Brexit in Bali

It’s not the JFK assassination or 9/11, but even so, I’ll never forget where I was when I first read about Brexit.

I was on a beach on Lembongan Island, just off the coast of Bali.

Look it up on Google Maps: It’s a dot in the Indian Ocean. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more remote place.

And yet, there I sat at Nyoman’s Warung, a slab of concrete on the beach fitted out with battered teak tables and chairs, a thatched coconut-mat roof overhead. Just a few feet from my table, impossibly blue water lapped against the crushed white coral. Bamboo wind chimes sounded a timeless echo. Just behind me, I could hear Nyoman herself cooking the day’s fish on a sheet-metal grill primed with coconut husk charcoal.  

I popped open a cold Bintang and told myself to just enjoy the moment, the astonishing view, the edge-of-the-world quiet. But I couldn’t help noticing the strong cell signal on my iPhone. OK, just a quick peek at the New York Times app.

In Britain, some 8,000 miles away, a majority of voters had just chosen to leave the European Union. The pundits were calling the results of the historic referendum a rebellion against globalization. Britain’s disgruntled working class failed to sense the benefits of a system of open trade and porous borders. They saw it benefiting urban elites, leaving everyone else vulnerable to an influx of cheap foreign goods and labor and increased regulations. Globalization, they felt, undermined their economic stability and their English identity. 

Well, I thought, at least they had a vote.

My wife and I were winding down a two-week trip to Bali — for our 25th anniversary — and one indelible impression was that globalization had hit little Bali like a tsunami. Even if people there wanted one, there would be no Balexit.

The challenges of globalization that have been rocking the developed world — blamed for everything from Brexit to Trump — are even starker in the developing world. 

The Bali of your dreams, the Bali of “Eat, Pray, Love” has become a globalized tourist mecca. Cars, motorcycles and tour buses choke the small roads lined with global brands. The village of Ubud, where author Elizabeth Gilbert discovered the “Pray” part of her journey, now makes the Venice boardwalk look pastoral. I don’t think she would have been as taken by the Ubud Starbucks or Polo store.  

“People come here because it’s quiet,” our driver, Ketut, told us, “but then it’s not quiet. They come for the culture, but for them we give up our culture.”

Bali has lured foreign tourists ever since the first travel posters of bare-breasted Balinese women hit Europe in the 1930s. But what’s different now is the sheer rapidity of change, fueled by foreign investment, technology and international tourism. 

“That book was like a bomb that went off — boom!” Ketut said. All over Bali, people spoke of the island pre- and post-“Eat, Pray, Love,” a love letter turned wrecking ball. 

But it wasn’t just the book. Globalization has also spawned a gigantic middle class in India and China, and guess where they were all spending their holiday? With us, in Bali.

It is a blessing and a curse. The average Balinese lives on $1,800 per year. Tourism has enabled our guides to make that, or more, in a good month. That means better education and health care for their children. But they also complain that payoffs enable developers to plant hotels and restaurants next to sacred temples, and the fragile Balinese environment is being bled for the last dollar.  

With all these pressures and few controls on development, plus a lot of graft, the spiritual, quiet Bali is now harder and harder to find. 

We found it on the mainland’s back roads and on Lembongan — there is still remarkable beauty, romance and culture in Bali. But as I sat in Nyoman’s café, I wondered how long that would last. International hotels were engulfing the island’s fishermen’s shacks. Oil from the motorboats that show tourists the wonders of Lembongan have already destroyed the island’s once-thriving seaweed farms and are now choking out the coral and killing the plankton. When I looked more carefully at my photos of the island, I noticed just how many cellphone towers were nestled among the coconut palms. 

“We were too late for Ubud,” my wife said, “but just in time for Lembongan.” 

The Balinese we spoke with see these forces at work but feel powerless to control them. And the truth is, it isn’t even clear Britons have a choice. Now that the full implications of Brexit are beginning to become clear, there are calls for a do-over, or at least for making the implementation something less than a clean exit. The angry Brits are realizing what the Balinese already know: There is no going back; you can only learn to surf the tsunami.  

As I left Nyoman’s, I stopped to thank the small, middle-aged owner for one of the simplest and best meals I’d ever had. 

