New Take on Bali’s Tradition of Food Foraging by Anita

Food foraging has been around since time immemorial. The Balinese have always realized that there is an abundance of nutritious and delicious edible and medicinal plants growing right around us. Backed by deep respect for nature, this traditional way of life proved to be both sustainable and nourishing. Sang Ketut Rai Wibawa, known as Sang Tu, is the co-founder and General Manager of the Bali Silent Retreat (BSR) in Tabanan, and an authority on Balinese medicinal herbs. Sang Tu says that the Balinese tradition of foraging has been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. “We Balinese have always collected our food in the forests and jungles,” he says. “The foragable plants are not just fresh, but the strongest, filled with the most nutritional value available.”

The BSR kitchen has built on this traditional knowledge to consistently deliver an artful combination of flavors, textures and aromas. This penchant for nutritious and sustainable dishes gradually evolved into the New Earth Cooking (Bumi Baru) philosophy. Developed by Chef Simon Jongenotter, who taught BSR’s cooking staff how to transform fresh and high-quality produce into delectable culinary creations, the philosophy is as simple as it is ingenious. “With so many culinary options around every corner, it is easy to forget that what we eat, and how we choose to eat it, affects not just our wellbeing, but also the planet and all life forms,” he says. “New Earth Cooking encourages people to select food that is not only good for them individually, but also for the wellbeing of the planet. Rather than blindly following new superfood fads that rely on ingredients imported from the far reaches of the world, New Earth Cooking focuses on sustainability and sourcing fresh, organic ingredients close to home.”

A large part of the New Earth Cooking philosophy is treating all plants and people with uttermost respect. This involves buying only local products, paying fair prices, and what Simon refers to as “infusing the soil with love.” Most of the produce used in BSR’s kitchen come from the retreat’s jungle garden, where they are grown amid other plants without the use of any commercial fertilizers. However, Sang Tu says growing produce using composting and cow fertilizer is not without its challenges. “Most vegetable seeds have grown used to the stimulation of super fertilizers and are weak without them,” he says. “On the other hand, our produce grows mostly from third, fourth and even fifth generation self sustaining seeds, which drop to the soil and then volunteer to grow themselves again, with the help of natural fertilizers such as cow manure.”

The choice of BSR kitchen’s daily menu depends on what is growing fresh in the jungle garden that particular day. Each day, the kitchen crew ventures into the retreat’s four-hectare jungle garden to forage for the fruit, vegetables and herbs used in the preparation of the kitchen’s mostly vegan recipes—the exception being natural free range duck eggs. Some of the more imaginative options on the menu include beetroot and turmeric sorbet slice, Moroccan tomato and pumpkin swirls and nasi kuning (yellow rice) infused with turmeric and lime. “The artistic thrill of creating new delectable dishes when a new plant comes into season is irresistible. Plus, we never use any unhealthy ingredients in our food such as refined sugar, genetically modified produce or processed oils,” Simon says.

It is little wonder that BSR’s garden-to-table cuisine has been certified by Slow Food, a grassroots movement of over 100,000 members with a passion for unhurried food in more than 150 countries. Guided by the notion of good, clean and fair food, Slow Food believes that food should benefit the consumers, growers and the planet as a whole. Right now, both Simon and Sang Tu hope that more people will start cooking with local ingredients, and bring back the traditional Balinese ways of sourcing produce. “It makes me sad to see that many Balinese are choosing to use modern chemicals in their gardens,” Sang Tu says. “I like the old school ways of cooking with organic, chemical free and freshly picked produce. This is what makes our food so special. This and the love that our kitchen angels pour into each dish.”


The Five Principles of New Earth Cooking

Place: A lot of the food we consume on daily basis is imported, often from distant locations. How much sense does this make? Not only does the journey that the produce has to make increase the price of the final product, it negatively affects its quality and increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Product: Pesticides and commercial fertilizers affect the quality and nutritional value of produce, while transportation negatively affects its freshness. Just how much are you – and your body – willing to put up with?

Price: Cheap food is often grown on a large scale and as fast as possible, with little regard to its nutritional value. This means that you are not only polluting your body, but also putting those wishing to grow produce in the natural way out of business.

People: Cheap produce is often grown in large amounts with the help of cheap labor. Are you content eating food grown by people who might be being exploited?

Planet: The planet might be suffering from your eating habits, even if you are consuming what is considered healthy food. Eat local produce rather than superfoods imported from the other side of the globe such as quinoa. Avoid supermarket produce, much of which has been genetically modified and comes to you wrapped in unsustainable packaging.


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