Alila Manggis, Surprisingly Different, indeed…

Many hotels try to brand themselves through clever play on words or logos.  Few in fact manage to capture the spirit of the place in a way that is memorable for their guests.  I found “surprisingly different”, the hotel’s motto,  to be a particularly fitting description of my experience at the AlilaManggis.

My first meal leads me to taste for the first time ever, banana stem.  Surprisingly different indeed, is the use of this non-traditional ingredient in the “duck and banana stem soup”.  A decidedly fibrous ingredient – not sure we can call it either a fruit or a vegetable, this “shoot” for lack of a better word imparts an unexpected taste.  The kitchen is kind enough to show me the ingredient in its pre-cooked form and it is a beautiful, assymetrical slice of art deco.  I would gladly use it as a piece of jewelry.

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Continuing with the “surprisingly different” food, on day two of my stay, I opt for Chef Santika’s Balinese breakfast compilation.  Oh what a mistake it was not to have chosen this on day one!  Chef Santika’s Balinese breakfast is an exploratory culinary journey that is totally surprising.  The UrabSela, a succulent taste of steamed cassava and sweet potatoes with palm sugar is completely outside my frame of culinary reference.  The NasiBubur, a traditional rice porridge with rending sapi, fresh spinach salad and red bean infusion is the best thing I have tasted since landing in Bali. Once again, it is not just that the food is delicious, but that the chef really seeks to wink at the hotel’s motto of “surprisingly different”.

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Balinese cuisine is not well known around the world and that is a great shame as Bali has much to offer.  Due to this position of relative obscurity on the global culinary scene, AlilaManggis has an opportunity (an obligation?) to spread the reputation of this extraordinary and surprising cuisine,  AlilaManggis, through Chef Santika, rises to the challenge as it offers a glimpse into this surprisingly different culinary universe.

Beyond the kitchen of the restaurant, a “surprisingly different” cooking class continues on the theme of introducing Balinese cuisine.   The experience of the cooking class offered by AlilaManggis deserves a blog entry of its own.   Suffice to say that the extraordinary setting of the organic farm, between mountain and sea, and the breadth of the culinary introduction by Chef Santika are not only memorable, they are surprisingly different, indeed.

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The motto continues to surface, in the most unexpected way.  Not because people repeat it, but because the experience warrants it:

- As the hotel organizes customized visits to local destinations that suit my particular interests during my stay in East Bali, I am driven by a car whose driver hands me a cold towel and iced water – nice and surprising touch;

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- When I return from my day’s activities, I head straight to the pool.  There, I am greeted at tea time by a young man who urges me to experience a different kind of tea.  It is tea made of grated ginger, thinly sliced lemon grass and fresh cinnamon, as well as some honey.  As I am fighting a slight cold, the ginger is welcome medicine.

 

 

 

 

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- In line with the notion of health, I find out that Alila offers twice a week yoga and Tai Chi classes “al fresco”.  Surprisingly different, yet again.

As I leave AlilaManggis, I will remember three things: the extra-ordinary cuisine, the attention and friendliness of the staff, and the “surprisingly different” overall experience.

Artisanal salt making: a disappearing trade

While the clientele of AlilaManggis is global, the hotel’s reach and impact in the community is local. To help connect its clientele to Balinese island life, one can arrange a visit to local salt makers.

Salt makers in the Manggis region have the reputation for making some of the best salt in Bali, perhaps in Indonesia.  The artisanal process is a relatively simple one, though the economics of salt making and hard work point to a probable decline in the trade.

Nyoman Warta is a fourth generation salt maker who learned the trade from his father, who in turn learned from his father.  They know for sure that the craft goes back four generations, though they suspect ancestors may have been salt makers even before that.

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Nyoman married twenty years ago WayanSueca, who also hails from a salt making family.  Interestingly, when asked about their two sons’ interest in the trade, they quickly admit that neither son is intending to continue the family tradition, nor are they particularly eager to force them into the trade as it is hard work for little pay.

The rhythm of the salt making work follows strictly the vagaries of the sun.  A rainless day lends itself to salt making.  On average, they can make 7 Kg of salt per day, which they sell to a “collector”, who buys from other single family producers and then sells the salt in bulk to market.  The price of their high quality salt has gone up over the past 10 years, to 30,000 rupiah per kilo ($2.60/kg), but it is still insufficient to keep the family adequately fed.

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The process is simple enough: they collect water from the sea and by day’s end, they rake the “salt” to be poured into a large filtering palm tree receptacle.  The key to making high quality salt is in the repeated filtering process which is enabled by the availability of volcanic sand as filtering material.  As new water is poured into the filter, a highly concentrated salt water is collected into a number of antique looking smaller carved palm tree hulls.

