Savouring Spirituality - in Bali, the Aga People in Keliki Village Share Their Timeless Wisdom Through Their Food

Dewa never raised his voice. I presumed he was our driver but turned out to be our spiritual leader on this culinary revelation. Quite frankly, it is one that I will never forget.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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After a 20-minute ride from Ubud we park at a dirt road entrance. Dewa leads down this dirt road which seemingly leads to nowhere. We veer to the right off the path to find ourselves in a bright and bountiful garden. Here Dewa takes us through the vibrant organic fruit, vegetables and herbs that grow on the garden that his community collectively tend to and pluck from when they require ingredients for their daily meal. I hear Dewa’s voice echoed in my mind: “Live for today, plan for the future.” There is no exchange of monies or barter for food here. This is the way of an ancient civilisation. 

Dewa is from the Bali Aga Tribe, an indigenous tribe of Bali that can trace its roots back to the 1300s. Dewa explains that his people were the original inhabitants who fled from invaders. They found refuge in the hills, like this village of Keliki, there are very few villages still existing today. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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After Dewa collects the ingredients and wraps them in an enormous leaf (no plastic bag in sight), he leads us further along the road. Along the way, he motions at the trees, the ground, and animals surrounding us. He teaches us that the earth provides humans with natural riches to which their tribe must deeply respect and honor with daily rituals and offerings.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Dewa shares his wisdom. Animals die under the trees offer the best fruit. Plants and fruits like vanilla and papaya are grown not only for nutrition but for their medicinal properties. Most fascinating was Dewa’s knowledge of agriculture based on a natural ecosystems, using principles for regenerative agriculture and community resilience, what we know today as permaculture. They have created, as much as humanly possible, a self-sustainable society that provides for itself with its natural resources. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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After a few more winding bends in the path and Dewa’s increasingly soothing voice, the scene opens up to acres of rice paddies. Houses are scattered sparsely through the fields, simple concrete structures with Balinese-styled roofs in the swaying sea of green.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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We are welcomed to Dewa’s home. As we step over the wooden framed threshold, we are welcomed by his quietly smiling wife who takes the bounty we retrieved and begins preparing in their open kitchen. I mean, the kitchen is literally outside in the open air, with an open-fire stove and a rustic yet meticulously clean stove top. A rush of anticipation and a grumble of hunger emanate from my belly. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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But firstly, a lesson in the way of the Aga (the people, not the cooker). We sit on a raised wooden deck as Dewa places himself cross-legged across from us, in his wistful and content fashion. He has donned a double-layered sarong and knotted-front headwrap, the traditional garb of the Aga tribe people. 

He then began to impart their way of life to us, so many things in fact I can only share with you the ones that affected me the most. The Aga people do not read and write, they teach by speaking. Subjects such as food, the kama sutra and menstruation are open topics. There is no concept of watch or clock time in their village, they do not celebrate birthdays and new-born babies feet are not allowed to touch the ground until 105 days. Men and women are considered equal but they do not eat together, and there is no talking during meal time. Discussions are to be had before sleeping. Finally Dewa bestows on us his final wisdom that “the secret puzzle of life is discovering half yourself and half the other people.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Feeling extremely relaxed, and in an almost hypnotic state after reflecting on the weight of Dewa’s words, we were ready to start the cooking lessons. We are placed on a round wooden table where Dewa prepares us a notebook for us to write the recipes as we go. Remember, they don’t write, and like all ancient tribes, they’ve learned their recipes by heart. We work through each dish, doing our part cutting vegetables and grinding herbs as Dewa explains and his wife demonstrates.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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It was interesting to discover how the Indonesians produce their fresh curry pastes from scratch by using a flat stone mortar and a right-angled pestle known as a cobek in Indonesian which instead of being used to pound up and down as the do in many other places, is used to press and grind various herbs and spices in a back and forth motion. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Every ingredient we used was fresh from the village land, without any artificial preservatives or additives. At no point did Dewa and his wife produce a bottle of fish, soy or any other commercial sauce. MSG is not in their vocabulary. They add sweetness to each dish not by processed sugar but by extracting their own palm sugar syrup, and in a way which is not harmful to the environment and can be harvested for many years to come. “Live for today, plan for the future.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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By the end of the cooking class, we proudly placed 5 plates on the long wooden table. A plate of Urap Sayur (vegetable and grated coconut tossed salad), a Bakwan Jagung (also known as dadar jagung) (corn fritters), Botok (spiced tempe in banana leaf), Sambal Goreng Tempe (spicy tempeh stir fry), and the Kare Ayam (or Kari Ayam) (chicken curry). Suffice it to say they were all incredible For me I particularly fell in love with the urap, bakwan and kare ayam, probably as I felt I got to contribute to those dishes the most. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What makes this cooking experience extraordinary was its direct, hands-on connection to nature. Apart from having the opportunity to work with produce from an organic garden, in a rustic outdoor kitchen setting, in a village time has forgotten, with ancient tribespeople, it’s the simple act of rubbing together corn fritter mix with my bare hands or squeezing freshly grated coconut until the milk ran through my fingers which somehow made me feel that I am truly connected with the earth and even the universe. According to Dewa, it shows respect and honor for the everyday sacrifices made to have good food on the plate, and returns the favour by respecting Mother Earth.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Most of all, you will come to realise what an honor it is to be –  momentarily – part of the Bali Aga culture and to be part of practises and beliefs still kept alive today by a softspoken and kind hearted people who have opened their gardens, their kitchens, and their minds to teach you the way of the Aga Bali. 

Want to be one of the lucky ones to experience this soul searching, fresh and delectable cooking class? Contact: sales.indonesia@khiri.com 

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Note: One of the tribe persons, be it Dewa or a family member will be personally touring you through Keliki and hosting the cooking class with a Khiri Travel Guide.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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