Few places in the world are a more beautiful setting for a food festival than Ubud, so building a holiday around this festival was an opportunity not to be missed.
Returning for its second year from 27-29 May this year, the three-day Ubud Food Festival was bursting with local flavours and produce, bringing together more than 60 presenters and 8,000 attendees from across Indonesia and the globe to take part in almost 100 events.
Spreading out from a central hub of umbrella-laden, bean-bag strewn grassy lawns and lantern-lit walkways leading to event stages, cooking demonstrations and bustling food stalls, the festival filtered through the restaurants and venues of the town into the local countryside.
From fine dining at some of Ubud’s most celebrated restaurants to in-depth forum sessions, from kitchen demonstrations to excursions to the homes of artisan food producers and markets, the program celebrated Indonesian food in all its forms, from farm-to-plate and producer-to-palate.
With 50% of the festival’s attendees being Indonesian, it was clear that not only did the festival aim to show off the dynamic and diverse Indonesian food scene to the world, it also garnished support for the local food industry with new opportunities for development and growth.
“Our country has not done enough to promote our culinary diversity and wealth,” said culinary icon Bondan Winarno, at the event. “I sincerely hope the Ubud Food Festival will more and more be the force to promote Indonesian traditional cuisines, particularly those with a focus on healthy eating.
Sustainability was also a key topic of discussion, with panel sessions canvassing trends in Indonesian farming, fishing and production, and the need for improved commitment – from farms to consumers – to protect Indonesia’s heritage foods.
With the global food movement gathering force – audiences and consumers passionate about ethical eating and understanding the story and journey of their food – it’s easy to understand why the Ubud Food Festival has gained such momentum since launching in 2015.
Let the Feast Begin
We joined Festival Founder and Director Australian-born Janet DeNeefe, the ‘streetfood chef’ and Garuda’s new business class menu maestro Will Meyrick, and one of Indonesia’s most celebrated culinary journalists Bondan Winarno, to kick off the festival journey.
Balinese food is seen as a microcosm of Indonesian food. Bondan spoke about the diversity of Indonesian cuisine across its 17,508 islands stretching across a distance similar to that of London to Moscow, and how it varies depending on geography. Indonesian people traditionally ate food that was around them. Where the land is rich, so is the food. When the people are poor, the food is simpler.
It struck me how little Australians know about the food of one of our closest and most influential neighbouring countries! What binds all Indonesian cuisine together, however, is the close link between food and religion. No rite of passage or religious ceremony takes place without food. Every village has its own ‘executive chef’ who cooks for the whole village for ceremonies.
Will talked about found and foraged cuisine, the basis of food in Indonesia. He noted that spices were often used for medicinal purposes in cuisines. Nutmeg was once more valuable than gold, and spice traders also played a part in the making of Indonesian cuisine. British, Dutch, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese created different movements and cuisines within the archipelego – a process of ‘enculturation’ which is still taking place through the influx of international chefs to Bali in particular. “A little bit of you is a little bit of me.”
Here is a selection of the the events we attended – a mere smattering from a program so vast that choice was almost impossible. Enjoy a glimpse of our journey.
Tofu Grannies of Ubud
Out pre-festival excursion had been to the Tofu Grannies (Taku Kables) to discover how the silky, delicious tofu used so often in Indonesian cuisine is created? We stepped back in time to discover the art of tofu-making with a visit to a traditional tofu business led by two extraordinary grannies. It’s one of the most famous factories in the village.
100-year-old Mrs Songkag has been making tofu for over sixty years. (She added a blouse to her usual attire in deference to the international visitors.)
Organic beans are soaked for three hours before being ground and put into a cauldron over a wood-fired oven for 90 minutes to add flavour, the soy milk drained off to make tofu and the whey used to feed local pigs.
Great vats of soy milk are transformed into ivory-white blocks of tofu, sold at the house that day.
We then visited a local market and savoured Bali Bubur (Balinese rice porridge), one of the most delicious bubur in the region.
A Fin Feast at Casa Luna
Two TV chefs from opposite sides of the world – Netherlands’ star (and Jamie Oliver’s seafood superhero) Bart Van Olphen of ‘Bart’s Fish Tales’ and Indonesia’s Bara Pattaridjawane (Nougat show + judge Junior Masterchef Indonesia) from Ambon joined forces at Casa Luna restaurant to talk about fish stock sustainability.
80% of the world’s fish stocks are overfished, with tuna being one of the most endangered.
Food Photography & Social Media
Foodstagrammers had the chance to do a social media workshop with food photographer Sally May Mills at The Elephant, famed for its vibrant smoothies and textured salads.
It was a chance to brush up on how use your smartphone or camera to expertly style and shoot café food in natural light.
We learned the best apps to edit and publish photos online, and gleaned plenty of social media tips along the way.
Tatsu – Rise, Shine & Raw
It wouldn’t be an Ubud Food Festival without diving into the world of raw food.
We started the day with a garden walk through Tatsu’s organic aquaponic garden which marries fish with plants, as well as their medicinal herb garden before taking part in a raw food workshop with Taksu’s chef Arif Springs.
Arif demonstrated some of the secrets behind his deliciously fresh raw food recipes. The workshop included breakfast and Taksu house blend coffee.
Locavore – Back to Black Slow Food Lunch
Award-winning chef Eelke Plasmeijer of Locavore – recently named in Asia’s Top 50 restaurants – served up a twenty-plate degustation of a pork from Bali’s heritage black pig: the bangkal hitam bali babi.
Before the degustation, Tri Sutrisna, a young Balinese responsible for leading the sustainable farming of the meat, discussed the black pig, its vital role in traditional Balinese culture, and steps being taken to save it from extinction.
Who could have imagined that there were so many parts of one animal which could be eaten!
Rondji – Bebek & Blanco
We joined Mario Blanco, son of legendary Ubud couple Ni Rondji and Antonio Blanco, for a tour of the famously eccentric Blanco Gallery before lunch at the gallery’s restaurant Rondji.
There we watched the preparation of bebek (Balinese duck), a meal dedicated to the memory of his famous parents, as it was the famous duck dish invented to celebrate their love.
R4D – Movida & R4D
MoVida’s Frank Camorra (who now has a restaurant at Potato Head, Seminyak, and Ubud-via-NYC dessert chef Will Goldfarb joined forces for a sensational dinner featuring Spanish tastes and delectable desserts.
In Room4Dessert’s rustic garden, Camorra served up a feast of MoVida signatures using local produce, followed by Goldfarb’s sweet creations. Old fashioned cocktails and a wine selection accompanied the meal. Indulgent!
Note: Photos not watermarked credited to Anggara Mahendra.