A nice coffee shop is… (Part Two)

I don’t normally favor franchised coffee shops, but I realize that what sustains a big brand is its story. “A drink from paradise… Available on earth.” Something like that. Many of us believe that “We only live once”, so who wouldn’t be tempted to taste something from paradise while on earth? There is no warranty that once we die, we’ll taste such a drink in the paradise. Assuming we’ll go to heaven slash paradise. Assuming heaven exists. Black Canyon did play with my ego there. I just finished reading “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin, yet I willingly let myself fooled.

A section in Godin’s book says something about the problem of franchise business. The story that a brand creator made in the first place sometimes does not translate correctly in a different setting, although the written SOP’s are exactly the same. Have you experienced food poisoning in a McDonald’s? Or seen that the chicken was not thoroughly cooked? In this case, the problem is in the execution, you may say. But it can also be the case that a franchiser doesn’t care of the story the brand is aiming to tell. Who cares if the story translates or not. McDonald’s have always made good business so far, meaning that some aspects of the story do get to the costumers, and one of those aspects is “being part of the ‘cool’ Americanized community.” Some brands are not ‘lucky’ enough though. Costumers feel betrayed because a story is not consistent; they feel the brand only wants their money, so they leave.

Now, back to the coffee shop that provides the “drink from paradise,” particularly the one located on Jalan By Pass Nusa Dua – not so much an upbeat location, unfortunately. I have seen a restaurant with a ‘story’ close down because they failed to win people’s attention, and this one seems to walk in that direction, too. Too bad. A place like this is almost perfect to my taste: you can sit for hours, good wi-fi, quiet enough for you to play with your laptop and produce a blog post or two, good music, well mannered waiters, and this “drink from paradise”! Their coffee tasted really good, I tell you. The downsides: poor interiors! The fridge was wrongly placed near a guest’s table, giving it a cheap ‘warung’  feel; the plastic flowers were a big NO; the electronic cables were carelessly attached across the walls. It did feel like I was in a warung, not a cafe. I was close to dismissing all of those downsides, though, due to the fact that I could work peacefully with my laptop, sipping my coffee that tasted just right…. when… the waiters started to stack the chairs and lift the outside tables in. “We close at six pm,” two of the waiters said in unison. You must be kidding! What kind of coffee shop closes at six?! Maaaan… I was politely sent off. I didn’t feel bad for myself, or least not as much as I felt about this coffee shop. To me it was a confirmation that they will close down for good within a few weeks.

Location is important, of course. But that is not everything. Tell me a good story, a lie that I want to hear. If I’m your potential ally, you should embrace me, not send me off. Black Canyon Nusa Dua, I was soooo close to liking your story! So I left. Betrayed.

A nice coffee shop is…

I’m a PR, so how can I not be social? On the other hand, I enjoy doing things by myself. What the hell am I trying to say? I mean to say that if you have a local, non-Starbucks coffee shop business, you have a chance to make good business with me. I visit coffee shops quite often, especially if I have a good company who appreciates private no-talk-to-each-other time even when we sit at the same table because each of us is fixated on our own gadget. That’s about how social I am.

Do I care about the quality of the coffee, tea and cheese cake offered by a coffee shop? Of course. That’s why I don’t normally go to Starbucks (unless someone matters in my life insists) or Cafe Moka (that has terrible cheese cake and hot tea that’s not hot enough) even though they are popular in any Bali dining directory. I like a place that is underrated because of its business scale or location, not because of its quality. It’s hard to find a place like Henry’s or Aimee’s – the small coffee shops in downtown Lawrence, Kansas,US – here in Bali. The reason is because Bali is too commercial for a small scale, local, non-chain coffee shop business to exist and survive. For this, I praise Warung Italia and Massimo for selling only what they are good at, including coffee and gelato. The downside of these places are they are not designed for comfortable web surfing.
I don’t think that I will be able to run a coffee shop business, but here’s what I thought a nice coffee shop should have:
  • Good quality products, including cheese cake if it is on the menu. Sell only what you are really good at! 
  • Comfortable seating (some cute sofas wouldn’t hurt)
  • Fast wireless Internet
  • Good, easy listening music (no Kenny G, please!)
  • Staff that appreciate high degree of quietness (Honey & Bread Nusa Dua needs to train their staff to stop singing along with the music!)
  • Non-mainstream location (cross out Kuta completely!)
  • Reasonable prices, naturally
Please contact me if you know such a nice coffee shop. Thanks in advance! πŸ™‚

