Mindful Travel, Part 2: A Balinese Farm Tour and Cooking Class
An Example of Mindful Travel - Local Cooking Classes
If you read my last post, you learned about the series I’ve started discussing mindful travel and the challenge of choosing ethical tour operators and activities when you visit a new destination. I wanted to share one of my abso-fruitly favorite ways to dive into the local culture in a very sustainable and exploratory way - a cooking class! This is one of the few other types of tourist activities I will sign up for outside of the marine realm. I think cooking with local chefs and guides is one of the most meaningful ways to experience the culture of a place, especially when the whole class takes place on the farm on which the ingredients are grown. Participating in such a class allows you to step into the kitchen with the best mentors and learn about how they grow and harvest their food and then prepare their meals. You’re also usually supporting a local business by taking a cooking class, eating in a very low-impact way (farm-to-table), meeting like-minded travelers, eating damn good food that you’ve made yourself, and diving into the culture. We all need to eat, so why not learn how the locals do it while you’re in their country?
Pemulan Farm Cooking School
Let me whisk you away to Bali - the Balinese Farm Tour and Cooking Class is a half-day tour (morning or afternoon) that picks you up from your accommodation in Ubud and whisks you away to a local market in a neighboring village. A guide meets you there and escorts you around to different stalls, pointing out and explaining the local offerings of fruits, vegetables, and various prepared goods. It was an absolute delight for the senses, as any market in Asia is almost guaranteed to leave you in a sensory overload. From fruits with weird names, shapes, and textures to multiple kinds of ginger to sweet little rice and coconut dumplings, we were able to sample a variety of locally grown and produced foods. I was definitely looking forward to putting these very ingredients to use later on that day in the actual cooking class.
After the market, we were transported by our lovely driver to the actual farm and cooking school. Apparently the farm opened about five years ago, and since then they have been operating cooking classes for travelers and locals alike. The set-up is perfect with a spacious open-air kitchen and enough cooking stations for everyone to buddy up and tackle either an omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan menu. Before you start going all Rachel Ray, your guides will walk you through a farm tour, where you pick a collection of greens and veggies that are then washed and used directly in the dishes you prepare. It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than that!
What the Heck is Bumbu Bali?
My friend MC and I were so excited by our vegetarian menu. We became pros at using the mortar and pestle to smash up our own peanut sauce and Bumbu Bali (a spice mix that is used in almost every Balinese dish). We fried up some tempeh and made cute little dumplings that were steamed in banana leaf wrappers. My favorite dish was the Balinese curry; I’m a sucker for anything with coconut milk and turmeric! There was even dessert, consisting of the most amazing sticky rice with coconut milk, banana, and palm sugar. As someone who normally skips dessert and heads straight for the tea, I was surprised by how great I felt after eating the sweetness! Maybe it had something to do with the freshly harvested palm sugar? Who knows, but everything I ate felt just fine in my tum tum. And one of the best parts of a cooking class is that all of the ingredients are set out for you - you feel like an f***ing Masterchef when you have everything lined up beautifully on your counter in their designated bowls and pots (you also don’t need to do the dishes…mega bonus.)
The group participating in our tour was small, a.k.a. ideal - there were about 10 of us from mainly European countries, which left plenty of space for everyone to get involved and do their wok-wielding. The local guides and chefs were hilarious and really seemed to love their job. They were also very helpful in taking over when our amateur arms turned to jello after ten minutes of mashing up our spice mix with mixed results (haha). It was really fun talking to Osol - I had lots of questions for him about the Balinese family structure (I love that so many cultures in Asia emphasize the importance of the extended family) and about his favorite foods and what he does in his free time. What a cool way to get an inside scoop on life in Bali.
A True Cultural Immersion - The Essence of Responsible Travel
All in all, the cooking class was the perfect way to step away from the cutesy, picture-perfect vegan cafes and surfer beach-town culture that is rampant in Canggu and get down on the farm with an experience that left me feeling happy, full, and excited to get back to my own kitchen and give these dishes a whirl (they did let us leave with the cookbook and a souvenir apron). The cooking class was a true cultural experience and a way to treat yourself to a luscious local meal or two, and it’s a way to give back to the local economy in a non-consumerist or environmentally-degrading way. The whole day just oozes with meaningfulness, you know what I’m saying? Different than hitting up the Westernized burger joint on the street corner and grabbing some Bintangs. Ditch that for the day and go say hi to my friends at Pemulan Bali Farm Cooking School. They have stellar TripAdvisor reviews too if you’re into that.
Travel is way better when you feel good about it. So keep following along with my hiccups and successes in the world of eco-travel to find that balance between mindfulness and exploration.
What’s Coming Up Next?
That was Part 2 of the series. You’ve gotten an introduction to what I look for in meaningful travel experiences and heard about one of my favorite ways to partake in ethical travel - cooking up a storm. Next up - my day trip to Lady Elliot Island. Get excited to hear about some turtle and manta friends.
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite food blogger’s spin on Gado Gado, one of the Indonesian dishes we made. I’m obsessed with it, mainly because of the peanut sauce, which is the perfect excuse to eat peanut butter for dinner.