It was quite obvious that we had to do a vegan cooking class in Ubud, Bali for two reasons. Mostly because we really love the Balinese cuisine, hello tempeh! But also because Ubud happens to be one of the most vegan-friendly places we’ve ever visited.
After searching through the many cooking schools in Ubud we found one that checked all of our boxes. It was very hands-on, check. It offered the possibility to make vegan dishes, check. And most importantly we would learn how to make our beloved peanut sauce, double check!
So with that, we decided to go with Ubud Pembulan Bali Farm Cooking Class and ended up having a fun all day organic garden to plate experience in the middle of the Balinese jungle!
A Visit to The Local Market
Our day started at one of the bigger fresh markets outside of central Ubud where we met our guide and cooking instructor for the day. He showed us around the market pointing out different vegetables and letting us try exotic fruits. Many of these fruits we had never even heard of despite all the years we've traveled in Southeast Asia.
The market also sold tofu and tempeh. Our guide explained that tofu and tempeh are popular meat substitutes among the local people because they're healthy and cheap.
Traditional Balinese Offerings
Another lady was selling flowers for the daily offerings to the Gods, also known as Canang Sari. You could also buy pre-made offerings from her. If you’ve ever been to Bali you already know how important these daily rituals are to everyone. The offerings play a huge a role in everyday life. You can find them placed at entrances to restaurants, shops, houses, small shrines, and temples.
Even though these traditions are practiced all over Bali, they are the most prominent in Ubud. In fact, the two ladies selling offerings were clearly the busiest in the whole market.
Unfortunately, the market was not a vegetable market which meant that they also sold live animals here. As we were preparing to leave the market we witnessed two piglets being put in sacks and thrown onto the back of a truck. To witness this brutality and hear their screams broke our hearts.
Our guide explained to us that the piglets would be taken to someone’s backyard to grow into full-size pigs before they were killed. Obviously, it didn't make us feel better. It hurt us deeply. And, we can’t pretend it didn’t affect our experience at the market in a negative way.
Sadly what you see is what you get. In this part of the world sights such as these are out there in the open instead of being far removed in the distance the way they are in the Western world.
Harvesting Vegetables From the Organic Garden
After the market, we got in a van that took us to the garden and kitchen where the actual cooking class was going to be taking place. The garden is an oasis that lays about 45 minutes outside of Ubud and is extremely beautiful and peaceful.
All of the vegetables and plants that are grown in the garden are 100% organic. Even more impressive is that whatever is not used for the cooking class is sold at local organic markets around the area, which means zero food waste.
Our guide took us on a tour of the garden and pointed out the different plants, herbs, fruits, and vegetable that were growing. We were also given the opportunity to harvest some of the ingredients we would use to cook such as lemongrass, bay leaves, and kaffir lime.
Learning How to Cook Balinese Food in Ubud
After touring the garden we returned to our cooking stations where we drank fresh organic Balinese coffee (kopi) straight from the garden. We also learned more about the vegan food we would be preparing.
The meal plan of the day consisted of the following:
- Base Gede/Bumbu Bali (traditional spice paste)
- Gado Gado (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce)
- Opor Tofu (Balinese tofu curry)
- Bergedel (corn fritters with local spices)
- Tempe Asam Manis (sweet and sour tempeh)
- Tum Bambu (young bambu wrapped in banana leaves)
- Black Rice Pudding
Since the class is a full day affair we go to eat at several different times which is perfect for us. We started off with gado gado and sweet and sour tempeh before we cooked the curry, dumplings in banana leaves, and corn fritters.
Note that there are two versions of the cooking course, one vegan/vegetarian version and another version for people cooking meat. One of the couples cooking meat became very disappointed that they wouldn't be making peanut sauce because that was reserved for the vegan version of the class.
Base Gede/Bumbu Bali
Before we could start cooking anything we had to prepare the bumbu bali. It's a Balinese spice paste made from chili, garlic, shallots, turmeric, galangal, black peppercorns, white peppercorns, candlenuts, and bay leaf. Bumbu bali is used as a base for many dishes throughout Bali and can be prepared in many different ways. Some people add fish sauce to their spice paste so we recommend that you always ask to have your food made without it when ordering in restaurants in Bali.
Making the bumbu bali proved to be an extremely fun and strenuous process! So strenuous in fact, that the guide had to call out what he referred to as ”the Blender,” a tiny Balinese lady that could pound the bumbu bali into the perfect consistency with a mortar and pestle.
Surely, it would be easier to use an actual blender or food processor but we loved that we got to learn it the way the Balinese people prepare it. We’re sure it tastes better and it lets you work up an appetite.
Once we were done taking turns and sweating away at making bumbu bali we moved on to making the famous Balinese dish gado gado with deep fried tempeh, tofu, and peanut sauce!
Gado gado is a traditional dish made from steamed vegetables and peanut sauce. Sometimes the dish is served with deep fried tofu and tempeh. But we were most excited to learn how to make the peanut sauce which goes with the gado gado. It has become one of our newest addictions (apparently we have a lot of those!) that we ate daily. Obviously, we had to learn how to prepare it so we could eat it anywhere, anytime.
The peanut sauce was surprisingly easy to make. It's a creamy sauce that pairs well with anything but especially tempeh. The peanut sauce is highly addictive, and when we're in Bali we can't stop eating it!
Sweet and Sour Tempeh
The sweet and sour fried tempeh was probably the easiest dish we cooked that day. We fried small pieces of tempeh with the bumbu bali, garlic, and chili pepper until the tempeh was golden.
Then we added juice from one lemon and one lime as well as two tablespoons of ketjap manis - a sweetened soy sauce that’s used across Indonesian and Malaysia. We cooked the tempeh until most of the fluid had vaporized and it was ready to be served.
The curry we prepared at the cooking class was a tofu and vegetable curry served with rice. It was prepared by frying the bumbu bali with assorted vegetables before adding coconut milk. Then, we let it simmer until finished.
The curry was unfortunately not our favorite because it tasted too “Thai like” for our taste and less like a typical Balinese curry. The problem is that we really can’t handle all the lemongrass, sugar, and lime kefir that was used in this type of curry. We are savory lovin' folk.
We also cooked a Balinese version of a dumpling which was cooked in a banana leaf. It ended up not being like a dumpling at all but we enjoyed the taste and the cooking techniques used to make them.
Most times when you order a nasi campur (a set meal served with rice and several smaller dishes) in Bali you get served a side of corn fritters. We've never really given corn fritters a second thought but have to admit that it was fun to make our own. We also really liked that you could taste that they were freshly made.
We definitely recommend taking a Balinese cooking class whenever you are in Ubud or Bali. It’s a fun and interactive way to experience the Island of Gods. In fact, we would love to take another vegan cooking class in Ubud. Because as much as we loved the farm aspect of the Pembulan Cooking Class, we didn’t feel as though the flavors were so reflective of the Balinese cuisine that we’ve come to love so much.
All and all we ended up having a real feast and we left the class with full bellies and an aching to finally make our very own peanut sauce.