When my wife eats non-vegetarian food, it’s an occasion.
It’s our ninth anniversary and Christmas Day, and my wife and I are celebrating our special occasion by returning to Bali, where she and I spoke our vows nine years ago.
In our family, it’s a custom to have a big Christmas dinner, usually midday. We spend the morning cooking and around lunch time, we gather and over good wine, good food and even better conversation, we tell old stories, share new ones, and enjoy one another’s company.
This year’s Christmas dinner is a little different since Gabi and I have been away from one another by necessity (a project I had to travel for) for months, and we thought it would be really great to have this time alone, to commemorate our partnership in a place that has a lot of meaning because it is where we became Us.
You know it’s true love when your mostly-vegetarian wife joins your quest to find the best crispy duck in town. The other day, I sampled the Bebek goreng bumbu rajang at the Fuzion Café. On Christmas Day, I was determined to try the bebek goreng at Bebek Sungai restaurant.
Starting with drinks after our walk from our villa some 2 kilometers away, we were warm and thirsty upon reaching the restaurant. Gabi decided on the Magic Red Dragon made from red dragon fruit, mint leaves, mint syrup and soda water. I ordered the lime and mint with soda water, which was refreshing. But the Magic Red Dragon was magical. Usually dragon fruit on its own has a bland taste. It’s actually a ‘diet’ food because all it is, is mostly water in solid form, like watermelon. Combined with the mint leaves and juiced mint, the red dragon fruit transformed into one of the most bright and pleasing sensations as you drink it.
A lot of dishes on the menu feature bebek, or duck, most likely why the owner Sungai named his restaurant after their specialty.
Lining the shelves in the back of the spacious restaurant is a row of duck carvings, and that was pretty much the restaurant’s décor theme. On each table, for the holiday, there were small Christmas trees made from rice grain and tinsel. Not too kitsch. Tables were mostly long ones seating from a minimum of four to a maximum of twelve, signaling to us that this was a restaurant frequented by families. In our oddly scheduled lunch hour, around three in the afternoon, there were a few patrons. Nine tourists, of which there was a family of four, and a local couple.
Everyone had ordered the Bebek Sungai Favorite, a meal in itself featuring the crispy duck leg and thigh, three different kinds of sambal or sauces, krupuk or shrimp or fish crackers, two sticks of fish satay, steamed garlic rice with a hint of banana leaf and a side of steamed vegetables made of chopped string beans and these delightful pieces of young coconut flavored with a slightly spicy chili.
Naming something a Favorite and seeing the name in action sealed our choice. We would of course try the bebek goreng or crispy duck.
In Bali, the bebek goreng is made so it is crispy on the outside and somewhat flaky in texture, and inside the meat is tender and evenly cooked to the bone. Bebek Sungai’s style of the dish fits the description, and a bonus is that it tastes light, without the heavy oiliness of some other crispy duck dishes on the island.
The three types of sambal offered accompaniment to the duck. One was made from chopped shallots and chopped chili in chili oil. Another was made from eggplant, almost a chutney but more chunky, and the third was made from thin strips of unripe mango with a hint of chili, chopped finely. The shallot sambal and the eggplant sambal were a bit salty, and eaten well combined with the duck or with satay dipped in them to cut the salt. The mango sambal was more delicate and bright in the mouth.
I’ve eaten many a crispy duck in Bali these past eleven years since first venturing to the island. At Bebek Sungai, I think I’ve found the best duck on the island. Gabi, who was humming with pleasure the whole time we were eating, agrees. Her comment was, “Once you find the best, it’s anti-climactic to want to try other options and risk disappointment.”
I thought about this piece of wisdom from my wife and replied that it sounds like our marriage. She smiles gorgeously and says, “It’s also about the duck.”
Bebek Sungai, Ubud
Location: Jalan Raya Sanggingan No.88, Campuhan, Ubud
Recommendations: Bebek Sungaing Favorite, Magic Red Dragon, Tumis Kangkong, Lime and mint with soda