Bali’s Best Breakfast: Bent on the Bento
There are many reasons to love Bali: the ancient culture, the ornate stonework, the sexy beaches, the mysterious and brooding volcanic landscape, the warmth of the locals. But for me, breakfast in Bali is the highlight. Namely, the Indonesian breakfast bento box at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, a property so rarefied and lush that its rooftop is a bromeliad-festooned lotus pond, its front lawn a verdant rice paddy, and its babbling backyard the sacred Ayung River. Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert came to Bali for the “love,” but I’m more smitten with the “eat.”
First, let me preface this post by saying that the editors at Four Seasons Magazine did not ask me to blog about the hotels. I was pretty much given carte blanche to report on whatever I want, and strongly encouraged to write about the destinations instead of the properties. While in Bali I’ve visited a few craft markets, dipped into volcanic baths, climbed the steps of ancient temples, visited a local school and walked through the rice paddies. There were other options, such as river rafting, which I declined. I’ve enjoyed all of it, but loved nothing more than the Indonesian breakfast bento box. So much so that I’ve ordered it every morning. Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe tradition. I eschew routine. And I despise habit. I go out of my way to try new foods—especially at breakfast, the most habitual and routine of meals. But the bento got the best of me.
So what’s in it? Bubur ayam is a creamy but stiff, congee-like rice porridge. It is golden, flecked with ginger, and topped with shredded chicken, chilli, crispy shallots, soy and spring onions. Beside it comes a box of palate-cooling, acar-pickled cucumber; red chilli; and shallots, all sweetened with simple syrup. All of these things are ideal for folding into the smooth bubur ayam.
Also on display is a nest of mocha-coloured egg noodles and vegetables wok-fried in sesame oil. This is Indonesia’s iconic dish called mie goreng. It is ubiquitous and delicious. Another box holds a small stack of krupuk, slightly greasy shrimp crackers, which soften the sting of Bali’s bracingly hot chillies. If your mouth is still aflame, as mine was, cool it off with a toothsome trio of fried banana chunks oozing out of a crispy cake-and-rice-flour shell. No spices, no fancy menu adjectives or haughty concepts to describe it, just the deep, sweet flavour of hand-peeled bananas.
The man behind this simple masterpiece is local Balinese Executive Chef Denny Frederick. Frederick has worked for the company for 20 years; he started out at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, and has since worked at Four Seasons properties in Dallas, Damascus and Istanbul as part of the Four Seasons cross-exposure programme. All of his meals were outstanding.
It’s almost embarrassing to love a hotel dish so much. Hotel cuisine has a reputation for being bland, anglicised, made with short cuts for stranded, timid or spice-sensitive travellers. Hotel breakfasts? The stepchild of all cuisines. But it’s the undersung chefs like Frederick who continue to raise the bar. Keep up the good work, Chef!