Melbourne Food and Wine Festival – Balinese “Market Tour to Plate” Cooking Class

I’m probably one of the few remaining Aussies that has yet to visit Bali. It’s a place that I’m hoping I’ll get to experience in the future but in the meantime, the Balinese “Market Tour to Plate” cooking class which was part of the recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival programme, gave me the opportunity to indulge in Balinese cuisine without physically leaving the city limits.

The event had been originally designed to meet at the Footscray market, to walk through the myriad of stalls and shops to familiarise ourselves with the key ingredients and produce used in Balinese cooking. However as luck would have it, a deluge of torrential rain was forecast during the time we were to walk from the market towards the Spice Bazaar Cooking School in nearby Seddon. So the day started a little later than previously scheduled, in the warmth of the cooking school, where we were greeted with a glass of Wood Park Prosecco upon arrival.

Our hosts, Pat and Jill, introduced the menu and proceedings for the day whilst we enjoyed sampling some traditional Balinese snacks of rice crackers, accompanied with satay sauce, spicy sambal olek and sambal hijau, and delicious, warm corn fritters served straight from the stove top.

Ingeniously, Pat and Jill recreated the semblance of a market by carefully curating the spices, herbs, vegetables and ingredients typically found in the cuisine and in the selected recipes that we would be attempting to recreate during the class.

The first dish to be prepared was the Lamb Rendang (Rendang Daging) which naturally needed the longest time to cook. Cooking in teams of four to five, we set about the task of preparing all the individual ingredients in order to create one of the first spice pastes of the day.

Lamb Rendang spice paste - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Lamb Rendang spice paste – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

Once the paste had been processed with the aid of a blender and quickly heated in a pan, it was time to add the coconut milk and meat and leave the dish to slowly cook for the next few hours.

With the lamb slowly simmering on the stove, the next order of business was to create another type of spice paste for the Balinese spiced pork dish (Be Celeng Base Manis). Creating a simple paste of shallots, garlic, ginger and oil, the colourful paste slowly transformed into a thicker and darker colour once the pork, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and soy sauce was added to the pot.

This dish also required two to three hours of cooking time on a gentle simmer, allowing us to leave the pork to develop further and turn our hand to another recipe.

Having completed the preparation of the meat dishes in the banquet, it was time to concentrate on cooking the fish and seafood components of our meal. The next recipe also involved creating another spice paste, but as it was intended as a marinade for the prawns, there were four times as many ingredients than the previous dish. With everyone contributing to the blender with the fresh roots and rhizomes typically found in Asian cuisine, we got to work on slicing quantities of turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and chillies before adding the dry spices.

Once the paste had been processed, it required a longer cooking time than its predecessors in order to thicken and soften before being added to the prawns. While the paste was developing, we had an impromptu lesson in removing the entrails and outer shell of the prawns before threading them onto skewers and immersing them in delicious paste so as to let them marinate before our scheduled lunch.

And so we progressed onto the last but not least main dish of the day, Kaffir Lime Ginger Snapper cooked in banana leaf (Pepes Ikan). In order to prepare the dish, Pat demonstrated how to transform a rigid banana leaf into a flexible sealing agent, simply by placing it over a naked flame to release its fibres. By preparing another paste to act as marinade, each team got to work in preparing their banana leaves and fish fillings, ready to create a series of parcels for cooking. The beauty of these versatile fish parcels is that they could be either steamed, baked or barbecued as desired.

As the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and rather than individually preparing all the accompanying dishes and sauces for our banquet, the tasks of preparing the mango salsa and mango coulis, the fried Tempeh with sweet soy sauce (Tempe Kering Teri) and the green papaya salad were allocated amongst the three teams to prepare in readiness for lunch.

With the heavy rain beating against the windows and the tempting aromas of succulent lamb, pork and prawns filling our nostrils, there was one last dish to prepare before sitting down to a delicious five-course banquet – which was none other than the ubiquitous Indonesian dish of Nasi Goreng. Aside from finely chopping shallots and garlic to mix with the cooked rice, the complicated aspect of this dish was creating a thin omelette in a wok over high heat, and then dice and fold through the rice mixture.

