Aerial view of Jatiluwih rice fields. Photo taken by Alex Markow.
Through the years, the magical island of Bali, one of 14,000 islands in Indonesia, has become my ultimate nourishing food destination. It is a raw and plant-based food lover's heaven with the abundance of tropical trees filled with coconuts, durian, jackfruit, dragonfruit, rambutan, snake fruit, mangosteen, mango, passionfruit, starfruit, and many varieties of bananas. Indonesia is also the place where my favorite plant-based protein, tempeh, originates and is fermented and sold fresh from local producers. The yoga community and consequent tourism around it has made Bali a culinary destination with countless vegan and raw food restaurants being listed at the top. So to write up a farm-to-table food guide meant next level curation to find those few who were really considering the future of the land and the hand of the farmer in exemplary ways. This story is about the rise of these innovative Balinese who despite the norms of their communities are building permaculture and biodynamic farms to fuel their holistic experiential spaces.
L to R: Grilled Vegetable Salad "heated". Ingredients include organic rocket and spring mix tossed with grilled seasonal vegetable, tempeh bacon, almond feta, with a balsamic reduction and sprinkled with spiced pumpkin seeds, spiced nori, and nut parmesan cheese. Portrait of Chef Made Runatha.
"I am proud to say we are a zero-waste operation," Executive Chef Made Runatha says to me as we begin our discussion behind the vision of Moksa, At this point, I had already consumed two nutritionally dense dishes and even though my belly was full, when Chef looked down at the remaining bites on my plate, I knew I needed to show I was in support of this effort, so I quickly savored the final bites only to be surprised by another order. Normally I would kindly pass on more food or milk-related beverages particularly because my needs for non-dairy and gluten-free would insult most chefs or in the least, their choices would make me sick. However, Chef Made believes food should energize and support body and mind without ever sacrificing on taste or enjoyment. As a result, Moksa is raw, vegan, gluten-free, and plant-based. They are all of these things but they don’t align with any one style in particular. Instead, they simply believe that each body needs fresh food made with awareness. They blend raw and cooked principles beautifully into their menu to maximize nutrition, assimilation, and undeniable flavor. With this philosophy, I could continue to indulge in a nut milk chai and raw passionfruit cheesecake with fermented red rice coconut ice cream.
L to R: Portrait of Made Janur Yasa, Janur teaching the Kids Aikido class inside the Dojo.
Moksa is a culmination of two lifetimes of passion for delicious nourishment and sustainable lifestyles. After some time at honing their skills with other ventures, Chef Made Runatha and Janur Yasa realized they could make it happen on their own. It was envisioned as a place where they could call the shots and be leaders, educating others about slow food, permaculture, nutrition, and raw food techniques. Chef Made hosts weekly raw food cooking classes and Janur gathered a community through opening the adjacent onsite dojo, where he teaches Aikido and hires other local instructors to lead classes in Qi Gong, Capoeira, Yoga, Meditation, and Kungfu.
Being a fully closed loop operation in addition to being zero waste, means any by-products of food are either pressed for oil, made into powder or flour, used as compost on the farm or otherwise are not a part of their menu. Their farm is just next to the restaurant and allows them to use any compost to fertilize the soil, to repurpose the coconut shells to enclose the plant beds and to grow a portion of the food used in the kitchen. When seasons change and particularly now that they have become quite busy, they have partnered with other organic farmers who are about 20km North of Ubud to supply the other ingredients. Chef Made is passionate about how the produce is grown and works directly with the farmers to know what is in season, to ensure they are growing the produce to his standards, and that the restaurant only purchases the best quality.
L to R: Young coconuts stacked in front of the Moksa Restaurant sign, coconut shells repurposed for the beds of the permaculture farm, close up detail of tomatoes on the vine.
Their beliefs are not always easy to communicate with other locals. I asked Janur about the struggles for doing something so progressive in Bali and particularly as a Balinese business owner and he explains to me that, "The hardest thing about doing what we are doing is feeling different and the challenges of educating the Balinese." He explains that the infrastructure of the island has not been able to keep up with its rapid growth and it has become stressed, which is largely due to the ways people are accommodating the boom in tourism. Many have forgotten about the responsibility of looking after the land, the effects of contaminating their precious sources of water, stressing the soil, and the benefit of waste management solutions. Many have come to rely on single-use plastics that are either burned directly or that make their way through the island via the many waterways as they are either littered or used in what previously were biodegradable offerings to the gods, a daily religious practice among the Balinese. There are movements, however, of which Moksa continues to be a part, where individuals are trying to make a difference with plastic-free practices and local recycling programs. On Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10-2pm, Moksa hosts a farmer's market on the way into the restaurant for those seeking quality organic produce from their partners.
R to L: Offerings stacked on top of the temple altar, seedlings in the farm, compost piles.
Other sustainable practices observed onsite involve water filtration and water recycling. The roof of the main kitchen has been designed in a way that it collects rainwater to be stored in a reserve underneath the main dining area so that it can be repurposed for flushing the toilets. Additionally, they have an entirely filtered kitchen so that all the produce is washed and prepared with proper water and it is important to them that customers do not have to purchase drinking water. You will not see them selling any plastic bottles or using any straws. These progressive practices are particularly impressive as Bali is a rising hotspot and instead of modeling their restaurant after the many profit-driven establishments in the West who ship in branded beverages and products, Moksa looks to the future, to minimalism and simplicity with respect for the land, the health of the people, and the generations to come.
