Naughty Nuri's offers rare feast of authenticity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 July, 2001, 12:00am

At the sign of the knotted chilli stands a small restaurant and bar where daily regulars start drinking Martinis at midday.

Indonesians come by in large groups for a taste of high-quality local food. Tourists enjoy a taste of home with barbecue or chilli con carne if they've lost interest in eating the rice they've travelled so far to see.

This is Naughty Nuri's, a roadside eatery that combines the New York savvy of a man called Brian and his partner, Nuri. She is a cook of the kind who is increasingly hard to find in the international playground Bali has become.

Across the road is the Neka art museum and down the steep hill is the museum of the late artist Antonio Blanco. In elegant bungalows or self-styled ashrams, the world's self-proclaimed visionaries have made Ubud an artists' colony since the 1930s.

But in the frantic main street where traffic and hawkers have overrun whatever charm this hill town once had, it has become well-nigh impossible to do something very simple - find normal Indonesian food.

Back when the European pioneers of Bali's art and music scene were here - including Walter Spies, Colin McPhee and Arie Smit - there was no choice. They lived in simple huts and ate local produce whether they liked it or not.

Those who claim to follow in their footsteps avoid such earthy realities. Instead of a delicious nasi campur (mixed rice, meat and vegetables) for 14,000 rupiah (HK$9.60) at Naughty Nuri's, those searching for the 'authentic' Bali experience flock to restaurants offering what is now called Bali fusion cuisine.

Ary's Warung on Ubud's main drag offers, for 45,000 rupiah, Javanese chicken opor a la blanquette - 'traditional Javanese chicken braised in Opor spices and fresh coconut milk, served on the bone with glazed carrots, shallots and button mushrooms'. Delicious, no doubt, but when is a Javanese chicken not traditional?

Those who see in Bali an embodiment of faraway fantasies might despise the rustic simplicity of Naughty Nuri's. Here, waitresses and customers alike sweat and shout. The only view of a rice field is seen on the walk to the toilet.

By contrast, the new rich of the world stay at 'six-star' resorts where men are employed to both plant and harvest rice each day to give the view foreigners expect. The sound of frogs gurgling is controlled by culls - to avoid disturbing tourists' sleep.

Where does it end? A new joint marketing effort of bungalows, home design and other delights calls itself Absolutely Bali.

A call from one of its members offered a list of the 'in' places to visit, where the food was admittedly not great but the requirement to be seen by the right, appropriately tanned crowd was fulfilled. Anyone managing to navigate the maze of local laws and customs to meet such desires deserves applause.

Defining a place with so many layers of other-ness is difficult.

What is certain is that the island boasts more spas per hectare than anywhere else.

But for those who are truly hungry and need a real drink, Naughty Nuri's and its hard-working Balinese staff still meet that ancient need for an authentic feed.