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Respect beyond Words

Respect beyond Words


Okinawa and Bali

Okinawa and Bali, where appreciating the bounties of the earth are a lifestyle

Okinawa and Bali have many things in common, such as being islands of nature worship, possessing unique food culture and customs, and peoples of an easy-going character.
While delving into the attractions of each, we discuss potential for future collaboration.

Naoko Nakasone (Ukishima Garden)
Purwa Wayan (Bali Noon Bali Moon)
Yoshino Taira (Plaza House)

Nuchigusui (life-medicine); Our common love for food and health

Yoshino Taira (herefter Taira): My first encounter with Bali was over 40 years ago. I was working in fashion in Tokyo and visited Bali, which has excellent dyeing and weaving techniques, to make samples. I was surprised to see a woman who looked just like my grandmother in the streets. The houses in Balis all had a hinpun (gate-like structures that ward off spirits) in the garden, people ate every last bit of pork, and gamelan music sounded strangely familiar to those of Okinawa… I fell in love with Bali in no time. The banners in the Plaza House courtyard are batik-textiles dyed by young craftspeople, and much of the furniture is also custom-made and imported directly from Bali. The Balinese craftsmen are a big part of the laid-back atmosphere at Plaza House.

Naoko Nakasone (hereafter Nakasone): During my visit to Bali, I was struck by the beauty of the vast expanses of red and black rice terraces that I saw from a hilltop. It reminded me of what a bountiful country this is.

Purwa Wayan (hereafter Purwa): Bali has always been a rice culture. People come from all over the world for the resorts, so all kinds of rice are grown. Wine is also made from red and black rice. Fermenting the rice for three or four days produces a sweet liquor, while letting it sit for a month produces a dry wine with a high alcohol content.

Taira: Bali is actually five times larger than Okinawa, with its highest point, on sacred Mount Agung, being as tall as Mount Fuji! Even though Bali is a tropical island, the varied heights allow the likes of asparagus and other cold-weather-produce to thrive on the island.

Nakasone: Tell me a little more about Balinese cuisine.

Balinese cuisine uses bumbu (a condiment made from a paste of various fresh herbs and spices) as an essential ingredient. Bananas are used in various ways, with the leaves used for steaming, the de-stemmed flowers for salads, and the stem for soups. Coconuts are a common ingredient in almost every dish. It is so nice to see that during Balinese festivals, people from the Balinese community in Okinawa remember their homeland and come to Bali Noon Bali Moon to eat Balinese food.

Taira: Though Bali is known as one of the top holiday destinations in the world, Balinese cuisine is surprisingly hard to find outside the island. One reason may be that unlike Indian curries, which use dried spices, bumbu requires plenty of fresh herbs. Purwa is able to import ingredients through his own personal network, so we can make authentic bumbu here consistently.

Nakasone: I heard that every household in Bali has their own recipe for jamu (a drink made with turmeric, tamarind and a medicinal plant called kencur).

Purwa: Yes, you brew jamu at home when you’re ill. In Bali, traditional herbal remedies are deeply rooted in daily life. In fact, many families grow their own herbs.

Taira: My grandmother used to grow banshiruu (guava) and fuuchibaa (mugwort) in her garden. She often brewed guava tea with the leaves. In the Okinawan language, “fuuchi ” of fuuchibaa means ‘medicine for illness’, and “baa” means ‘leaf’. So mugwort literally translates to something like“medicine-leaf”. In Bali, guava is revered as medicine because it lowers blood sugar levels.

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Deliberating on the future of sacred millets

Nakasone: By the way, when I was in Bali, I saw people praying around a smoke-plumed bonfire. Was that some sort of ritual?

Purwa: There are many different ways to pray, but basically, we pray in order to maintain harmony between people and nature. In Balinese rituals, flowers, water and fire play important roles. Flowers represent the universe, water is for purifying oneself, and fire is supposed to burn away evil. Balinese prayers incorporate all three elements.

Taira: Bali, like Japan, are animist; we both believe that all things have a spirit and so we offer prayers to large trees and boulders in nature. Same as in Okinawa. What do you offer to the spirits?

Purwa: In Bali, our offerings are usually a variety of dishes, made from rice, millets, fruits and more. The food is arranged alongside many flowers before being offered to the spirits. Naturally, the people who prepare these dishes are respected in the community. When it comes to sacred offerings, it’s the men who cook and the women who pray in temples. What sorts of offerings do you have in Okinawa?

Nakasone: Millet is considered a sacred crop in Okinawa and is an essential cereal for offerings to the gods. The millet is harvested and used to make gojinshu (fermented drink). Because of its small size, millets require a lot of time and effort to go from being threshed to being ready to be eaten. Before WWII, millets were grown all over Okinawa. However, due to food shortages after the war, they began growing potatoes instead. Potatoes can be harvested quickly and provide a filling meal, unlike minor grains which require lots of time and effort. So these days, only a handful of dedicated small-time farmers on remote islands grow and harvest millets. They struggle to keep this tradition alive, even though it has been an essential part of Okinawa’s religious offerings for generations. However, as the food culture fades away, there is a risk that the Okinawan spiritual tradition of praying to the gods will also disappear. In recent decades, dozens of grain species have gone extinct all over the world. I think it’s important to remember that we have the food we have because our ancestors worked hard to preserve them. It’s our responsibility to make sure our descendants have them too.

Taira: Naoko-san, your millet products are sold right here at Roger’s Food Market. I was thinking that maybe they could be used for vegan dishes.

Purwa: Like how?

Nakasone: Millets are very good for creating meat and dairy replacements. For example, millet can be used to recreate cheese flavors, yellow sticky millet for egg and Japanese millets are excellent at imitating the taste and texture of fish. In fact, red millet are so good for creating mince-meat substitutes, that they are sometimes called “garden meat”. Every day I find new ways to incorporate millets into vegan recipes.

Taira: How wonderful! Between Okinawa and Bali, there’s so much we could learn from each other. We have got to keep doing these collaboration events!

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Naoko Nakasone

Owner of Ukishima Garden, an organic vegan restaurant in Okinawa. As president of the Okinawa Millet-producers’ Association, Nakasone devotes her time towards the rejuvenation of millet cultivation and promotes its religious significance in Okinawan culture. https://ukishima-garden.com/

Wayan Purwa

Longtime French, Indonesian and Balinese chef with 35 years of experience in resorts such as Club Med Bali and Bali Holiday Resort. Since 2016, he has led a team of five Balinese cooks at Plaza House’s authentic Balinese restaurant, Bali Noon Bali Moon. https://www.instagram.com/balinoonbalimoon/