The Hotel Tugu is on the small road that runs down to the unimposing black sand beach of Canggu. In fact it is almost at the beach. The exterior of the hotel is so nondescript, that I had always assumed it was just another budget to medium range hotel; one of Bali's thousands. A recent photo visit to the area that lured me inside, also shocked me with just how wrong I had been.
A long covered walkway takes you from the simple front entrance to the hotel foyer. You suddenly enter an enormous thatch-covered wantilan, maybe forty metres high, and just as wide, with massive hand-beaten wooden pillars. The sense of space and timelessness is enormous. You talk in whispers, lest not to disturb anything or anyone; the spirits are everywhere. A solid low wooden table, fifteen metres square, is at the centre of the room. An enormous wooden garuda guards the area. White drapes hang down from the cavernous ceiling. You gaze around you in awe, like the first time visitor that you are.
At Tugu, there is no restaurant!
Instead, table settings are to be found virtually throughout the estate. In the alcoves that surround the foyer. In small private dining rooms, garden gazebos, or just beside the incredibly blue swimming pool. Inside the front entrance you notice a large dining room to your right, just through the garden. It is the Colonial Room. It houses a long table that could seat 8-10 quite comfortably in an old-world style. Here they serve the Dutch inspired, and very traditional, Rice Table [Rijstaffel].
Tugu the hotel is only five years old, yet you imagine that this is how a hundred-year-old Balinese hotel would look, if such a thing existed! Almost like visiting the ancient and majestic hotels of Europe. No wonder that the Tugu is listed by Relais and Chateaux. In fact it is the only hotel they deign to list from anywhere in S.E. Asia!
It would have been a tragedy if the food served here turned out to be ordinary. Do not despair, it is quite sensational! Balinese, Javanese and a selection of specialities from East Java [Malang] are the main offerings.
The Lumpia Udang Babah is a giant money bag. Thin and crispy, deep-fried rice paper stuffed with a large prawn, it's tail extending above the purse strings of the bag. Babah style food reflects the merging of traditional Indonesian and Chinese cuisines. Another good example is the Dim Sum Babah. Four delicate little siumay, still in their bamboo steaming tray. Hakau, Siao Lung Pao, and pieces of Stuffed Tofu and Mushroom, together with their accompanying soy-based dipping sauce.
Whilst many of the main courses come with a side serve of an intriguing Banana Stem Soup, there are a number of other interesting soups available as a separate course. Sota Ayam Lamongan is an ethnic East Javanese turmeric-spiced chicken soup with rice vermicelli. Sup Asem Pedas is more of a Thai-style hot and sour soup, consisting of bamboo shoots, tofu, shitake mushrooms and crab meat. Buntut Rempah Spesial is a traditional Indonesian Oxtail soup.
Nasi Campur Bali is an unique Balinese version of that Indonesian staple. This one originates from a recipe from Anak Agung Istri Mahawati [a member of the Pemecutan royal family]. It is a rice platter served with fish in a Balinese relish. With it is dried shredded chicken, chicken in a coconut gravy, a fish satay, watercress in chilli sauce, a spicy pork satay, longbean in coconut sauce, egg in spicy Balinese sauce, crispy fried shrimp, fried peanuts and samsah [crispy fried pork crackling]. Benyuh, a grated coconut soup is served on the side.
The Ayam Pelalah is a great example of that Balinese dish of shredded chicken in chilli and lime juice, though the flavours here are far more delicate than usual. A fine balance! Siap Mapanggang is a grilled chicken that has previously been marinated, whilst Siap Megoreng is similar, but deep fried. Kenus Mebase is squid that has been sauteed in Balinese spices. The squid is unusually tender.
A sensational vegetarian Nasi Campour is taken from an original family recipe of Mbok Sarinem. It is also a rice platter, but this time with a fried sweetened soybean cake, egg in a spicy sauce, turmeric pickles, fried grated coconut, both a corn and a potato fritter, and marinated vegetables in grated coconut. It is accompanied by a large, paper thin, fan-shaped cracker, that has peanuts embedded in it. The Ayam Panggang Bumbu Terik, a grilled marinated chicken of East Javanese origin, is also served with a rice cracker.
The Tugu Rijstaffel is a 12 course banquet, as originated during the Dutch colonial era. A rice table with chicken curry, chicken satay, beef in coconut sauce, a prawn croquet, egg in a spicy sauce, shredded beef, bean cake, fried grated coconut, yellow pickles, a shrimp cracker and a banana.
Any cuisine is a product of the people of that country. No better example than Tugu's Nasi Goreng Bang Samin. It is a traditional Javanese-style fried rice with noodles, beansprouts, cabbage, chicken, shrimps and a cracker. It is how the famous Bang Samin, a roadside vendor in the city of Lamongan, in Eastern Java, has been making it for many years.
Other Babah Perankan selections are available as are a number of western offerings. Desserts are basic, as in most of Asia. However I believe that the dishes that I have highlighted are the outstanding examples of Indonesian regional cuisine that make Tugu an essential place to visit.
The service at Tugu is what you always hope to discover in any fine dining establishment, but rarely do in Asia. Knowledgeable about the food, friendly yet still professional. Always there when needed, and well away from you when they are not.
I do believe that I have just enjoyed the perfect lunch!