Traumatizing Noodles & the Noodles Guru

It has been more than six months since I visited Warung Chili, or Warung ‘Mie Pedas’ (hot spicy noodles) located in Taman Griya, Jimbaran, Bali. The Chinese Indonesian owner wasn’t pregnant the last time I was here, and here she is with a big bump.

“Hey, what happened to your belly?” I ask her. I don’t remember her name.
“I just swallowed a whole watermelon,” she says with a big smile. “Where have you been? I didn’t know you were still alive!”

The small warung has a wide selection of noodles, udon (Japanese big noodles), and rice. Their rice dishes are not very special, but their noodles are another story. Even the cheapest noodle dish, ‘Mie Ayam’ or noodles with seasoned minced chicken in chicken broth, IDR 13,000, tastes clean and just right. I order their signature ‘Mie Pedas’, as usual. Here, you can choose from seafood, chicken, or both to go with your bowl of superhot noodles. There is some sourness in the delicious red hot soup; my guess is they mix it with kimchi paste. It’s so hot my lips swell just after a few spoons. My eyes get teary and my nose running. Maybe because I have not eaten such spiciness for quite a while, I give up after eating 2/3 of it.

“Your noodles are so mean!” I say to the pregnant lady. She laughs victoriously.
“That was nothing, really. Only Level One!” she says. By ‘Level’, she means level of spiciness of the hot spicy noodles. She says that the level can go all the way  to Ten.
“You must be kidding me!”

A guest who has been listening to our conversation and has just finished her bowl of regular noodles is interested in trying hot spicy noodles. She orders one.

“You shouldn’t,” the Lady Owner says. Eh??? Why not? This is what I love about this place. The owner doesn’t just sell her stuff for money. She doesn’t only think about number. Most importantly, she is a culinary master, specifically in the area of noodles. She has been to Korea and Japan to study noodles, and has had years of experience with trials and errors in experimenting with different types of noodles and customizing them to her Indonesian customers’ taste. Not only does she know how to make a delectable bowl of noodles, she also knows very well how to enjoy it best.

“If you order another bowl of noodles after you finish your first, the second one won’t taste as good as it should be. This is because you have lost a certain degree of appetite after your first bowl. It’s better to order double bowls at the same time, trust me!” and thus the master goes.

She continues:

“And if it is your first time trying ‘Mie Pedas’, NEVER go beyond Level One, otherwise it will be a traumatic experience.” She reports that the majority of her customers who did not listen to her advice never came back for ‘Mie Pedas’ ever again.

‘Mie Pedas’ at Warung Chili always looks intimidating, I can verify that. Actually eating it is another challenge. Then, the aftermath is a warm sensation in your stomach that will stay overnight, and in the morning you will crave for more. Man, I am traumatized or what!

Even the most understanding soul needs comfort food…

I am not by any means the most understanding person in the world. By ‘world’, I mean my small circles of kinship, friendship, or work. I just enjoy exercising my brain by looking into people’s personalities, trying to connect the dots how certain personalities tend to react under certain circumstances. Even when I do it earnestly, without pretense, in some cases it can be tiresome. Especially in a situation where you know what’s going on, but for some reason you should keep the knowledge for yourself in the name of harmony. The idea of being a harmony keeper, and not exactly a harmonizer, is something I often detest. Maybe this is why some people tend to eat more when they are stressful. Comfort food is harmony keeper’s best friend! This kind of food helps stabilize the psyche, whatever the physical impact is. And tonight, my best friend is not Sherly or any of my colleagues; my best friend tonight is a bowl of oxtail soup from Warung Ahong, Jimbaran.

