It’s 3:30 in the morning and we just arrived at the foot of Mount (Gunung) Batur, an active volcano wedged between two concentric calderas in Northeastern Bali. Before the hike, a familiar sensation that comes back every time I’m about to embark on an adventure; one sharp adrenaline rush followed by a fleeting shiver which is my body’s way of telling me it’s time to do this.
The first hike
Our driver found us a friendly guide to usher us up the mountain where we would catch the sunrise. Nyoman was soft spoken, lanky, and lithe, seasoned by the thousands of trips he has traversed up and down that very mountain in over twenty years as an experienced guide.
There were others like us, some looked prepared, others not so much. For some, this seemed like another arduous hike, for others, a phenomenal feat, and to a lesser few it was a cathartic experience to be told around the dinner table for years to come.
The lack of visibility under the cover of darkness made for a bit of a treacherous hike and one needed to be alert at all times especially with the rise in elevation, regardless of one’s level of endurance. While it was relatively strenuous (just over two and a half hours uphill), it is not to be taken lightly as some people have lost their lives on the mountain, mostly by heading up without a guide.
Eventually we arrived just below the summit at sunrise point and were rewarded with the best cup of coffee one could ever have.
It didn’t matter if it was sub-par coffee, but the overwhelming feeling of having conquered the mountain was indescribable. We stood there with our shitty coffee, overlooking the valley, while surrounded by others sharing a similar feeling of accomplishment.
Our guide, Nyoman, Zara and I watched the astonishing sunrise crawl in around the adjacent Gunung Agung mountain and eventually headed down towards the volcanic vents.
We came upon another guide cooking some eggs and bananas inside a vent he had dug up for demonstration purposes and while it was great to watch at that moment I knew I had to come back with my own provisions.
The second hike
Two days following the initial climb I found myself once again at Mount Batur’s base camp to meet my new guide, Madi. It’s 3:25 am, I’m weary from lack of sleep as the previous day I took part in a pig roast before the early morning rooster’s crow.
The night before the second hike I prepared some food to bring on the trek, which I placed inside a tupperware container covered in ice to prevent it from perishing. For this hike I bundled four Balinese-style banana leaf wrapped tuna skewers to be steamed in the volcanic vents. A while back I read about the volcanic food preparation at Timanfaya national park in the Spanish island of Lanzarote, which sparked the idea to bring a meal so we could reward ourselves upon arriving at the ridge of the crater near the mount’s peak. The recipe for the tuna wraps follows below.
Versus the volcano
This time around my guide and I made the ascent in two thirds of the original time, took in the majestic sunrise and continued onwards to the highest point of the active volcano before veering off to the vertiginous side of the mountain towards the vents.
I possess a natural fear of heights, which made it tough when following the two feet wide, narrow rim of the crater. On both sides, a steep slope as far as one could see. Suddenly a completely random sight, two families of mischievous macaque monkeys around the crater’s zenith.
Steaming the tuna
Once we arrived at the vents I pulled out the morning’s treat, while Madi dug up a hole in the ground to be used as a steamer for our tuna wraps.
We covered the hole with some surrounding dry grass and waited until our well-deserved meal could be unwrapped. We became fast friends. About ten minutes after placing them in the sizzling volcanic soil, we enjoyed our first wraps, while sharing stories about the local cuisine, his nearby village, and Madi’s upcoming wedding nuptials.
Mount Batur was the pinnacle of our stay in Bali, both literally and figuratively speaking and when I decided to head back up the mountain for a second time it felt completely natural, to take in the breathtaking view, and experience the volcano once more before leaving this gorgeous country.
Preparing the steamed tuna wrapped in banana leaf
Base Gede Bumbu Kuning, or basic yellow sauce is a key and versatile paste that can be used in a wide variety of Indonesian dishes including satays, curries and in this instance as the base marinade for our fish.
Marinade yellow paste — Base Gede Bumbu Kuning
This is a recipe adaptation from the Paon Bali cooking class in Ubud.
- 10 small shallots
- 10 garlic cloves
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh kencur aromatic ginger (Kaempferia galanga)
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh galangal
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh turmeric or 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 2 habanero or jalapeño chilies
- 3 red chilies. Not of the hot variety
- 4 macadamia or candlenuts. Or 2 brazil nuts
- 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- ¼ tsp of nutmeg powder
- 1 tbsp of palm, coconut or brown sugar
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 2 salam or bay leaves
- 2 tsp of shrimp paste (terasi) if available
- 3 tbsp of coconut oil
Deseed the chilies and finely chop the shallots, garlic, chilies, nuts, gingers, turmeric and galangal.
Traditionally, Balinese cooks use a lesung, which is a large volcanic stone mortar with a long wooden pestle. I used a small lesung at our place, but a conventional blender will do just as well. Blend all the chopped ingredients, shrimp paste, seeds, nutmeg and cloves in a blender until they form a fine paste.
Sauté the paste in hot coconut oil. About a minute into it, toss in the crushed and folded lemongrass stalk. Continue by adding the salt, pepper, palm sugar and salam leaves in with the paste. Cook for about seven minutes in low heat. This yellow paste will last for about two weeks in the fridge or you can freeze it for a longer shelf life.
Tuna skewers — Pepesan Be Pasih Pepes Ikan
- ¼ lb of tuna
- 1 kaffir lime. 2 tsp grated lime
- 14 kaffir lime leaves
- A few fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
- 2 fistfuls of lemon, thai or regular basil
- 1 red chili
- 2 small sized tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp of base gede, basic yellow paste
- 4-5 lemongrass stalks
- 4-5 page-sized pieces of banana leaf
Banana leaves can typically be found in Hispanic and Asian super markets, but if not available you may also use corn husks and as a last resort, aluminum foil.
Tuna can be supplemented with any other non-flaky fish such as swordfish, salmon, halibut or sea bass, amongst others, or shellfish such as scallops or large tiger shrimp. One can also use a different type of protein such as chicken or gator, but cooking time will need to be extended until thoroughly cooked.
Cut tuna into skewer-sized cubes. Dice the tomatoes into small wedges and slice chilies into thin stripes.
Grate the outside of the aromatic kaffir lime to yield around 2 teaspoons. Mix the ground lime with the base gede yellow paste, tuna, tomatoes, chilies, cilantro, basil, salt and pepper.
This step is optional. Remove some of the lemongrass outer layers until thin enough to pierce the tuna chunks. The lemongrass will subtly imbue the meat with flavor while acting as a holder.
After cleaning, washing and pat drying the banana leaves roll them out flat. Include around 4 to 5 tuna cubes in each skewer, place 3-4 kaffir lime leaves and roll up in each banana leaf. The lime leaves are not to be eaten as they only act as a flavoring agent.
Balinese typically grill the wraps over coconut shell coals, but they can just as easily be cooked in a steamer. Steam or grill for about 7-10 minutes based on the intensity of the heat.
Happy trekking. : Jaime