As the time approached 3pm, everyone was well and truly ready to start plating up their dishes, commencing with the Turmeric galangal spiced king prawns served on top of fresh betel leaves and accompanied by the just-prepared Nasi Goreng. Naturally there were a lot of murmurs of appreciation as the beautifully presented prawns and nasi goreng made its way to each guest.

The beauty of this special event was being able to enjoy our prepared dishes with matched wines produced by Wood Park Wines, from the north-east Victorian wine region. The selected wine match for this particular dish was the ‘Monument Lane’ Roussanne (2015) from the King Valley. Roussanne is a French white varietal from the Northern Rhone area that few winemakers in both the Rutherglen and Alpine wine districts have been growing for the past decade. With aromas of green melon and fresh citrus on the nose, the creamy, soft texture of this wine was a welcome reward for our cooking endeavours and an excellent match for the oven baked prawns and crispy elements of the rice.

No sooner had the first glass of wine been depleted, Pat arrived at the table ready to pour the selected wine for the next dish which as ‘The Kilnhouses’ Semillon (2014) from the township of Porepunkah in the Alpine Valley. With a crisp, fruit driven character, the honeyed sweetness and creamy texture complemented the fruity sweetness and thicker texture of the mango coulis and soft fish. This dish was also visually spectacular in its colourful array and the added novelty of eating straight off a banana leaf gave it a sense of Balinese authenticity.

My heart leapt with joy as the selected wine changed from white to red when Pat started to pour the ‘Myrrhee’ Merlot (2013). Carefully matured in French Oak barriques over a twelve month period, this beautifully intense coloured purple-red wine, had rich dark fruit characteristics and a fine, medium-bodied tannic structure. The silky, smooth wine cut nicely through the soft-textured spiced pork and crispy, crunchy tempeh accompaniment. This dish was delightful with its rich, spiced gravy; melt-in-your-mouth pork; and soft bok choy and turmeric rice.

Balinese spiced pork, wilted bok choy and crispy tempeh - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Balinese spiced pork, wilted bok choy and crispy tempeh – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

Believe it or not, there is still another dish to be served as Pat pours a unique offering of ‘Reserve’ Zinfandel (2013) from the King Valley wine region. Zinfandel (or ‘Zin’ as it is more affectionately known) is a red grape varietal that is commonly grown in North America although it is starting to gain some traction in Australia. In warmer climates, this grape exhibits blackberry, star anise and peppery characters although in cooler climates (much like North-East Victoria) the wine displays rich red fruit flavours of cherry and raspberry with hints of spice. What was interesting about this wine was its rich, syrup-like consistency, similar to that of a  fortified wine. The multi-faceted and complex wine was a perfect foil for the spiced and meaty flavours of the slow cooked Lamb Rendang. Accompanied with steamed rice and a flavourful green papaya salad, this dish was my highlight for the afternoon. The flavours and textures in the salad were a total revelation, from the inclusion of roasted peanuts and crispy shallots, to the finely shredded, fresh fruit which instantly became a match made in heaven with the rich lamb and full bodied wine.

After consuming four beautiful dishes over the course of an hour, a few people were starting to flag, unaware that the final dessert dish of Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream (Burbur Injun) was also just about to be served. It makes sense that a fortified dessert wine of “Rutherglen” Muscat should be selected as a match with such an elegant dessert. With luscious aromas of raisins, dried figs and candied peel (think rich Christmas pudding), the syrupy, sweet texture of the wine matched the creaminess of the rice pudding and the thick coconut cream. I’m very much looking forward to attempting to cook this dessert for my next dinner party.

Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

And just like that the party was over, with everyone fully sated from the numerous but delicious Balinese dishes consumed over the course of an afternoon. This class was an excellent way to gain an unique insight into a lesser-known cuisine and to also enjoy a select offering of some excellent wines from a regional boutique wine producer. Truth be told, this event has more than piqued my interest in exploring Bali as a potential culinary destination and I’m looking forward to perhaps discovering more of what this place to offer on one of Pat and Jill’s specialty food tours to the area.

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