The oxtail soup (without rice) at Warung Ahong is IDR35,000, much less expensive than the one in MM Juice, and more homey. Warung Ahong doesn’t always have the best of everything. I like their seafood fried rice, but their ‘kweetiaw’ (large rice noodles) tasted like the Indian Ocean the last time I had it. S-A-L-T-Y. Their ‘karedok’ (fresh vegetable salad in peanut sauce) is not special. My neighbor Sherly always – like ALWAYS – orders sauteed beef vegetables. I know, we have to try more varieties!
Oxtail soup always reminds me of my late Mbahti, grandma who made the best oxtail soup in the world: with the best oxtail, diced potatoes, and lots of red beans! The oxtail soup from Warung Ahong is far from perfection, but for a moment I feel that life is worth living anyway. I’m not sure if harmony has been restored, maybe that should wait. I just know that I should go to bed earlier tonight and bounce back in the morning. Good night, loves!

Brunch with good friends? Go Oriental!

When I lived in the US, one of my favorite weekly routines was going to this Chinese restaurant where you could eat all just by paying USD 7.00++. But of course, ‘all-you-can-eat’ wouldn’t be so much fun without a bunch of good friends. We always failed to remember the name of the restaurant; we called it “Chinese Place.” And our Chinese place never failed to make us – stressed out grad students – as happy as toddlers!

There are not too many ‘all-you-can-eat’ places in Indonesia, alas! I’m not very sure why, but I suspect not many restaurant owners are willing to risk hosting too many greedy eaters and hurting their revenue. To me, this shouldn’t be the case, because satisfactory ‘all-you-can-eat’ is addictive. Happy customers will keep coming back, and will invite more and more friends to join them, and so the word of mouth goes. For this reason, I hail Golden Lotus restaurant at Bali Dynasty Hotel on Kartika Street, Kuta, Bali. They offer all-you-can-eat dim sum every Sunday from 10:00 to 12:30 at IDR95,000 nett (around 10 bucks).

I got there a few minutes past ten. The hostess greeted me warmly and a pot of hot jasmine tea was ready on my table less than a minute after I was seated. As my friends were still stuck in traffic, I didn’t have to wait to start my small feast. I decided not to take any rice as I wanted to stuff my stomach with as many varieties as the restaurant got to offer. I took a little soup as opener. Not bad.

There are two food corners: the regular corner (with fried rice, porridge, soup, a selection of fried dumplings, spring rolls, egg tarts and dessert) and the steamer baskets corner where the real deals are. Chicken feet is a must-try. Steamed buns are available with option of fillings: chicken, beef, pork, and vegetables. What else? Various kinds of ‘shaomais’ and dumplings: prawn, chicken, pork come in satisfying sizes. Oh, and the squid in oyster sauce and chili is soo good too! It’s hard not to be greedy!

Eight steamer baskets were already empty on my table when my companies finally arrived. And the journey continued. All-you-can-eat is always more fun with good friends. We ate, talked, laughed, ate, talked, laughed, ate again… and two and half joyful hours passed! No time to take pictures of the dessert, because no matter of how good the main course is, dessert is always the happiest time for me, and I enjoy it heartily. But I let you know what I had: mix fruit in lychee syrup and ‘matuan’ or fried dough filled with red sweet bean paste, Indonesians call ‘onde-onde.’ Schweet moment!

I’m hoping there will be more all-you-can-eat restaurants available in the future. For now, Golden Lotus, you are my new Chinese place!

My body tells me…

I’m knocked out by my menstrual cycle this time. Fortunately, it’s weekend, so it doesn’t really matter if my body aches and I get cranky. I’ve been sleeping, waking up, sleeping again, waking up and not feeling hungry. My morning routine includes coffee and Internet surfing; but since I found out that I ran out of gas for my stove, I skipped the coffee this morning. I needed to go out to buy gas, and I had been craving for something sweet. But 90% of what I read on the Internet told me to avoid sweet stuff for reasons such as gaining weight and upset stomach. Only two articles suggested to follow my craving because it was the way my body told me of what it needed to keep my system back in balance. I did not follow the majority.

