Amlapura market

We weave through the narrow laneways, passing women balancing their purchases atop their heads. It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning and the market is packed with locals doing their regular shopping. Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, sweets, housewares, secondhand clothing (including an Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie), it’s all here at Amlapura market.

The permanent location of this Balinese market is under construction, but this temporary venue has not deterred shoppers. The alleys wind up, down and around, with vendors packed into every nook and cranny. One seller is cleaning her fish, and we try to stay out of the way of the bright turquoise scales that fly about. Around the corner, chickens are being butchered into all different cuts. Down the pathway, live ducks await their fate, likely to become bebek betutu, a traditional slow cooked duck dish that you must order one day in advance.

As we exit the covered area and head out into the sunlit street, we come across a collection of produce vendors. The mangoes tempt us, as does a pint-sized pineapple. I am curious to try durian, a common Southeast Asian fruit with a pungent odour whose reputation precedes it. Search durian online and you’ll find a range of descriptions, from “almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, and gym socks” to “compost” to “sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray and used surgical swabs”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Because of the smell, durians have been banned from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia. Our guide, Made, deters my purchase, afraid I will offend the rest of the guests at the villa if I bring the durian back. I’m not giving up though. We have a week left in Bali, so I will keep an eye out for durian and somewhere I can try it in a, perhaps, more private setting.

Navigating the market means wading through the sea of colours, sounds, and smells. It’s an experience that helps us to understand not just the flavours of our favourite dishes, but Balinese culture as well.

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