Ikan panggang kemangi, or steamed whole siakap (local snapper) with fresh red chilies, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime, then topped with basil
It’s really hard for me to resist a steamed whole fish covered in some sort of medley of fresh herbs. It’s my go-to dish on basically any sophisticated menu in Southeast Asia, because the seafood here is just so darn good.
Lontong lodeh: soybean curd, taro, long beans, local greens, chilies, melinjo leaf simmered in coconut milk
In Bali, it’s actually fairly difficult to find “authentic” Indonesian food without some sort of Westernized influence. Tourism is so well-rooted there that our usual rule of nixing any place that serves some sort of combination menu (i.e., both Western and Indonesian dishes) has been thrown out the window. We had an absolutely divine Indonesian meal in Ubud (an interior village in Bali) two years ago that also served, inexplicably, club sandwiches.
We were really chuffed, then, to discover Cafe Degan, a restaurant in Seminyak serving up Thai and Indonesian (hey, it’s still not purely Indonesian, but at least we’re working within the same geographical region now). It was a quaint little place that was perfect for sampling some local cuisine.
Top: yum som o kab poo nim thod, or pomelo salad with soft-shell crab; bottom: Yum pla foo, a shaved green apple salad reminiscent of a papaya salad
The local siakap (akin in taste and texture to a red snapper, but without the reddish skin) was perfectly steamed, and the medley of chillies, lemongrass, basil, kaffir lime and ginger made it irresistibly fresh. We also loved a vegetable dish called lontong lodeh, basically a local vegetable coconut milk stew with bean curd and taro root. And on the Thai side, we couldn’t resist ordering a couple of salads that have become our go-to whenever we’re eating Thai. The first was a soft-shell crab salad with pomelo dressed with cilantro, lime and a dark fish sauce. We’ve never had this salad at any Thai places in the US, and I’ll weep really big, drippy tears when go home and can’t find this staple. The other salad tasted really similar to the standard green papaya salad, but this one used local green apples. This salad inspired me to try making it on my own once we’re home and can no longer get green papayas (although I might be too focused on the sudden and widespread availability of green tomatoes to fry again to really care much).
The only dish we didn’t find as successful was the gulai kambing, an Indonesian lamb curry that the hubby just couldn’t resist (what steamed whole fish are to me, lamb curries are to the hubby. He just buckles at the mere mention on them). But its errors — not enough seasoning, lamb wasn’t seared prior to braising, which made it inordinately tough — weren’t egregious enough to keep us away from Cafe Degan. We’d make it our neighborhood cafe if we were so lucky as to live in Bali.
Sigh. If only.