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When asked about where these come from, I get a blank stare.  These carved coconut tree hulls, which look like small stone bathtubs have been a family “asset” as far as they can remember.  The final step consists in pouring the high salt concentrate into sixty very shallow, 2 meter long troughs.  Finally, as the water evaporates in the sun, the salt crystals, shining like small diamonds, are ready to be bagged and sold.

I learn from Nyoman and his wife Wayan that they must supplement their family income with other trades.  This enterprising couple has over time developed several synergistic activities:  one sister cuts and processes palm leaves into a highly resistant, beautiful white paper thin material.  This rigid “paper” is sold in batches to buyers who use them to make shoes and others who make albums for the tourist trade.  Another activity is to collect dark grey pebbles which local builders use as decorative accents.  Yet another product consists in processing the local pandanus leaf into thin strips of weaveable material, once dry.  These are eventually woven into beautiful and robust sleeping mats, and sold to buyers who come by on an irregular basis

The couple lives with one son in their very humble beach side bamboo hut.  Asked whether working with salt tends to bring about illness, they laugh and say, through my interpreter “on the contrary, salt is good for you.  We are very healthy”.

AlilaManggis recognizes the fragility of this trade and does its part to elevate visibility for salt making.  How do the hotel do this?  Firstly, it named its world class restaurant Sea Salt.  Every table has a generous helping of organic sea salt from this area.   The center-piece decoration piece in the main dining room is a large palm tree hull, like the ones that are used by the salt makers.  All these efforts contribute to raising visibility for the trade.

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The hotel also tries to stimulate demand for sea salt in the form of gifts, by offering it in a vacuum-packed package in its Alila Lifestyle shop.  The vagaries of international travel complicate a bit the promotion of this sea salt as an export item, yet the hotel continues to experiment with packaging solutions to make this feasible.

It is hard to reconcile the drive toward development and growth all around them and the sustainability of this traditional trade.  It is easy to conclude that with one more generation, salt making at the household level will become a thing of the past.  For now, I marvel at the robustness of this family and their dedication to making the best salt on the island, a salt they are proud of and which their entire life revolves around.

Alila Manggis Cooking Class: Culinary Adventure and Vegetarian’s Paradise

Our first two Balinese meals at Alila Manggis’s SeaSalt restaurant were so delicious that I am very excited to have the opportunity to take a cooking lesson from the East Balinese Executive Chef Santika in the Organic gardens which supply the hotel’s restaurant kitchen.

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On arrival at the vegetable gardens, which are set in amongst verdant lush green rice paddies, we are greeted by Sugita, the gardener — a charming soft-spoken man.

He has been an organic gardener for his entire life and is a great asset to the Alila Manggis team. Sugita leads us through the winding path showing me the variety of organic herbs, roots and vegetables which he is responsible for growing and managing on behalf of Alila Manggis.

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In addition to pointing out the names of the vegetables and spices, Sugita crushes a leaf here and there so that I can get a whiff of the scents which all contribute so importantly to Balinese dishes. Some of the vegetables are new to me, such as the banana flower and the apple eggplant.

Having the opportunity to walk through the organic garden with the gardener who spends his days tending to the vegetables is indeed a treat. He is a wealth of knowledge about the medicinal aspect of his plants, such as the beneficial value of cardamon for cough, ginger to cure headaches, galangal for blood circulation or turmeric as an anti-oxidant.

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I have a small herb garden at home, but always enjoy learning about organic gardening and feeling the passion of someone who clearly loves what he does.

He cuts a ripe pineapple and picks some lemongrass, a piece of turmeric root and ginger, as we slowly make our way to the end of the garden, where Chef Santika and his team are waiting to begin the cooking.

A native of East Bali, Executive Chef Santika came full circle – working years ago in the gardens, then making his way through the culinary world, earning his stripes and developing his art through several positions in the kitchens of five star hotels, both in Bali and in the Caribbean. Now back as Executive Chef at Alila Manggis in East Bali, this passionate and dynamic chef has the proper platform as well as the confidence of an artist with a mission – to introduce to the world the exotic intricacy of Balinese cuisine.

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The cooking class is both extensive in the variety of dishes we prepare and fascinating. Recipes of what we are going to make are printed out, all the produce has been organized and ready for each dish to be constructed, taking the tedious prepping work out and leaving more time for the pleasure of cooking.

