Budiana dabbled in the kitchen to prep his team for the upcoming dinner service at Mama San by Will Meyrick (the street food chef) in the heart of Hong Kong – Lan Kwai Fong. He checked if the pork was on the grill and grabbed a handful of chives for a whiff to check on its freshness. Satisfied with the prep, he sits down under the dim lights and shared with us the mysteries of Bali and his passion for spices.
Happy people creating happy food
“From water rafting to wildlife, Bali has the power to transcend your spiritual animal to the forests of peace and serenity. Undisturbed by foreign cultures, Balinese enjoys their well-kept tradition including a packed itinerary of parties.
We love to party, we are a nation of festivals and ceremonies and that is the very soul of Indonesians. We can have a celebration going on from dawn to dusk – and that’s what I love about my country, happy people creating happy food!
In Bali we believe everyone can cook! We are immersed in such culinary culture that is richer than any other civilisation. We cook for love, for families, for friends and we welcome a good crowd and anyone that wants to celebrate with us – that was the inspiration for the name Mama San! Jokes aside, mama is the heart of the family. She cooks for her children with love and care, the same way that we want our customers to taste our love for food.”
The spices of Indonesia
“I am proud to address Indonesia as a “power” country. Our vibrant energy is displayed in our food – with a great variety of over 1000 authentic Indonesian cuisines. Every island has its special dish. For me, living in God of the islands – Bali; our specialty is the “babi guling” – a suckling pig served with sweet soy sauce, coconut lime sauce and chili paste.
The suckling pig is first stuffed with spices like garlic, edamame, and turmeric, and then grilled on charcoal for a good 2 to 3 hours. Charcoal gives that tangy, smoky aftertaste to the meat, and the slow-cooking allows the pork to soak in all the raw sambal flavours.
The best part about Balinese cuisine is its spiciness. The intense flavour builds up a strong character for each dish and brings out their individual taste, that is one the Hong Kong food does not have… If you can take the heat, you can explore the real taste of food.”
From tropical island to concrete jungle
Living in a foreign city, Budi braved his biggest fear – communicating in English. It all began with his uncle’s joke, telling him that working at the kitchen has the least chance of encountering foreigners. Budi joined the kitchen only to find half a team of westerners! Against all odds, Budi worked with Will Meyrick – founder of Mama San, for a solid five years, before becoming executive chef.
“I am still in disbelief that I am here. I was thrilled with mixed feelings when Will popped the question out of the blue. Happy – because I get to leave my home to explore another country which is a rare opportunity for Balinese; yet sad because I am leaving behind my family.
I treasure my time here, despite working on 12-hour shifts. For five years, I have been working with the same team – sous chef, bartender. We are all Balinese and we enjoy sharing our national cuisine with the world.
Cooking from a street-food-inspired menu is a lot of fun. Every street food recipe are family recipes, passed on through generations. They involve fresh, organic ingredients that are planted in the backyard of Bali. For example, the Kaffir Lime which, by grating its skin, gives a distinct bitterness to neutralise the heat of “dengdeng balado” (Mamasan’s signature four hour slow-cooked short ribs).
The sidesplitting journey
“My first taste as far as I remember is curry. I can really taste the ingredients, and since enjoyed playing with spices. My one culinary disaster was at the hotel school. I put beef – which gets burnt easily – on the grill, and went to collect my spices. Needless to say the steak was already burnt when I got back!
My homesick dish is fried rice. My mother cooks it with octopus, garlic, and turmeric. It is so simple yet so full of memories. My mom is definitely the best cook in the family.”