I walked to the nearest convenience store to get what I needed: oatmeal cookies, white chocolate sandwich biscuits, 1 slice of brownies, and 1 chocolate chip muffin. They didn’t have stove gas (boooo, Circle K!), so I also got myself two cold Nescafe’s. On my way back, I saw a couple of warungs displaying selections of dishes on their windows, but they didn’t appeal to me at all.

A Blackberry message came from my neighbor Sherly: drop by at my place, I got some wedding cake from last night (Sherly works as a WO). I think my body just made successful communication with the universe!

Happiness is simple. And cheap!

Happiness happens at lunch time, outdoors, while majority of the clouds are taking a break from the blue, blue sky…

… when the water is calm and turquoise blue, as idle as sleepy tourists on beachfront long chairs…

For happiness less than a dollar: a bowl of Bakso (how would you like it? No egg? Chicken feet?) and an amazing setting absolutely FREE (beach, sky, breezes included)!

… and Mas Untung at your service! Very efficient guy – not very keen on smiling, but he makes his customers smile happily…

Nice weather… Nice views… Playful breezes… A bowl of Bakso customized by Mas Untung just for you… Great companies…

Happiness is very simple. All you need to do is just be there and happy!

 β€œAnd Joy is Everywhere;

It is in the Earth’s green covering of grass;
In the blue serenity of the Sky;
In the reckless exuberance of Spring;
In the severe abstinence of gray Winter;
In the Living flesh that animates our bodily frame;
In the perfect poise of the Human figure, noble and upright;
In Living;
In the exercise of all our powers;
In the acquisition of Knowledge;
In fighting evils …

Joy is there Everywhere. ”

(Rabindranath Tagore)

Coto, soup with attitude

Service is everything in a business. Have you been in a restaurant where the food is good, but the waitress looks like she has just swallowed acid every time she comes to your table? How many times have you fallen ‘victim’ of poor service attitude? When business fails to take place because of a shop attendant’s stupid behavior, the business itself IS the real victim. Not all people in hospitality business are aware of the importance of positive service attitude, even in Bali where people smile easily and almost automatically when meeting other people. Needless to repeat it over and over that service is everything. Or… Is it?

I will get back to the theme of service attitude next time. Now, I’m going to say that in some culinary cases, ‘service’ does not lie in a waiter’s or restaurant owner’s attitude. The ‘service’ is in the food itself. This warung (small, simple-looking restaurant, with relatively cheap items) on By Pass Ngurah Rai, Jimbaran, Bali, does exactly that. When you enter the family-run Warung ‘Parakatte’, don’t expect warm greetings and big smiles from the waitresses/owners. But don’t let that discourage you. Just seat yourself and tell them what you’d like to order. These people are from Makassar, South Sulawesi, and they don’t have the ‘big smile culture’ as the Balinese. It doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate your business. They do. It’s in the dishes they present to you. In my case, it is their signature soup Coto that keeps me coming back every now and then.
Coto is not for you with cholesterol problems. It is not for you either, Picky Eaters! Coto is soup that uses beef and cow’s innards – intestine, liver, lungs, tripe – as fillings (if you’re a health freak or these stuffs scare you, forget it!) The beef and innards are slowly cooked with some other ingredients and spices to make mouth-watering thick soup to die for. This soup is the main course, so you eat it with white rice or rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves they call Buras or Burasa. Oh, and don’t forget to add a few drops of lime juice, sweet soy sauce, and hot chili paste into the Coto. Believe me, it’s heaven on earth!
A bowl of Coto with a plate of rice is priced IDR19,000 (roughly USD 2.00), quite pricey for a regular lunch for most Indonesians like myself. It’s a once-in-a-week kind of treat, but considering the cholesterol contained in it, that should be fair. A note on the location: far away from centers of business such as the strips of Kuta or Legian, Parakatte is quite easily overlooked. The sullen looking attendants/owners could be easily misunderstood amidst the growing service awareness. But I’m not a fool in the Coto’s case. If a food is capable in making me burp shamelessly and happily at the end of a course, it does all the justice.