Into the Kitchen: Snapshots of a Balinese Paon

Into the Kitchen: Snapshots of a Balinese Paon

Indonesian-Australian writer Tjok Maya Kerthyasa journeys from mist-cloaked mountains to sandy shores, encountering spice pastes, forest foraging and elaborate ceremonial celebrations, as she explores the kitchens of Bali for a new cookbook.

is the Balinese word for kitchen. My personal understanding
of the kitchen is that it is a universal symbol of our
interconnectedness with nature. It’s where we take the fruits of
nature and alchemise them into nourishment and medicine with the
help of the elements. It’s also where living plants and animals
sacrifice their lives to sustain ours.

In Bali, we honour the various energies in the
kitchen who help us turn food into nourishment by placing offerings
near the water source or beside the flames. So, the Balinese
kitchen is a cooking space, but it’s also a place of
inter-dimensional communion where we recognise that our food is not
the result of our efforts alone, but of the entire ecosystem that
comes together to help bring it into being. In short, we see it as
a place of creation. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so
integral to life in the region.

I feel the world still has a lot to learn about true Balinese food. Our culinary heritage is one of
provenance and reverence. All the best cooks I knew growing up (and
know today) work mainly with foraged or home-grown ingredients such
as papaya leaves, banana-tree trunk, bamboo shoots and torch ginger
flowers. These kinds of foods are far more common in home kitchens
than they are in restaurants, and so my hope is that, through this
book, more and more people outside Bali will want to access them
and appreciate them in the same way that I do.

Here, food is medicine; food is a vessel for expression; food is
an offering. Sometimes it serves as a ceremonial invitation, other
times it’s prescribed to cure ailments. Different dishes possess
different meanings and energies that are tailored to go beyond
feeding the human being. So, while we do eat for pleasure and for
sustenance, we also cook for the nourishment of the Universe as a
whole. I think that’s really special.

I decided to write a cookbook with Wayan [I Wayan Kresna Yasa,
the Balinese chef behind Pererenan restaurant Home] about “real” Balinese cooking to share the
wisdom and teachings that exist within the country’s culinary
universe. We have such a unique culture here. It binds us to the
land and our community, as well as the unseen and the divine.
Writing this book allowed me to deepen my understanding of this and
communicate the importance of preserving these practices in our
modern lives. And then, of course, it was also about sharing the
foods I love and grew up eating with people around the world.

The Lowdown

Paon: Real Balinese Cooking by Tjok Maya Kerthyasa and I
Wayan Kresna Yasa is published by Hardie Grant Books (£26) and is
available to purchase at Follow @mayakerthyasa on Instagram.