Pigs’ Blood, Groaty Oats and Disappointment: Dull Brown is the New Black

 

First published 10 November 2016

Value for money eating in Bali is best done at a roadside Warung. These, usually one-man operations, comprise a single burner gas stove or a small wood-burning barbecue, and a wok of enormous proportions.

We have a series of “little men” who cover off all our favorite, local needs and they cope very well indeed. We have a “little man” (he’s actually very tall and angular) who builds tables and chairs from stupendous Indonesian teak; a “little man” (really little) who crawls into the loft to liberate mother cats who have decided it’s the ideal place to raise their litter; and a wizened “little man” who pulls up all the weeds from the garden, especially after the rainy season when they assume Triffid-like qualities and dream of world domination. Our best discovery, however, is the stocky “little man” who cooks Chinese food.

This guy has his one-burner gas stove. His wok looks big enough to take a fully-grown elephant and it not touch the edges. It is a truly impressive, nay stupendous, piece of culinary hardware and he orchestrates its magic like a Maestro commandeering the Berlin Philharmonic.

Diagonally in front of him is a shelf with his condiments and spices. To his right is a table where two women prepare the ingredients. We stand to his left and marvel at his dexterity and skilled professionalism. An expert in his craft is always a joy to behold.

We tend to order sweet and sour chicken, soy sauce chicken, roasted chicken thigh, mixed vegetables (carrots, cabbage, bok choy, tomatoes … etc.), all of them arrive in their own delicious sauce and are accompanied by the whitest, fluffiest rice you could imagine. We feed four.

All this arrives with a bill for around 50,000-60,000 Indonesian rupiah ($3.80 to $4.60). Last night we added another chicken dish, katsuop Inggris ayam (English chicken, which is something I, being English, have never encountered before) and the whole lot came to INR 70,000 ($6.00). There was enough to “fully book” our intestinal hotels and have enough left over for a hearty breakfast this morning. It’s crazy. The quality is 11/10, the portions are 10/10, and the cost is 1/10. Think about the capital costs ofthe land rent, the cooker and the shelves and the Jumbo-wok. Think about the ingredients, always fresh. Think about the three staff and their lives and families. How is it possible to sell such quality at these prices?

Contrast this with the formal restaurants. They try to be elitist in their ingredientcombinations and their menu descriptions, but they seldom hit the mark.

We ate lunch today at one such pretender. I’m going to omit the name because it’s next door to my wife’s office and is owned by my wife’s boss. He may not like the report. The establishment is still in the throes of a ‘soft’ opening so there may be changes in the pipeline. They are needed.

The layout and décor are pleasant. The outdoor section opens directly onto a busy road which tenders to 52-seater tourist buses, so civilized conversation are often a challenge. The table staffs are not trained up to a high standard but that comment would apply to 99% of all restaurants in Bali. Only the very top-line places have staff who predict your requirements, make suggestions based on customer care rather than owner profit, and can adequately explain dishes and interpret your requests accurately. It’s not their fault; they are just not adequately trained. Cheap management. Sad.

Today my wi-fi ordered a mixture of two listed dishes. She wanted eggs Benedict, but being Muslim, that couldn’t pass the taste test so she substituted salmon for the ham. She could have chosen salmon Florentine but the Hollandaise of the Benedict won out over the Mornay of the Florentine. It was a generous portion which she declared “too much” and then proceeded to devour the lot to leave a spotlessly clean plate and possibly save the kitchen staff some cleaning chores.

I scanned the menu and alighted on Butifarra blanca/negra which translates to a white or black pudding. Growing up in Lancashire I was raised near the epicenter of the black pudding Universe: Bury.

Black puddings are a delicacy, one of the great dishes of the world, relatively rare and largely unknown. If you’re squeamish, look away now.

Bury black puddings are made from pork fat, pork blood and oatmeal, sometimes cut with oat or barley groats. It’s a horrendous looking concoction which is reminiscent of the old, untouched horse droppings which littered the streets in Victorian times when black puddings gained popularity. The art was refined from the reign of George III through George IV, William IV and Victoria and onto the present day.

The UK, as a whole, has embraced black puddings and the Stornoway variant enjoys Protected Geographical Indicator of Origin status; high recognition indeed. There is a World Black Pudding Throwing Championship where the Wars of the Roses are re-enacted with Lancashire black puddings being venomously hurled at Yorkshire puddings.

Butifarra hails from Catalonia, part of Spain, and South America, mainly Peru. I guess it depends on your relationship to Ferdinand Magellan and his seafaring journeys. The word is used for the sausage in Catalonia and for a sandwich, sporting various fillings, in Peru. Butifarra blanca and Butifarra negra, therefore, should refer to the meaty persuasion rather than the doughy one. Negra VigRx Plus has various meanings. Musical terminology in the UK embodies it as a crotchet whilst the United States, as always, insists on changing the language and bestows ‘quarter note’ on it. The sound is the same. In chess, it denotes the black side of the board and the black pieces. There is, however, another meaning, related to destiny and meaning bad luck. I should have crammed up on my Spanish.

The description appeared clear: white or black pudding sausage served on bread with fresh grated tomato and EVO. I opted for the black. Bread came in two varieties: sourdough or whole grain. Whole grain it was.

Preparation took a long time. Too long. Inexplicably long. I’d had eggs Benedict a few days previously and it was served in goodly order so I have to put the delay down to troublesome sausages. When it did arrive I was shocked.

Two pieces of medium-sized bread, perfectly toasted: couldn’t be faulted if you tried. But lying on top was a group of medallion-shaped slices of some grey-brown-pinky stuff. They were so thin as to be almost transparent. I checked the menu. Beef Carpaccio was in a different section altogether. Hmm … negra. Destiny.

I carefully tasted a small piece. Well, I tried but there was no taste. Nothing. Just a damp feeling of thinly-sliced wet cardboard, and maybe cardboard would have excited me more. I added my own olive oil because there was none and then I added black pepper. No. Add more. OK, try salt. That helped, so I added more salt and more pepper. And more olive oil. Eventually I got there. Edible. Just. The toasted bread saved it.

Oh, the grated tomato? You are joking, aren’t you? No sign of it.

There are lots of shades of black. Almost as many as there are shades of grey. Coal black, light black, dark black, noir, jet, and many, more, but black, per se, is a pretty black and white description when applied to food color. Grey-brown-pinky is not black. Not noir. Not negra. It was more reminiscent of Butifarra Soledana which hails from Colombia and thrives on a lime juice dressing. Limes are so cheapin Bali they may as well be free. Use them. Use seasoning. Be a tourist and visit Bury, Lancashire. Eat congealed pigs’ blood.

Cost for two with two beers? INR 198,000 ($15.14), so still cheap compared to other countries but the “little man” wins the day. By a country mile. In fact by the size of his wok.

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