Indonesia celebrated Independence Day last weekend, and marked its 69th year since declaring independence from the Dutch.
Indonesia is an archipelago made up of around 17,000 islands, (try saying that three times quickly – archipelago, archipelago, archipelago!) including the island of Bali, located between Java and Lombok. But beyond its beautiful tropical beaches and cheap shopping, what is the real Bali about?
Balinese Spice Magic Restaurant is a little slice of Bali in Wollongong. Jules Mitry and her husband Will opened the restaurant in April this year, and since then have worked to deliver their version of Bali through their food and warm service. Jules came to Australia 13 years ago from Bali, bringing with her a love of traditional Balinese cooking and culture.
With so many islands making up the Indonesian archipelago, it is not surprising that each island has its own unique culture and traditions. Indonesia as a whole is a myriad of culture. Jules is fiercely proud of her Balinese roots, and believes more in Bali as her country rather than Indonesia as a whole. This is is often the case with the differing islands; one may identify as being from Java, not Indonesia. This is not to say Jules is not proud of her country, she simply does not want to see individual traditions and culture lost through homogenization.
Fresh traditional food and homemade spice mixes are an integral ingredient to Balinese Spice Magic’s recipe. The magic is created through the grinding of fresh spices to unlock unique flavours and essential oils, and are part of all the spices mixes and dishes.
It is not just the spices that give the restaurant its magic; the walls are adorned with carved wooden frames, black bamboo (which is supposed to bring luck) lines the walls and benches, and the tables are covered in beautiful patterned cloths.
Jules has long hair down to her ankles which she twists up into a bun at work; traditionally women of a higher caste in Bali keep their hair long – something she has continued. Jules believes in utilizing local product; her staff wear traditional batik print clothing by a local designer and much of her produce is sourced locally from businesses such as Flame Tree Community Co-op.
Jules has a passion for cooking, and loves nothing more than to share her food with others. She grew up with very little food, so is determined to always have an abundance of food to share. Jules hated helping out in the kitchen when she was a child, but when she was in Australia she found her way back to cooking and spices and all her childhood cooking skills kicked in. She began cooking for her friends, and from there moved to market stalls, and then to catering events.
In early 2014, things fell into place and it seemed right when the restaurant opportunity arose. Much of the menu is ceremonial food that would usually be cooked and consumed for special events. Balinese Spice Magic customers that have visited Bali have often not experienced the traditional food, instead eating at Western-catered restaurants in the popular tourist spots.
Balinese Spice Magic’s menu is based on traditional food that you would usually only taste in the heart of a Balinese community. They use two spice mixes; Base Barak Spice Mix containing chillies, garlic, coriander, coconut sugar, white pepper & kaffir lime leaves and Base Wayah Spice Mix containing eschallots, garlic, turmeric, kencur/camperia gallanga, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, coriander and cumin.
The spice combinations provide health benefits as well as flavour, with many spices having anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory other positive effects. I started off with a BSM Cooler, one of the ‘Druid Fluids’ or drinks to energise and heal the spirit ($6.00). The Cooler contains ginger, lemongrass, honey and mint and the flavours combine subtly to give a light refreshing taste. I could best describe it by saying it tasted a bit like iced tea – a fresh drink perfect on a warm day.
I got a taste of Bali through Combo Magic ($27.00) a combination plate with red jasmine rice, sweet and spicy tempeh, Bali-inspired chicken soup, roasted pork with base wayah spice mix, shredded chicken stir-fried in base barak spice mix, pork sate spiced with base wayah spice mix, pork crackling, steamed vegetables with roasted coconut and sambal chilli addict – a blend of chillies, onion, tomatoes and garlic. I am far from a chilli addict, but when in Rome (or Bali, rather).
My first bite of Bali was hot – but didn’t burn like I thought it would. With so many flavours I didn’t know where to begin or end. I jumped from one to the next, even trying a prawn – something I usually stay away from. I particularly enjoyed the tempeh – a product similar to tofu made from soy beans. It was surprisingly substantial in texture, having an almost meat-like quality to it – apparently it is often mistaken for meat.
The vegetables were good to break up the meats in the dish, and the shredded coconut was a fresh addition to spice up plain greens. The pork sate was tender and juicy, and wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, you can even have a chew on the stick for a hit of sweetness.
If you’re not on the carnivorous side, there is also the Vegan Magic combination platter ($23.00). Or for those looking for something familiar, there is the ever classic Nasi Goreng ($16.00) and Chicken Satay served with peanut sauce as an entrée ($8.90). After having just a taste of the variety of dishes, I am definitely keen to return and explore the menu further.
For a taste of Bali at home, you just have to try Jules’ Balinese corn fritters:
- 2 fresh corn cobs
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of grated (or mashed) fresh turmeric (1 teaspoon for powdered turmeric)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander stems and roots
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce combined with one table spoon of sliced coconut sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cornflour
- 2 bullet chillies, finely chopped (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of oil for frying
- Peel the husk from the corn and remove the corn and all the fine strands. Using a sharp knife, cut downwards along the length of the cobs to remove the kernels, discard the cob.
- In a bowl, combine the corn, spring onions, coriander, garlic, chillies, corn flour, eggs, light soy sauce and coconut sugar mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon until well combined.
- Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat.
- Drop in a tablespoon of the mixture and cook until the underside is golden. Turn the fritter and cook for a further 30 seconds or so.
- Serve hot or warm with sweet chilli sauce or your other favourite dipping sauce.
130 Keira Street, Wollongong NSW
Phone: (02) 4227 1033