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Chef Santika has carefully prepared a creative, entirely vegetarian menu for us, substituting mushrooms for chicken (to make “”Tum Ayam” – spiced chicken parcel) and tofu in place of pork (to make “Sate Lilit Babi” – Pork sate on Lemongrass.)

As Chef Santika explains and demonstrates Balinese chopping skills and grinding techniques, both crucial to Balinese cooking, the flavors of the spices such as ginger, turmeric, tamarind, palm sugar, chili start to blend and permeate the air with a wondrous aroma.

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The wood fire is going strong for the double steaming of the sweet potato rice (“Nasi Sele”) in a bamboo pyramid shaped steamer and for the rice flour “crumpets” (“Lak Lak”), which will be dessert.

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Grinding on the volcanic stone is something of an art and I am clearly a novice. Chef Santika is inordinately patient and helpful as he artfully assists in a manner which makes me feel I am doing fine, even when I feel rather inept.

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I am offered tastings of flavors as the chef effortlessly puts together one dish after the other ~ from a Balinese mixed vegetable salad (“Urab Campur”) to stir fried wok vegetables (“Tumis Sayur”). Some ingredients are totally new to me, such as the fern tips, galangal and kencur root. I enjoy cooking and consider myself a foodie; having a son who is a chef and a husband who is French all contribute to making me an adventurous eater, even though a vegetarian. I long ago concluded that being a vegetarian does not mean one needs to be confined to a culinary regimen of bland foods, quite the contrary. So dipping into little known Balinese cooking that provides so much flavor for an all vegetarian meal is greatly appreciated.

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Finally it is time to enjoy the rewards of our “efforts” in the kitchen. The low table is beautifully set in amongst the gardens with a gorgeous view of the rice paddy towards the ocean, and all seven dishes are served. We sit down on cushions and take in all the bright rich colors and flavors set before us ~ a feast of a Balinese vegetarian meal. Each dish tastes more delicious than the next. I love the creaminess of the coconut milk combined with egg and mushrooms and spices in the spiced parcel (“Tum Ayam”- which was folded up as a gorgeous gift inside a banana leaf ), along with the crunchiness of the unusual greens in the vegetable salad and the Balinese salsa.

The combination of the unexpected new delicious flavors, in an incredibly gorgeous setting, and having watched the art of the dynamic Chef Santika is truly a unique experience which was the highlight of our stay in East Bali at Alila Manggis.

 

Absolutely Gorgeous…

Dorothy & Stanley wedding at Alila Villas Uluwatu is adapted from: JuneBugWeddings.com

To get your week started off right, I wanted to share with you the truly romantic, absolutely gorgeous, Bali wedding of Dorothy and Stanley. Prepare to be blown away by stunning photos by Studio Impressions, they are just too beautiful for words!

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The Couple: Dorothy and Stanley

The Wedding: - Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

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Junebug: What were your most important goals in planning your wedding?

Dorothy: Our most important goal for our wedding was to personalize everything. We wanted every detail about the wedding to be about the two of us. For example, our invitation showed a bride and groom together on a tandem bicycle as Stanley loves bicycles and is also a bicycle design engineer. Our RSVP card, the design of which I thought was really clever, also featured a bicycle but with four seats the bride and groom were in the front two seats and in the back there were two empty seats reserved for our invited guests. As for me, I love Westies and sweets, so for our desserts table we had custom made Westie cupcakes and Westie and bicycle shaped cookies. I think the best personalized item at our wedding was our wedding cake topper, which featured a miniature bride in a Vera Wang Dress custom made to be exactly as my wedding dress (the details of the dress were amazing!), a groom in a navy blue suit just like Stanley’s, along with a bicycle and a little Westie dog.

Our wedding colors were also very important to us. In addition to the cupcakes and cookies, we had a variety of pink, purple, and white candies. The staff at Alila Villas Uluwatu also offered to dye our Balinese desserts pink to match our wedding colors. The colors of my miniature bouquet and Stanleys boutonniere on our wedding cake topper matched the colors of the real flowers at our wedding. Most memorable was our water ceremony, where we poured two clear vases of liquid (sodium bicarbonate + phenolphthalein) into one big vase, which turned pink on instant contact. I was also very adamant about having a full path of pink rose petals (not just a small scatter), which I absolutely loved.

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Junebug: Where did you hold your wedding and reception, and why?

Dorothy and Stanley: We held the wedding at Alila Villas Uluwatu. We loved the cabana and the view we had during the wedding ceremony. Our reception was held at the same venue next to the Cabana.

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Junebug: What three adjectives describe your wedding best?

Dorothy and Stanley: We will tell you three words to describe our wedding: Best Wedding Ever!

