Here in Kuala Lumpur we do our day-to-day shopping at a covered, dry 'wet' market. It's roomy and well-organized (seafood in one section, lamb and beef in another, chicken in a corner and pork tucked away downstairs in the parking garage; Chinese and western vegetables here and Malay and Indian veggies further up the row; fruit across from the dry goods provisioners and newspapers opposite the soy products lady) and the aisles are kept clear and clean. Now that I know the lay of the land and have identified my favorite sellers I can draw up a list, zero in on ingredients with minimal distraction, and be home with my laden basket in about an hour.
When we travel it's a different story. Over the years food, and food markets in particular, have become our wandering raison d'etre. And for strolling, browsing, bargaining, taking photos, and sampling local treats nothing beats a jumbled market open to the sky. We'll never turn our nose up at a covered market, but it's outdoor markets, with their barely controlled chaos and confusion, that we love. We don't mind dodging suppliers carting piles of produce, blocks of ice, or bags of dry goods on their backs and shoulders, wincing at the high-pitched cries and shouts of vendors, or jostling with other customers as we pick our way around baskets of seafood and produce placed here and there with little regard for order. Open-air food markets are a visual feast, an olfactory cornuccopia, an aural bounty; they're what gets us out of bed before dawn and on the road without a shot of caffeine. Whether we're a short drive or several time zones from home, any day that we've managed to spend an hour or two (or, preferably, four) at an outdoor food market is a good one.
This morning market in northern Bali's Buleleng district sits literally at a crossroads, a four-way intersection on the road connecting the town of Kaya Putih to the coastal city of Sererit. Early each morning it comes to life, inside a two-story covered building across from the village temple and outside on the streets in front, stretching a block or two in three directions.
On Bali, religion is everywhere; a good portion of every market is devoted to offerings made of fresh flowers, plants, woven leaves fresh and dried, food.
These botanical sculptures, beautiful to the visitor but merely a part of everyday life to the Balinese, pay homage to good spirits and soothe the bad ones. They're placed on doorsteps and inside homes, on street corners,
on and in front of temple altars, on dashboards and bumpers ...
As markets go this one is really rather small, but there's a lot of hustle and bustle packed into its limited area. On offer, almost anything you'd want for a Balinese meal -- banana stems and star fruit leaves, turmeric and ginger, garlic and galangal, Balinese 'bay' leaves and chilies, grated coconut and soy beans. Because the market is inland, there's not much in the way of fish or seafoood other than what's been salted and dried.
We'd driven here in search of white mangoes, a rare (and thus relatively expensive) variety, in season on Bali from around January to the end of March.
They're big and heavy, with thick green skins that vary from yellowish to dark as a Haas avocado. Inside, juicy white flesh with a strangely vegetal flavor, something like a cross between a cucumber and a tomato, with a spoonful of sugar thrown in - delicious in their own right, though nothing at all like what one expects from a mango.
Bananas are big on Bali. We counted at least ten varieties at this market alone. Some are hard and green, destined for coconut rice puddings and desserts sweetened with palm sugar. This red-tinged variety is exceptionally sweet, with a hint of strawberry flavor.
This market is set squarely in Bali's coffee growing region, so it's no surprise to find freshly picked coffee cherries on offer, ready for drying and roasting at home.
Perhaps this market's downside is its limited selection of prepared foods. About the only item we found being freshly made were these laklak, a type of jaja (Balinese for rice cake).
Round, flattish discs of glutinous rice batter, laklak are steamed in a metal mold; the individual laklak 'lids" are made out of clay. They taste a bit like unfilled Malay putu, and can be eaten on the spot, hot out of the steamer - but are infinitely tastier taken home and enjoyed drizzled with melted palm sugar and sprinkled with freshly grated coconut.
To get to this market we left our accomodation before dawn, driving through the dark for about an hour. By 9:30am we were hot and sweaty, tired and hungry, and beginning to turn beet red from the sun. After our umpteenth turn through the streets, we gladly retreated to the car for the long drive 'home'.
A perfect morning.
Banjar market, about an hour from Seririt or Munduk on the Kaya Putih-Sererit road, northern Bali.