For the second installment of our kitchen conversation series we go behind the scenes of Indonesian paradise and into the Roam Bali kitchen.
Bali’s tropical landscape is the backdrop for an abundance of rich fruit, vegetables and spices. As a historical trade port, Bali brought spices and other exotic flavors to the rest of the world. There is even a group of islands still known as The Spice Islands. The growth of trade between Indonesia and the rest of the world opened the country to food and drink influences from many other cultures… today you see an influence of Chinese, Indian, Arabian, Portuguese and Dutch in their everyday dishes.
Alysia Hamilton, the woman behind the seamless running of community for Roam globally, opens up to us about the true spirit behind the Roam gastro-community. A true believer of integrating into local culture, Alysia shows how even the most unexpected ingredients can rework our taste buds in familiar dishes. Bali cuisine is often described as being a feast for the gods, and the Roam community in Bali can testify to that experience, not only in the elevated flavors and textures, but also in the process of preparation. The Roam kitchen reflects the Bali custom of food prep, which is very much a community effort where everybody gathers in the kitchen for hours on end.
Roam: Hi Alysia! What are 3 great local ingredients you discovered through living there?
Ubud is historically a farming village. The climate and the rain make things grow like crazy… everything from tropical fruit to rice, as well as the most incredible flowers and botanicals. Outside of Ubud, farming and food production depends on the climate and what is available, near the beaches, where it’s dry and hot, you’ll find more fish and even seaweed farms.
The most common dishes here are Nasi Campur\\Goreng and Mie Goreng (fried noodles), Gado Gado ( mixed steamed vegetables with egg, peanut sauce tofu, tempe and sometimes rice wrapped in Banana leaf. Sate (like grilled skewers) is also a very traditional dish here made with fish or meat and the skewer lemon grass. The meat is shaped on the lemon grass and usually grilled over charcoal.
The ingredients that I love most are:
Tumeric– it’s everywhere! In cooking, it’s used to color rice, in curries and to add bitter flavor to other dishes. My favorite use is a juice originated in Indonesia, called Jamu. Tumeric has so many healing properties, it’s a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Jamu is a mix of water, tumeric, black pepper and sometimes honey – to make it more taste bud friendly.
Tempeh– originated in Java, it’s made by fermenting cooked soybeans in a mold. It’s much less processed than Tofu, high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. It’s used in so many dishes here as an alternative to meat. My favorite is Tempe Manis (sweet and spicy).
Banana leaves – It’s not an ingredient, but, in Bali the use of Banana leaves is really common. They are used to grill, serve food and it’s even used in creative ways for take-away containers. It’s amazing to see the use of an organic and abundant plant being used in so many different ways. So many places around the world produce so much waste with packaging. I dream of a world where we could all replace our cooking foil, Styrofoam and plastic with something so sustainable.
Roam: Have any interesting fusion dishes come out? Do you have people from different countries cooking at the same time?
Absolutely! We are always learning from each other in the kitchen, maybe even more than the other locations. Here in Bali, we have bi-monthly cooking classes on our rooftop, led by our team, or local friends who like to cook or have a restaurant.
It’s really special to see the exchanges of cooking techniques and ideas, so, sometimes it’s not just local to Bali. We’ve have Roamers from Japan run sushi classes, a French chef who utilized our sou vids, we’ve even had crème Brule demos, cocktail classes – it’s always an adventure in our kitchen.
Roam: How do Roamers relate in the kitchen? Are there dinner parties, does everybody pitch in, or do people take turns cooking?
We host community dinners every Wednesday, at every location! In some locations, we have breakfast clubs too. Naturally, the kitchen is the center of any home and that notion remains the same for us. People really look forward to coming together for dinner each week, it’s always something different and it’s always such a great way to bring people together. Everyone contributes something, whether they host or just add something to the potluck.
We also host social events on our rooftop, one of those is the Sunday social and it happens every 6 weeks. The original idea was to create a block party where we could bring together our local friends, chefs, expats and partners for a simple BBQ. We have a new food partner each time, and we even host the event at other venues around town now. We host it collaboratively with Hubud, Bali’s biggest co-working space, and it’s not uncommon to have more than 100 guests. I think we hold the world record for biggest cards against humanity match to ever take place!
Roam: Have your meal habits changed since moving here?
I was surprised the first time I came to Bali 2 years ago to see the abundance of organic produce here. I am a vegetarian, and once or twice a week, I eat some fish. It’s incredible to live in a place where I get to have such a strong connection to the source of my food.
Roam: What are your favorite restaurants, grocery stores, or street markets that locals go to?
The Ubud morning market is pretty famous if you’ve done some research about Bali – it blows any farmers market in North America out of the water, for sure! It starts at 6 am and local food producers show up with truck loads of vegetables, coconuts, fish everything you can imagine – literally truck loads and they just park in rows. Half of the building where it was hosted previously burnt down last year, so, it’s mostly outside now. It’s a BUSY place and also the cheapest place to shop if you can brave the early morning crowds
There are also tiny markets on every corner here! Each village has their own local shops where they sell what they’ve grown or what their families grow. I guess they are probably about 100-200 sq ft, super simple, baskets on tables filled with produce, cash only.
Roam: What’s your favorite part about the Roam kitchen at your location? Any hidden surprises?
My favorite part is the view of the pool and the fact that it is outside. Most kitchens are outside here in Bali, cause, it’s just so hot! We can eat on bean bags beside the pool and under the stars or head upstairs to the roof and have a proper sit down dinner.
Roam: Do you have a kitchen/mealtime anecdote you can share?
Two of my most treasured memories… the first few months we opened, I had a lot of friends from home come and stay and made some really strong friendships with new friends too. We used to have Sunday brunch every week and everyone would take turns cooking, it just happened, one person would host it then someone else – it was such a good way to come together. The things we do change with each group, it’s interesting to watch.
There are a lot of impromptu things that happen in the kitchen, dance parties, romantic connections, deep conversations.
My favorite dinner ever was taco night turned Mexican fiesta, Guacamole and Margaritas transitioned into a night of Latin dancing by the pool and twerking lessons for the whole group – I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed that much in my entire life!