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Junebug: What were you looking for in a photographer?

Dorothy and Stanley: We were looking for someone who had experience in photographing in Bali, Indonesia. We wanted someone who was professional and had great artistic talent.

Junebug: What specifically drew you to Marcus Bell and Adam Finch of Studio Impressions?

Dorothy and Stanley: Their pictures are full of emotion and love.

Junebug: What did you enjoy most about working with your photographers?

Dorothy and Stanley: They were very professional and allowed us to be ourselves. They did not add stress to an already stressed bride!

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The Photographers: Marcus Bell and Adam Finch of Studio Impressions

Junebug: How did you approach this particular wedding and what did you most want to capture during shooting?

Marcus Bell: Their relationship is what I most wanted to capture. Dorothy and Stanley have such a beautiful love story that started in their childhood, that I wanted the images from their wedding day to show the depth of that love and connection.

Junebug: Were there any special photographic requests from the couple that made this wedding especially exciting creatively or personally?

Marcus Bell: When Dorothy and Stanley first saw the work of Studio Impressions they loved both my work and Adams and could see that by combining our unique perspectives that they could get some amazing wedding photography, so they booked us both! This was so much fun because it was like being back in the early days of Studio Impressions when Adam and I often shot together, only much better creatively now. Dorothy and Stanley also wanted us to do some cinematography, so we got to combine our photographic and cinematography skills all together. We just did this ourselves without an extra videographer and because Id really gotten to know this couple, I loved the result.

Junebug: What was the most fun part of this wedding for you to photograph?

Marcus Bell: Everyone was so relaxed at the reception. They all had a great time and so did I, capturing the whole thing. I also loved the location shoot at Penang Penang Beach because it was so breathtaking at sunset and Dorothy and Stanley were not only willing to go anywhere I asked (even out on a rocky edge) they really used the time to soak in their first few moments of being husband and wife in this stunning place. I felt a bit like an intruder but also very lucky to witness it. Photographically, it was a dream.

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Junebug: Were there any special locations you were able to choose that made for really great images?

Marcus Bell: Well the sunset at Penang Penang Beach obviously provided an amazing backdrop and location and the light was awesome although the challenge was to shoot quick before it disappeared! The infinity pool at Alila Villas Uluwatu was also amazing because the edge of the pool is a cliff edge. It provides a stunning location that suited this couple perfectly, but a lot of preparation had to be done to make sure the spot was secure and safe and that the hotel would allow us to shoot there. It is a little more dangerous than most infinity pools but it is so worth it!

Junebug: What kind of equipment did you use while shooting this wedding?

Marcus Bell: Nikon D4 and Nikon D800E with the 85mm f1.4 and the 135mm f2 and the 24-70mm f2.8 and 35mm f1.4. I also used Sandisk Extreme Pro cards. All light was natural available light. I didnt use any flash or pro lighting on this wedding.

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Once in a Lifetime…

Charisse and Aldo wedding at Alila Villas Soori photographed by Marcus Bell and this story is taken from : StudioImpressions.com Combine an epic location with a magnificent couple, add a swag of supremely talented family and friends and you have the ingredients for magic. Charisse and Aldo from New York City had all that and so much […]

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A Vivacious Celebration

Sunaina & Harnoop wedding at Alila Diwa Goa adapted from WeddingSutra Photo credits to Romesh Dhamija Sunaina, a Finance Professional who has lived in mini Gibraltar, tied the knot with Harnoop, a Management Consultant from London. They met 6 years ago in University, and then got engaged in Koh Samui in May 2012. She writes […]

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One Magical Day…

Sarah & Roger wedding is photographed by whenelephantmetzebra.com We met about 11 years ago when we were at uni and instantly became very close friends. We didn’t start going out until about 4 years later when Roger realised Sarah was the love of his life. Ha ha! The Proposal We were back in Zimbabwe and Roger […]

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Made in Love

Sabrina & Graeme wedding at Alila Manggis Bali photographed by PhotoFactoryBali The chic, isle-style nuptials of Sabrina & Graeme in Alila Manggis was set in a picturesque view of the Indian Ocean, on an exotic landscape, flanked by coconut groves and romance of the sea. Surrounded by lotus ponds under a coconut and bamboo bordered […]

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If your idea of a perfect Sunday is a relaxing day by the pool with cocktail in hand, then Alila Bangalore Brunch is for you! Take a dip or lounge by the infinity pool overlooking the lush paddy fields, sipping cocktails or chilled beer. Savour the sprawling buffet offering a vast range of scrumptious delicacies coupled with free flowing drinks - a tantalizing treat for your taste buds.

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