How do you know when you are home? When not just the esthetics of the land speak to your heart, but the people touch your soul. There is an openness and willingness to share their culture, to bring you into their lives, and to warm you with their smiles. And they satiate your spirit with their food. Sideman, Bali is one such place.
As a raw foodist, definitely Ubud is an easy place to settle into. There are at least eight raw food eateries and every nutritional supplement you would similarly find in your friendly neighbourhood health food store back home. As comfortable and reassuring this was I felt like I was visiting California. In fact everyone in the restaurants were either from the United States, Europe, or Australia, with a smattering of Canadians.
Once you step outside the perimeter of Ubud, then your culinary experiences are much more at the whim of the local customs and seasonal offerings from the prevalent and abundant gardens. Eating fruit for breakfast and lunch is not a problem. And every place tends to have blended juices that are refreshing and flavourful. It is important to say ‘no sugar’ – Salads are not so plentiful. Salads are more a variety of cut vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage) with some lemon or vinegar sprinkled on them along with some sugar or mayonnaise. And the portions are small. It is important to be clear about what you will accept on your salad. Definitely, it is important to say no eggs or cheese, as vegan is not really a concept they have, that is, if this is what you prefer.
However, it is difficult to remain a pure raw vegan if one is curious and loves to experiment and taste new food. Traditional vegetarian dishes include tofu and/or tempe with a peanut sauce or a coconut sauce or a chili sauce. Lots of chili spices and lemongrass are mixed with a variety of vegetables in either a thick sauce or more of a soup. And of course, the ever present white rice, which is a staple three times a day in Bali. It has been relatively easy to eat cooked vegan food while sometimes closing our eyes to what may be suspect, and instead just enjoying the flavours.
We have accepted we are guests in this magical country and that the people have gone out of their way to provide more North American food (if that is desired). But they also will adapt their dishes to meet the fussier tastes of guests such as us. They delight in the pictures we show them of our restaurant on Salt Spring Island and our unique ‘raw’ dishes that seem so foreign and yet so colourful and tempting. While hearing of our preference for fruits they eagerly share the tropical fruits that are currently in season – salak (or snake fruit that has a skin that looks like a snake but when opened looks like a large garlic and tastes a bit like lemon, pineapple, banana, and coconut, rambutan (red outside with black spikes and inside like an oversized white grape with a large pit the size of an almond). And of course there are lots of bananas (all different sizes and colours), pineapple, watermelon, and papayas.
But what has been really feeding us while in Sideman in particular is the spontaneously generous and loving spirit of all the people we have encountered from this community. Is it because we are nestled in rich rice fields at the base of the sacred Agung mountain and the equally sacred Agung river? Is it because we are far from the trappings of the larger cities like Ubud and instead we are captured in a time that still honours the ceremonies of the lunar calendar? Is it because people have gone out of their way to welcome us into their homes and have shared their rituals with us at the altars of their family temples? Is it because there is a conscious effort of the people in this community to create spiritual meditation spaces while taking advantage of the natural beauty around us? Is it because the people will take on many roles and responsibilities in their jobs all in an effort to see us smile as well as reaching out to us through their music? Is it because Sideman is just one of the most stunningly beautiful places we have ever visited? Yes, because of all of that and more we feel we have come home.