“You’re welcome,” Nyoman said as she took my hand. She looked up into my eyes. “But please say you like on Trip Advisor.”

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Exotic and kosher

Balinese food offers a brand new treasure trove of previously undiscovered, delicious, kosher-style recipes and menu ideas. The Indonesian island’s ancient, indigenous culinary roots run deep: fragrant, gorgeous — and easy-to-make — recipes come straight from the exotic locale’s traditional rural villages.  

Food and religion are synonymous in Hindu Bali: to cook is to pray. Using modern and age-old Balinese cooking techniques and equipment, these are exotic, appealing dishes that even a rebbetzin will be happy to cook for her family.

Bali’s culture and smiling inhabitants have produced dishes that are very easily adaptable to Jewish life and to kosher dietary requirements (32 of the 48 recipes in my cookbook are vegetarian). The island positively oozes with rare tropical fruits such as mangosteen, rambutan, durian, salak, dragon fruit and jackfruit. Disposable banana leaves are traditionally (and continue to be) used as organic, food-laden, hand-held plates, eliminating the necessity to keep separate sets of meat and dairy dishes. 

Because of economics, food-supply logistics and centuries of deeply ingrained village culinary habits, dairy products are rarely incorporated into traditional Balinese dishes. And chicken also is considered to be expensive — a wife may buy it for her family only once a month. 

The basic ingredients used for daily home cooking in the villages are low in calories, saturated fat, meat and cholesterol, and are therefore very heart-friendly. Heavy, fatty foods such as meat are a luxury item and are eaten only in conjunction with major, village-wide religious ceremonies. 

The cornerstones of Balinese dishes are steamed white rice, local vegetables (renegade leaves such as water spinach, exotic yard-long green beans and coiled fiddlehead fern tips), fish and tofu-based creations. Very small portions of village-grilled sardines or anchovies are the protein mainstay of the Balinese kitchen; they are plentifully found in local waters and are very inexpensive. Tempeh (a fermented, soybean-based product) is also nutritious and is widely cooked in the villages of Bali in sweet and spicy versions. 

Readily available, kosher-compatible coconut oil, which is processed from trees found all over the island, is used for cooking instead of butter. A large proportion of traditional Balinese recipes — handed down orally from generation to generation — feature coconut milk or hand-scraped and squeezed grated raw coconut. There also is a madcap love affair with sea salt, liberally sprinkled throughout the food chain, and a dazzling consortium of spices.

Plant-based cooking and food choices come naturally to the Balinese by virtue of economic necessity. The people thank their pantheon of gods for the lush bounty that surrounds them, particularly their ever-pregnant, productive rice fields. The universally loved rice goddess, Dewi Sri, feeds an entire island of almost 4 million people — empowered by high-altitude cold lakes, mountains and running river sources of irrigation water for the rice fields below.

As some of the world’s most flavorful and exotic cuisine, Balinese cooking provides observant Jews, vegetarians, vegans — and the rest of us — an exciting new sleigh ride of healthy, ethical, meat-free dining options.


Bubuh is Balinese for pudding, a favorite, very rich breakfast food or substantial afternoon snack. Adjust the amount of water and cooking time according to the quality of the black rice. It can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days (add the coconut milk only when ready to serve). This recipe is courtesy of Ni Wayan Murni of Murni’s Warung.

In general, special ingredients for Balinese dishes can be found online at and elsewhere. For this recipe, the rice is available locally at Whole Foods, and the pandanus leaves and palm sugar syrup can be found at stores such as Bangkok Market, 4757 Melrose Ave.

  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups Balinese, black glutinous rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 pandan harum (pandanus leaves)
  • 3/4 cup thick palm sugar syrup or tube-shaped chunk of Balinese palm sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean seeds
  • 2 1/4 cups thick coconut milk
  • Banana slices or jackfruit wedges


Soak the black glutinous rice for 5 minutes and drain. Put water and rice into a heavy pan and heat. When it starts to simmer, add the pandanus leaves and palm sugar syrup. Simmer over medium heat for about 30 to 40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and vanilla bean seeds. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Put in bowls and top with coconut milk, slices of banana or wedges of jackfruit. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Vivienne Kruger is the author of “Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali” (Tuttle Publishing, 2014).

