My love affair with Indonesia began the moment I stepped out of a car and into the calm and almost spiritual beauty of The Serai, now known as the Alila Manggis, on the east coast of Bali. The Island of the gods is a unique part of Indonesia,  made up of a speckling of islands covering a 3,200 mile ribbon along the equator,  all of which create this remarkable polyglot archipelago. At its heart  sits Bali, this relatively tiny Hindu island famously called ‘Disneyland for Anthropologists’ so rich are its unique culture and animistic traditions.Alila

Unsurprisingly I went for the food initially. A press trip organised by the hotel group wherein I would learn Indonesian cooking under the tutelage of Jonathan Heath. This talented Australian chef  had spent much of his childhood in Indonesia and had a  deep connection to the food as well as fluency in the language. I had arrived on the day the military dictatorship of 30 years was being overthrown  with a moderate amount of violence more than a thousand miles to the west in the capital Jakarta. Not that you’d know it from the relaxed demeanour of everyone I met in Bali…but in truth a collapsing currency and fear of the future was the under-current. But those stories are for another time. I fell in love with Bali like a teenager on heat. I ended up returning for a 6 month visit, eventually bought land, built a house and now, part of my heart will always and forever reside in the rice terraces of this most bewitching place.

Last night I entertained two friends to supper featuring some of the dishes I have enjoyed over the many years I have been visiting. I’ve been fortunate to become friends with two people who have more than most influenced my knowledge and love for the cuisine. First Chris Miller, the executive chef at the Uma Ubud  and Como Shambhala for many of the years I was visiting regularly. He’s now heading up the kitchens at the Metropolitan Bangkok under David Thompson. He is truly one of the most gifted chefs I have ever known…as well as being a dear, dear friend. Many lazy Sunday mornings were spent enjoying his wonderful breakfast laksa poolside as well as lunches and dinners in the beautiful dining pavilion at Uma. If I had to choose a last meal, I’d hope he’d be available to cook it.

Secondly Sri Owen, a London-based Sumatran whose books on Indonesian cooking are seminal and has a generosity of spirit that speaks of her homeland. If you are even remotely interested in the food of this region, do look out for her Rice Book (winner of the Andre Simon Award) and Indonesian Cooking, in which she shares her remarkable life story beginning in the Jakarta of 1930’s.

rice tI’ll blog a few recipes but I’ll start with this one. It’s one of Chris Miller’s recipes and one that I would dream about ordering as soon as I arrived. It requires a bit of preparation but 90% of it can be done in advance ready for a final cooking at the last minute before serving. Strictly speaking this isn’t Indonesian although there is a nod to the classic Babi Guling and the Indonesian love of hot and sweet. So I’m happy to give it to the Island as their own.



Serves 4 

  • 1kg Pork Belly (from the rib end)
  • 500ml peanut oil

For the stock

  • 100ml Japanese Soy Sauce
  • 100ml Shaoxing wine
  • 100ml Kecap Asin or Light Soy Sauce
  • 100g roughly chopped ginger
  • 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 cinamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 litres water

For the Sauce

  • 150g palm sugar
  • 150ml water
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, julienned
  • 50ml Nam Pla (fish sauce_
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Two large red chilis, deseeded and julienned

For the garnish

  • 1 banana shallot, finely sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • Coriander leaves
  • 1 spring onion, julienned


  • Place the pork belly on a rack in the sink and pour over a kettle fully of boiling water
  • Into a large stock pot, put all the ingredients for the stock in and bring to a simmer
  • Place the pork in the pot in one piece if you can, or cut to fit.
  • Leave to simmer for 2-3 hours. Remove to a shallow tray and cool. Cover with aluminium foil and place a chopping board or tray on top. Weight it down and place in the fridge to set. It will need at least 6 hours, but you can prepare this up to 4 days in advance. Once it has set, wrap in foil or cling and keep in the fridge.
  • For the sauce, disolve the palm sugar in water and bring to a simmer. Cook until it’s a caramel colour
  • Add the ginger and chill and allow to soften allowing the liquid to gain a light, syrupy consistency.
  • Add the lime juice and nam pla and taste. Adjust with more lime juice or nam pla as required. You’re looking for a sharp but hot and sweet taste.
  • To make the garnish, deep fry the shallot and garlic until golden.
  • Dry fry the sesame seeds until golden.
  • When ready to serve, heat 500ml of peanut oil in a deep sided pan to 180 C
  • Cut the pork into 4 portions and place skin side down in the oil. Do not move it. Allow the skin to crisp up. This should take about 5 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Serve on a bed of steamed bok choy, pour over the sauce and top with the garnishes.

NB – Do not throw away the stock. Strain and keep in the fridge for a week or the freezer for 3-6 months. Dilute with chicken stock to make a lovely base for an oriental soup.