James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Not the Bali of In‑Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

Not the Bali of In‑Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

Lumpia in Bali

Nothing would go wrong on my parents’ first trip to Bali, I decided. Their Bali would be the stuff of the airline magazine they’d read on the flight there. Their first night would be in one of those cute walled gardens, hidden from the street by an ornate wooden door, which would feel like a secret yet lavish world of yellow plumerias, weathered grey gargoyles, and tropical fruit breakfasts.

That first morning my mom woke, took a sun-dappled walk on the beach, and announced she wanted to see the memorial for Pan Am Flight 812, which crashed in 1974. My brow furrowed. This was not on the itinerary.

Before leaving, she’d told her coworker she was headed to Bali. “That’s cool,” her colleague said. “The last time I was there was when my dad’s plane crashed.”

His father was the flight engineer on the Boeing 707 when it lost contact with Bali Air Traffic Control and, taking a wrong right turn during the approach to Ngurah Rai International Airport, found a mountain in the way. The plane exploded on impact. None of the 107 bodies were ever identified. Mom promised we’d look for the memorial.

A search on Google Maps showed it was only five miles north of Sanur. Easy. We could swing by on our way to the Elephant Cave and still be on time for that vegetarian lunch in Ubud. But at the map pin, after two miles trundling down a potholed country lane, we found only a crumbling stone wall in an empty field. A pack of feral-looking dogs rose from behind it. “Are we lost?” Mom asked.

“Nah,” I tapped my phone screen and turned the car around. “We’ll just ask at the old hotel.”

But the hotel yawned at us from a dilapidated lot, the windows dark and cracked, the pink paint chipped. “I guess it has been 30 years,” Dad said. I flagged a passing motorcyclist, who pointed us down a rutted dust road. It was now mid-morning, and lunch in Ubud would have to be dinner. I didn’t have a back-up plan.

The road dead-ended in a temple parking lot. There a man sat with an aquarium-sized tub of spring rolls, called lumpia here, humming to himself. “Hey! Good Morning!” he called cheerfully. I asked him about the memorial, wondering who here was buying the lumpia. They looked fried to wilting.

He pointed us to the back corner of the lot, tucked behind a small gate. It was carved out of the same weathered charcoal stone of the gargoyles and topped with a tasseled yellow umbrella. We took the photos, and returned to the lumpia man. With a pair of scissors, he snipped the spring rolls into bite-sized pieces, revealing their bean-sprout innards. Over the top he ladled out a sticky molasses-like sauce, kecap manis, and handed the paper cone to my dad.

We took turns spearing the lumpia bites with an elongated toothpick as we walked back to the thoroughly dirty car. They tasted greasy and sweet, the bean sprouts melted to mush by oil. It wasn’t a meal fit for a magazine spread, but I wasn’t worried anymore. Our Bali would be this memory of being together.

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