Where are the bodies, MH17 families ask

Daisy Oehlers and Bryce Fredriksz, a Dutch couple in their early 20s, were sitting near the left wing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on their way to a holiday in Bali, when “high energy objects” – as officials later called them – struck the plane over eastern Ukraine.

Their bodies were torn apart and scattered across miles of the conflict zone below.

Three months later, Daisy's cousin Robby checked into a cheap hotel in Donetsk to start searching the area for any trace of his relatives. “There was a crater from a rocket impact just next to the nose part of the aeroplane,” he said. “I found a blue suitcase. It wasn't hers.”

Oehlers, a singer, and the relatives of as many as 50 other victims are growing increasingly frustrated by the fact that the authorities have not helped them trace loved ones lost on July 17, when the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot out of the sky.

All 298 passengers and crew – two-thirds of them Dutch – were killed. The Dutch government, a leading Russian trading partner, still hesitates to call it an attack.

Attempts to recover parts of the aircraft and human remains have repeatedly been called off due to fighting on the ground. Families also say the Dutch government is not giving them enough information. One law firm has said it is preparing to sue the government for negligence over its handling of the case.

Bryce and Daisy's relatives have Bryce's foot and part of a bone for Daisy, but no more. Relatives of nine people on board the Boeing 777 have no remains at all. Some families are waiting for enough body parts to hold funerals.

“How much do you need?” asked Oehlers. “30 percent? 40 percent?”

He spent three days searching the site between Donetsk and Luhansk, the rebel-held eastern Ukrainian towns that have been flashpoints in the conflict, and took a TV crew to draw attention to his family's mounting anger. He said he saw signs of bombardment on the field, where stray dogs wandered. Winter is approaching. As fighting persists, the families' hopes diminish.

“You just wonder; what are they doing?” he said of the authorities. “If it was another country, they'd just grab their stuff and head out there. I don't know what the spirit of Dutch politics is, but I think they are too soft.”


The Dutch are conducting two parallel investigations: one into the cause of the crash, and a criminal inquiry – the single largest in Dutch history. There are now 100 Dutch law enforcement officials involved in that case, including 10 prosecutors, said spokesman Wim de Bruin.

But no forensic investigators have made it to the crash site. That makes the recovery of evidence nearly impossible.

Washington says it has intelligence that overwhelmingly backs the theory that the plane was shot down by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists. Russia denies any involvement.

Many Dutch also believe the plane was downed by rebels using missiles provided by Moscow. But their leaders, mindful of the country's heavy reliance on Russian energy, have never assigned blame. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to assert his influence over the rebels.

Pieter Omtzigt, legislator with the opposition Christian Democratic Appeal party and a member of the foreign affairs committee, says the government is not being open enough.

He submitted a list of 43 questions about the disaster, of which he said 29 went unanswered, including one about Russian and Ukrainian cooperation and whether crash investigators had access to key U.S. intelligence.

“On all these questions, we haven't had an answer,” he told Reuters in an interview. “I want to see full proof – if you kill 298 people you have to be held accountable.”


The challenges facing the Dutch investigators are extreme.

The closest comparison is the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, which killed 254 people. The investigation, conducted in peacetime Scotland, took three years, during which 4 million pieces of evidence were recovered from a crash site spanning 770 sq miles. It took a decade to go to trial.

“We searched rivers, lochs and reservoirs and recovered many personal effects, pieces of aircraft and debris, as well as other much more difficult 'recoveries' I'd rather not go into here,” said one police diver involved in the search.

Even then, the trial of two Libyan intelligence agents, at a specially constituted Scottish court in a disused Dutch military base, secured only one conviction. To this day, many relatives are convinced that the man eventually convicted was innocent.

In the Netherlands, Rutte is under growing pressure: his popularity has dropped since the MH17 crash.

Silene Fredriksz, Bryce's 51-year-old mother, said she is having difficulty sleeping. “It is simply taking too long,” she said. “I hear him call: 'come get me!'”

Edited by Sara Ledwith