement back in my regular life in Brisbane but there are at least a couple I'm willing to try.

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