Saturday, August 25, 2012

You Dirty, Dirty Duck!

When I'm home, in the States, I tend to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I try and keep things healthy, avoid dairy as much as possible, watch out for preservatives and practice yoga pretty regularly.

When I'm traveling, I don't do any of those things.

It started out mainly as a part of the job -- producers and directors wanted me to eat giant worms or raw crocodile; but, I also felt strongly that I would probably not have another go at most of my crazy travel scenarios, so I should make the most of them and try anything once.

And, somewhere in between, my love of ALL things weird and wonderful about travel morphed into my current philosophy of not denying myself anything that looks different, daring, and delicious whilst abroad!

It's this version of myself that brought me and Ed to the best crispy duck joint in Ubud, Bali -- Bebek Bengil.

Pre Duck-Sweats.

And, how did it go, you ask? Well, see for yourself:

And, for you fellow foodies who simply MUST try making your own magical Balinese sambal -- and who could blame you? -- then check out THIS FANTASTIC RECIPE from Casa Luna Cooking School.
(Our cooking lesson with Casa Luna will definitely have a full blog dedicated to it in the near future.)

Here's to deep-fried anything, especially things that quack!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bean There, Drank What?

Oh coffee! Sweet nectar of the caffeinated gods! We’ve had so many fantastic times together -- I don’t even get mad that you make me go through Crest Whitestrips like Chiclets.
(Which, due to my coffee breath, you also make me go through like, well, Chiclets!)

So, imagine my surprise upon at arriving in Ubud, Bali (having already had a cup of Bali’s finest at our first resort) and heading out to find some beautiful locales – such as the Water Palace nestled among its ponds full of lily pads lotus flowers – and what do I find in its footprint? A Starbucks?!? Really? In Indonesia? Home to THE ISLAND OF JAVA?!?

For bean’s sake, you can’t just put an Asian looking gong in front of a place and think that it suddenly blends. There weren’t even any other gongs to be had on our entire trip.

Well, this sad treatment of my most treasured morning tradition didn’t stop there. At every accommodation in which we stayed, we were given the option of Balinese coffee or Italian. (I won’t even begin to discuss how ludicrous the idea of shipping coffee to Bali is…no matter where it’s from.) Now, I’m all for choices; but, when you are in paradise, I don’t think it it’s odd to suppose that whatever fantastic local tonic is on hand should more than suffice. More so, if you’re truly a lover of coffee…like me.

Well, thank you for joining me on that rant. Now to the good stuff…

While we were in Ubud, which is often referred to as the main culinary destination of Indonesia, we couldn’t resist the idea of a Balinese coffee and tea tasting. We had booked a cycling tour with Bali Budaya Tours (more on that awesome day to follow in another post) and our tour included a trip to a local plantation. It was tremendous! On our way onto the grounds, we were able to sample cinnamon leaves (which taste exactly like you think they would) right off the tree. Our guide helped us to spot a lot of other local plants, including the many cococa pods hanging above our heads. Ed tried mangosteen for the first time – one of my absolute favs! And, we both got to sample snake fruit.

Cinnamon Leaves.
Cocoa Pods.
Roasting Coffee Beans.

But the highlight of our time on the plantation definitely had to be the tasting.

Now, Ed’s tasting was a little more controversial. He had decided to spring for the expensive cup of Kopi Luwak, which is a simper way of saying: "the dude payed the equivalent of $6 USD for half a cup of coffee that was made by beans that had been eaten and crapped out by a Asian Palm Civet (a Southeast Asian fox-like mammal)."

Check out the brave fellow’s findings:

The science behind this is actually pretty interesting. Basically, the civet has a pretty discerning palate and will only eat the ripest coffee cherries, so that is kind of a phase 1 filter in the process. Once ingested, the stomach enzymes of the civet start to transform the beans, mellowing the flavor and aroma and even slightly lessening the caffeine. Once the beans have been passed all the way through our trusty pooping jungle weasel, they are collected (and hopefully cleaned very well)! In some parts of the world, a cup of Kopi Luwak can go for as much as $100.

One thing that surprised me, having heard of Kopi Luwak prior to visiting the plantation, was that the civets were caged. I had imagined this entire process to be akin to dogs and pigs hunting truffles -- I thought these "poo hunters" trekked through the jungle to look for distinctive civet droppings and thus the high sticker price and exotic draw.

Civet, in his cage, on the plantation.

However, I was sad to see that this process looks to have been reduced to feeding the civets a steady diet of coffee beans; and, that certainly took most of the magic out of the experience. To be clear, it didn't look like the animals were mistreated in any way -- it just brought up a lot of thoughts about the commoditization of cash crops and how important it is to know what larger concept you're supporting when you buy items, like coffee. 

So, pour another cup and leave your thoughts below!



postscript: In Vietnam, Kopi Luwak is called caphe cut chon (fox-dung coffee). Yum!
post postscript: If you regularly drink coffee and eat chocolate, try and make sure your brands are shade-grown, so they don't promote deforestation. And, definitely make sure they're fair trade!