L to R: Empty table setting in the main outdoor dining area of Moksa overlooking the permaculture farm, Vegan Burger *heated*: Red bean, jackfruit, and onion pattie served with grilled tomatoes, onions, avocado, and lettuce on a raw bun made of sweet potato, coconut flour, and onion, served with Asian coleslaw and sweet potato fries.
What draws me so much to their food, in particular, is the fact that they know the best ways to use raw with cooking techniques in dishes both Balinese and typical Vegan. All of their bread from the buns to the breakfast pastries are prepared raw, grain-free and easily digestible. The resulting textures and flavor profiles are incredibly unique and something worthy of traveling the world for! To learn more about basic raw bread preparation, be sure to check out my recipe on the nourish blog here. Equally, I am most impressed with their creativity to use raw corn shells for the jackfruit tacos, or the raw cones for the ice cream! Chef explains to me the creative process when I question the practicalities of making something rounded in the otherwise flat-oriented dehydrator. He tells me that he finds inspiration through natural everyday resources such as creating a bamboo mold to hold up the shape in the dehydrator. He then runs excitedly to the kitchen and brings out what appears to be a practical DIY solution not dissimilar to the way the young coconut leaf is used to prepare the offerings you see everywhere in Bali. So simple and yet so incredibly innovative. These are the words I have to describe all of what they are up to at Moksa.
L to R: Boxes of offerings prepared to honor the spirits during a ceremony in Petulu, in the north of Ubud, Owner of Batukaru Coffee Estate Kentri Norberg.
Venturing out of Ubud and closer to the mountains will allow you not only to connect with nature, clean air, and cooler temperatures, you can also be closer to the farmers, many of whom are growing the produce being used in these restaurants on the mineral-rich volcanic soil. I underwent my 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training with the Kula Collective during this most recent stay in Bali. which was hosted for the second 2 weeks on the top of Batukaru, a mountain adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jatiluwih, with its amazing terraced rice fields. Unlike Mount Agung, which has recently been erupting again, Batukaru is an inactive volcano considered to be a highly sacred rainforest with pristine jungles. After 2 weeks just north of Canggu in Seseh beach, tucked away at the lovely Kura Kura Yoga Retreat, we ascended halfway up the 2700M Batukaru to reach Batukaru Coffee Estate where we were greeted by our host, Kentri Norberg, and her amazing staff. The air was crisp and we instantly felt as though we had transcended into a new realm of spiritual existence.
L to R: Morning meditation on the yoga platform as the sun rises, praying to the gods of the land as led in a water purification ceremony by a Balinese Priest. Photos taken by Alex Markow.
The Coffee Estate is also an active biodynamic farm, where most of the food we ate the weeks we stayed were sourced (click here to learn more). We quickly learned Kentri's story of how the vision for the property with its yoga and wellness retreat space, the farm, the coffee business, the home, and the movement to educate came about. Kentri had moved to Sweden to be with her husband and to raise their children when they were younger, however, when she became really sick at this specific time in her life, she knew the best way to heal herself was to return to the land where she grew up. She explains that she knew the clean air, pure spring water, and juice of the powerful moringa plant would be the remedy. Being an active member of the community of this area and having grown up a priest's daughter, the land and the resources available to it are something Kentri is very passionate about. She has petitioned and fought the Balinese government on many land devastation projects mostly being considered from foreign investors.
L to R: Decor of the outdoor living space by one of the two main houses at Batukaru Coffee Estate, delicious Balinese style farm-to-table vegan food, Pathway down to more lodging and the yoga shala. Photos by Colie Wasmund.
The time we were with Kentri, we were surrounded by pure jungle, beautiful artistic touches, and outdoor living spaces. We were able to practice on the outdoor yoga deck as the sun was rising and a sheltered yoga shala for when we went to class in the shade. Each day, Kentri would explain to us a different tea, juice, or elixer that she was concocting with her staff. We often drank ginger and lemongrass tea, pandan leaf tea, rosella tea, and other greens that were high in antioxidants that Kentri often knew more by what the plant looked like than its botanical or English name. There was much to learn from her, and we encouraged her to put together a cookbook, yet like the entire operation, she wants to keep her vision and her growing goals sustainable. She explains that she only wants to grow a little bit by little bit, attracting only those who are in alignment with her vision. I remember this sentiment well as sometimes I too need a reminder that in order to keep harmony, it's best not to take on too much that it zaps my joy and overwhelms my systems. For now, I find much gratitude in the best tasting coffee that I proudly watched grow, be smashed, dried, and consumed within days of being picked. We left Batukaru at the end of 31 days of rigorous study feeling lighter and so much closer to our true selves. I bow in gratitude. Bali, you never cease to amaze me.
L to R: Morning breakfast of fresh local fruits topped with guava, mint, sesame seeds, and granola. Just picked arabica coffee beans being smashed to remove the outer fruit layer.