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There are cooking classes that feed you information. The instructor gives a demonstration of how to create a particular dish chop this, prep this, mix everything together and simmer until tender. These classes are functional and efficient.

            Then there are cooking classes that feed the mind and the soul. The participants are not merely taught how a dish is done, but become immersed in an experience. They are shown where the food comes found from and invited into the cook’s home to get a feel for how people in this particular culture live,

            So imaging this for a cooking class in Ubud, Bali. First, a trip to the traditional market where ordinary people do everyday shopping. Second, a drive up to the paddies to see how the rice is grown. Finally, a warm welcome at the home of the Balinese family who will teach you how to prepare their cuisine amid the backdrop of an organic garden.


            This is what you get when you sign up for the Paon Bali Cooking Class, run by the husband-and-wife team of Wayan Subawa and Puspa Wati..

            “Don’t miss this,””most do for foodies,” and “the best way to learn Balinese cooking” are but a sampling of the praise that has been heaped on Paon Bali Cooking on TripAdvisor, which generates content from its users. The class is near the top of the list of things to do in Ubud on the popular travel website. In fact, it was tripAdvisor that connected the participant- four from Australia, two from Canada, four from the United States and myself from the Phillipines – with Paon Bali Cooking on that particular Sunday.

            “We found the cooking class on TripAdvisor and the recommendations were absolutely fantastic,.” Said Paul Michaelson, a retiree from Connecticut who was vacationing with his wife, Janet.

            The story of Wayan and Puspa is proof that technology can help tradition flourish by creating a shared experience among diverse cultures. Puspa had just one student for her fisrts class, sometime last year. A friend of hers in The United States asked  if she could teach another American in Ubud about Balinese cuisine. It proved to be the start of the now successful cooking school. Launching their website, paon-bali.com, in February attracted even more culinary tourist from the United States, Holland, Singapore, and France, to name a few countries, who enrolled for a half-day session.

            “I learned how to cook from my dad when I was 5 years old,”Puspa said. “My dad is the best cooking in the village. If somebody has a big ceremony or wedding ceremony in the village, they invite him.

            “We always cook real Balinese food lawar, urab, pepes ikan,” she added.

Before she decided to conduct her classes full time, Puspa gave instruction on Balinese and Indonesian cuisine at an Ubud hotel for 15 years. Cooking is her life. For the couple, the classes are more than just a source of income. “We love doing this. Every day we meet new people. We are proud to meet people and teach them about aur culture,” Wayan said. “We also love to introduce them to our family, that’s why we put up this business.”

            The classes which are conducted  in English, are centered around Balinese family culture. The participants feel this as soon  as the group is assembled  at the Ubud Market. They are informed that they would be one another’s family for the day.  Everyone riders together, walks together, prepares the food together and enjoys  the meal at the table as any family would.

            At the market Puspa  explained the cuisine, as well as the various fruits, vegetables and meats. This was followed by the drive up to the family’s race paddies and house in Laplapan village, located 15 minutes away from the center  of Ubud. At the paddies, Wayan give an overview of how the crop is grown and the role it plays in Balinese life.

            Then it was on to their home for the cooking. The menu for Sunday’s class was bumbu kuning (Balinese basic sauce), sup jamur kuping (spicy clear mushroom and vegetable soup), kare ayam ( chicken curry), pepes ikan (steamed tuna), jukut urab (Balinese vegetables), gado – gado (boiled vegetable in peanut sauce), fried tempeh (soya bean cake) and kolak pisang (boiled banan in palm sugar sauce for dessert).

            All the dishes are prepared with organic ingredients from the couple’s garden. The prep and cooking was done in the outdoor kitchen at the back using a combination of traditional methods, like mortar and  pestle to  grind the spices  and  the Balinese  wood stove, as well as the  modern gas range.

            The class  was hands-on, with everyone was expected to pitch in.  Puspa and Wayan answered every question that came their way – food-related or otherwise – such as  with the  Balinese have a room  for honeymoons; why the don’t normally eat  together  and why some of the rice stalks were  not as green as others.

            And because the students were tourists there were plenty of opportunities to take photos of the cooks in action to take home as souvenirs.

            When asked what the secret to Balinese cuisine was, Puspa had this to say:”The important thing to Balinese food is how you make the basic sauce. If you know how to  make the basic sauce, your food will be OK.”

            The sauce,  which was part of almost all the dishes, consists of a combination of typical Balinese ingredients that  include galangal (blue ginger), tumeric, candle nuts, shrimp, salam leaves, chili, shrimp paste and palm  sugar, to name a few.

            Everyone in the class agreed that the dishes they helped create could easily rival the best restaurants on the island. The participants couldn’t make up their minds what they liked most. Some said it was the mushroom soup for others it  was the  proof that the class was  a success was  that despite the sheer amount of  food, all the dishes were almost wiped clean in between pleasant conversation.

            The participants were unanimous that the class lived up to its online hype. “The class was fabulous. The people  were great,” Michaelson said. “It  was a total ecperience.”

            “It was a  wonderful  introduction to Balinese culture and to  help you understand what you’re visiting that’s beyond the  tourist experience and they were just so  inviting and warm to us,” said Janet, his wife.

            Gladys Horowitz, who was also vacationing from the United States, said she appreciated the opportunity to experience the Balinese life style. “It was unique to be able to come into someone’s home and get a sense of  how they live and what happens in families in  Bali, which is similar to us in the west, but with a lot of differences,” she said.

            The cooking classes are a labor of love for Wayan and Puspa, and that’s evident in everything the do. More than just a mere class, one feels the sincerity and the genuineness  of this Balinese couple sharing their culture,

            Glady’s husbanf. Sidney, best sums up the experience of what made the class a must-do. “One can learn to eat and cook anywhere, but the perfect ingredient had to be our host and hostess.”


JakartaGlobe   Saturday/Sunday, November 6/7, 2010


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