Bali is paradise, not only in nature and tropical beaches, but in its gastronomical abundance of rare and heirloom crops. Coming from the first world means we’re accustomed to foods in nutritional deficit… poorly flavoured foodstuffs left over from the industrial revolution; the big business dream to pile them high and sell them cheap. Lucky for Bali, Indonesia bypassed scale of economy, relying on small family farms, it’s copious water supply and lush ecosystem to produce curated rainbow assortment of superfoods that would give a greengrocer envy.
Bali’s health hotspots already utilise these superfood luxuries. You can show up at any curated elixir bar to juice up, but it’s fresher, cheaper and more like-a-local to stock up like the Indonesians do, at their traditional market. Indonesian markets are in every district, and offer what would normally be hard to obtain superfoods like an everyday commodity, at prices, quality and freshness that should make it your top priority. It has the power to change your life more than investing in a woven rattan purse or time spent #baligramming. Eating a superfood once isn’t going to let you see effects – it’s like getting a massage or taking a yoga class only once. Supermodel Natalia Vodianova says she uses regularly them to boost her energy…”supergreens, algae, spiralling and wheat germ extract”. But its not necessary to splurge on these hard to get imported superfoods when Indonesia has its own whole-food secret supply.
So how to spot a local “superfood”? There’s as many ways to categorise super plants as there are health gurus and marketing departments. A superfood is defined as a plant that offers superior qualities or rare nutrients that super-boost health and wellbeing, even in a normal serving. The list below is based on concepts from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic philosophy, which goes beyond alphabet lists of vitamins from western medicine. TCM offers an holistic interpretation of health, believing that the colour of each food has an energetic effect on the body. Eating the superfood rainbow is easy to follow, and incorporating this bright array of colours will create a harmonising colour prism for inner and outer wellbeing.
“Its not necessary to splurge on hard-to-get imported Superfoods when Indonesia has its own whole-food secret supply.”
Fuchsia: Dragonfruit – Buah Naga
This majestic fruit looks like a egg-shaped flower on the outside, and a neon kiwi on the inside. While its packed with phytonutrients and vitamins, its real takeaway is it’s anti-aging properties. The high level of antioxidants keeps skin in tight youthful condition, and the mineral phosphorous means it repairs skin cells as a deep cellular level. It’s perfect to balance and repair the damage from the sun after too many beach days. Called Buah Naga by locals, you get about 3 large fruits in a kilo, costing around 15k (around $1 US dollar). If you cut it in two and store one half in the fridge, you’ll find it gets sweeter every day that it ripens and slightly dries out.
Ochre: Turmeric – Kunyit
Another color pop in brilliant ochre, this root grows like a weed all over Indonesia (meaning it needs no pesticides to farm) and has been a wellbeing staple for royalty for centuries. Indonesian use the humble turmeric to create traditional Jamu, a blended and boiled mix of turmeric, ginger and tamarind. Indonesian queens would drink to retain their youth, flexibility, long life and, naturally, libido.You can find cold Jamu at most coffee shops, or wake up in the morning with a hot turmeric latte. If you have a local cleaner, she might be happy to oblige and make you a fresh pot at home. My favourite simple way to prepare is to grate with ginger and steep in boiling water. I serve it hot with honey and lime as a Sunday night beauty ritual.
Green: Moringa – Kelor
The shrubby moringa tree has edible leaves that Balinese have traditionally used across many local recipes, including soups, salads and stews. Moringa leaves contain around 40% protein, with all of the 9 essential amino acids. This makes it the highest protein found on any plant on earth, and should be a staple for anyone (and even more so for vegans). The much-hyped kale pales in comparison to this superplant. While you can chop it up and massage with salt and oil, just like in a kale salad, its easier to pick up fresh Moringa powder (available at Samadi Sunday Market or Serenity Eco-Guesthouse) and mix into smoothies, pancakes, or sprinkled over fruit bowls. After comparing with the prices of imported spirulina, which is at the top of trendy superfoods, I’m shocked Moringa has stayed so secret as it has an almost identical factsheet.
Purple: Purple yam – Ubi Ungi
According to the rule of thumb for most fruits and vegetables, the deeper and richer the colour, the more nutritious. Purple vegetables contain anthocyanins, a special purple type of antioxidant that makes you live longer and your skin glow. It may also be the only local purple thing you eat in Bali as its not a berry-rich land. Its the best kind of carbohydrate to regenerate muscles pre or post-workout. You can find this on local menus as hand-cut fries or chips (similar to sweet-potato fries). In Chinese Medicine a quick deep fry still preserves the nutrient and energetic qualities of the food, so don’t be shy of the preparation method. Try at home by slicing and roasting with salt and coconut oil.
White: Yucca or Cassava- Singkong
The most important nutritional component of cassava is Vitamin K, which promotes the building and development of bone mass, meaning shiny white teeth, glossy hair and strong nails. Cassava also promotes collagen production, which makes skin laser-smooth, and if eaten over time, it reduces inflammation – a popular topic with health fans following gluten-free diets. As its completely gluten-free its a great option to mix with rice or other flours for pancakes or bread.
The healthiest local way to prepare this is Sawut – shredded fresh cassava, steamed and served as a side dish instead of rice. This mixes great with curries or Beef Rendang! Though the most delicious way to enjoy this is Singkong Goreng Rica Roa- deep fried cassava, eaten with chilli paste, a specialty of Manado in North Sulawesi. Or try a Peruvian version from a sister jungle at La Casita in Canggu or Warung Olas in the Bukit.
Photo via Pontus Ohisson