I'd never before imagined butter could be improved on, so when our server places our appetisers on the table, and tells us that the spread accompanying our bread is ‘butter-not-butter’, I’m sceptical. Smoked fish bone is married with coconut oil and soy milk, she explains, placing its clayware dish beside another laden with bark, a pair of cassava coriander seed buns nestled on top. She unburdens her arms, and that of the server beside her, of a total nine dishes in total. These form the first of a four-part, eighteen dish-menu titled ‘The Unknown’—the latest from popular Locavore in Ubud, that exclusively works with local ingredients.
The ‘butter-not-butter’ is the purest expression of Locavore’s ethos, the white spread beautifully complementing the coriander fragrance coming from the damper-reminiscent bun. What goes on from there is a remarkable discovery; slowly roasted watermelon with a consistency akin to slow-cooked meat, smoked and blackened jicama shaved like truffle, a ganache tart utilising the blackest of bananas. It is unlike anything I could have expected. During the meal, I thumb through the multi-page menu propped on the table. Circled in red is the statement, the invitation: "Nothing is unknown if you choose to explore it."
Over the few days I escape to Bali—my first trip away from Australia since the pandemic broke—I joyfully gather bruises on knees and shins and toes, walking over rocks in search of waterfalls. Here, Tukad Cepung Waterfall, where the content creators take turns photographing themselves under the spotlit, cave-dwelling downpour; there, Tibumana Waterfall, whose fork in the road we miss in a rush to reach its waters in the tropical heat. We correct our route and spend that happy afternoon floating in the greenery-lined lagoon under its mouth, the American tourists pondering nearby if the falls are designed by nature or have seen the intervention of man.
My body, from two who were born and grown in the Philippines, welcomes the sustenance of fruits grown in the distantly familiar climate. My fingers are sticky with the sweet and fragrant mangosteen I buy daily from a local woman, her smile and cart overflowing with bags of fruit a constant in these clock-less days.
I take to spending late afternoons by my accommodation’s infinity edge swimming pool, overlooking lush forests. Bisma Eight is a quiet haven down a long, bumpy road lined with small businesses, from tourist experiences operators to family-run restaurants offering live music at night. A smattering of national and global awards to its name, the resort’s interiors are informed by modern luxury and heritage artisanship; polished concrete and Balinese woodwork adorn all surfaces, from furniture to door frames.
There, a lone man devours a new book each time I see him, and taking turns sunbaking, a French couple who have brought their little boy to the other side of the world. He finds his thrills jumping into his father’s arms at the deepest end. I spend the last day of my trip learning to surf, awkwardly at first, then triumphantly; capturing that same feeling of emancipation and leaning into it.
On my last evening in Bali, we dine at The Cave, a 22-seat subterranean restaurant with an ever-evolving experimental ten course menu. I savour Tomato Water, a gel-like dish dotted with baby tomato and basil and wasabi oil, while watching the other diners touch the ancient stalactites behind their heads, remembering my Year Five teacher warning attentive students that a stalactite’s life cycle ends once the germs of our hands come into contact with it. The head chef comes over and asks how I found the last course, and my expression of “that was ridiculous” gets lost in translation—amazing, I assure him. I absolutely adored it.
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar Australia