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In the Indonesian island’s lush, peaceful interior, Les Dunn finds vivid green rice terraces, eco-friendly coffee plantations and, despite the pressures of the modern world, people carrying on their lives in a way that respects centuries of tradition

“Real Balinese food isn’t readily available to tourists…” Those words, in a travel guide I was reading after I’d booked my family’s trip, put a bit of a dampener on my excitement. And a first night amid the tourist hubbub of built-up Kuta Beach, near Bali’s airport, seemed to confirm the warning. The smiling, beckoning waiters along the main drag did promise us an “authentic” experience. Unfortunately, it was Mexican, Thai, Chicago pizza…

On day two, after travelling north through an urban sprawl, we emerged into a different Bali. Lush, peaceful, rural. I hesitate to say the ‘real’ Bali – it’s all real, even the bit with a massive Burger King. But it was definitely more like the Bali we’d come to see. And if we were going to discover ‘proper’ Balinese food anywhere, it was surely here.


On bikes borrowed from our first hotel, the designer-y Soori Bali on the west coast, we freewheeled through Bali’s larder: corn, spinach, tomatillos, chillies and watermelons – and, of course, rice. Nasi, the word for rice, also means meal – a clue to its importance on this island. It comes in white, red (enjoyably nutty) and black (purple) varieties. “A meal without rice,” said Mustana, our guide from the hotel, “isn’t a meal.”

Farming hinges on the thousandyear- old system of rice cultivation and irrigation, called subak, which is a multi-location World Heritage Site. Thousands of small-scale farmers share the water using an intricate series of channels. There are no fences between family fields, Mustana explained. Carved wooden posts mark the boundaries – it’s a lot more civilised than barbed wire.

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About delicious. Magazine

Join us this month at delicious. as we celebrate 20 years of River Cottage with Hugh F-W and friends. Plus, we have Peruvian-Japanese cooking from Flesh & Buns, a lamb dish that's doubly good – it’s a roast and a curry, three classic, comforting pies and Richard Bertinet’s brilliant breads. You’ll also find out how to host a successful dinner party and discover the truth about protein – why is it such a big deal? There’s also a beautiful Mother’s Day bake and all the expert know-how to take your cooking to the next level.