Breakfast at Ubud Market

By Janet De Neefe

For Bali Times

I’m on a mission at the Ubud market to find my favorite breakfast. I enter near the corner of Monkey Forest Road and Jl. Raya, past a row of noisy old ladies dressed in faded sarongs and the long-sleeved lace or printed polyester kebayas, selling fluorescent cakes dyed with pink and green food coloring, soft blue hydrangeas, coconut leaves, green bananas and vegetables of all descriptions bursting out of small bamboo baskets.

As I jalan-jalan round the corner, edging my way past 100 Ubud mums doing their early morning shopping, I’m relieved to find what I’m looking for: mission accomplished.

There lies my breakfast. Ahead of me, shaded from the hot morning sun, is the bubur seller, Memek Leseg, from South Ubud, serving my favorite market treat, rice porridge or bubur. Bubur is soft-boiled rice that is topped with assorted seasonings. In this case, it’s a savory dish.

Meme Leseg’s small foodstall sits beside a community of grandmas at low tables that are set up for the morning’s takeaway trade. These are Ubud’s D.I.Y. walking foodstalls – meals on legs, not wheels, if you know what I mean. Every morning, these diligent grandmas carry cooked rice and assorted seasonings on their heads to the market. Have you seen them? They walk from home, set-up shop and when all is sold, carry the empty pots and pans back again (to their abode), with a somewhat lighter load than when they left.

In the crowded western wing of the market, you can buy sweet or savory rice porridges, bubur or nasi campur from these four grandmas.  They have been selling takeaway rice for as long as I, or anyone in Ubud for that matter, can remember. But it’s more than that. This cozy little corner provides an exciting local gathering of sorts, for it’s here you can catch up on all the village gossip in a matter of minutes. What more could a girl want? You can find out about almost anything, told in the most animated, exaggerated way, while buying provisions for the family. That’s what I call one-stop shopping.

The bubur is my all-time favorite and consists of smooth, boiled rice topped with steamed greens and soy sprouts mixed with shredded coconut, sambal and a gentle coconut sauce. It creates a sublime mix of textures, from soft as a kiss to deliciously chewy, with that salsa-dance punch of hot chilli. But what also makes this dish so seductive, (well, to me anyway) is the flavor of fresh coconut oil and lashings of fried shrimp paste. It adds a mellow, luscious base note that gives it a certain depth, rather like the smooth jazz I heard at As One the other night, My Funny Valentine.

The grandma who sells the bubur has a sweet, round face that somehow matches the gentle quality of the food she sells, rather like owners and their pets. Beside her sit the sticky-rice and nasi campur sellers. Apart from their food, I love the distinguishing feature of the towels on their heads. Perched like turbans, these coils of well-worn cloth have seen better days. They range in faded pastel shades and patterns, in an oddly coordinated way.

If you feel like something sweet, you can dine on sticky rice, flecked with pumpkin and topped with grated coconut. And then there is the ubiquitous nasi campur. At the market, it usually consists of steamed vegetables with roasted coconut, tempeh, ground salted fish, sambal and other seasonal titbits. The meals are all carefully wrapped in banana leaves, or brown paper, to be eaten for breakfast, lunch or as a shared snack amongst friends.

To wash it all down, dalumen, that forest-green, slimy drink smelling of wheat grass, can be purchased nearby from Memek Jarni, a woman whose personality is as intriguing as the tonic she sells. I adore this woman and her dalumen is the undisputed finest in town. Memek Jarni is an unusual mix of elegance, comedy and melancholy, and always has the crowds laughing. Her stall, set with the supporting cast of mysterious green dalumen, creamy, roasted coconut milk, palm-sugar syrup and pink squiggly rice flour bits, is her stage where she delivers her lines, combines all the ingredients and stirs each glass with the drama of a Shakespearian actor. Once her potion is finished for the day, she quietens down and looks a little forlorn. If I see her at the temple, she always hugs me and tells me I’m cantik (beautiful). Otherwise, she asks me to give her the shirt off my back. When all her pots are empty, usually by 10am, the table and all its contents are carried home on the top of the coiled towel turban. A busy day’s work in Bali.

But let’s get back to nasi campur, which happens to be my favorite lunch and dinner. Nasi campur is Bali’s national dish and varies in all shapes and sizes around the island. And Ubud has its own distinct style. I’ve been told that visitors from the ragged coast of southern Bali trek to Ubud to enjoy the simple pleasure of this beloved favorite. And at Indus, our nasi campur includes snake beans in coconut milk, grilled chicken tossed with tomato sambal, Balinese satay, tofu, sambal and steamed rice, with green papaya broth served on the side. It’s one of our most popular dishes. Enak banget!

I’ve included my recipe for the snake beans here; you’ll have to go to Indus to work out the rest.


Beans in coconut milk

This creamy, luscious dish is brought to life with lime leaves and subtle spices. It’s a little time-consuming, but if you make all the pastes separately, it can be thrown together in minutes.

Serves 6-8

500gm/1 lb. snake beans

2 lime leaves, shredded

3 tbs. fried shallots

salt to taste


Garlic and white ginger paste

4 cloves garlic                                                   2 candlenuts

3 tsp. white ginger/kencur                     2 tbs. turmeric

3 tbs. oil for frying

Grind the garlic, aromatic ginger, candlenuts and turmeric in a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, blend in a food processor with ¼ cup water.

Kuah  Suna-cekoh (coconut milk  sauce)

Suna cekoh paste (as above)

½ stick lemongrass, knotted

2 cups coconut milk

2-4 lime leaves

2 tbs. fried shallots

½ tsp. white pepper

1 tbs. vegetable oil

To prepare the kuah, blend the suna-cekoh ingredients: garlic, kencur, candlenuts, white pepper and turmeric in food processor or grind with mortal and pestle until fine. Add a drop of water if necessary.

In a wok, gently sauté the suna-cekoh mixture in vegetable oil, over a medium flame, with the lemongrass, lime leaves and salam leaves, for a minute until the mixture looks separated. This will take at least three minutes. Add coconut milk and fried shallots. Stir constantly over low heat, so the mixture doesn’t separate. It’s just like making custard. It will thicken slightly.

Trim the beans, steam or boil, and chop finely or split in half and leave long. Mix the lime leaves, fried shallots, and kuah thoroughly with the grated coconut. Add the cooked beans. Add salt, extra fried onion and lime leaves if necessary.

As a substitute for candlenut, you can use ground almonds.

Note: Add sambal goreng, to taste, for extra spiciness.

Matur Suksme

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