The Quest for Turtle Satay

To Balinese, turtles are the cuisine of gods and goddesses, so one partakes in a turtle dish only during festivities. The story about the delicacy (and strength) of turtle satay has always intrigued me, and one day, maybe determined by the perfect alignment of cosmic forces, I decided that tonight is going to be the night. I am going to go for it. The consumption, however, was not easy.

First, there is the problem of finding it. I didn't expect it to be a problem - after all, there are dozens of seafood houses just on Legian Street, Kuta alone. The famous Turtle Satay should be readily available. Boy, was I wrong!

I drove towards Legian Street and just randomly parked, absolutely convinced that these famous Kuta seafood restaurants, which brilliantly display on their store front aquariums filled with swimming fish ready to be picked and served freshly, would have something as authentic and original as Balinese turtle satay. The maitre'd of the first restaurant I walked into simply shook his head, the second gave me a weird smile, and the third looked blank. Only on the fourth one I talked to somebody who had some idea. "No sir, you wouldn't be able to find them in restaurants in Legian. You might want to try Kuta Seafood near the Tuban area." Strike 1 for cosmic forces.

Since Tuban would require that I return to my car and drive, I decided to try a couple other restaurants. One Balinese waitress repeated the statement that none of the Kuta restaurants would offer turtle satay, but she suggested a small Balinese "warung" near the airport. Another man suggested that a few blocks East of Legian Street there is usually an old woman selling turtle satay on the front gate of the "Banjar" (town hall).

Off I walked the narrow alley off Legian Street towards the Banjar. The alley was dark - it was 8pm at night - but you feel safe in Bali. When I reached the gate of the Banjar, the sound of gongs and Balinese gamelan permeated the thin night air - regular banjar practice. But I didn't see any woman selling food on the street. I asked a gathering of small children playing outside the banjar, and they told me that the old woman does not come on Wednesday. Just perfect - maybe cosmic forces were forbidding me to consume turtle satay tonight!

I went back to my car, and headed for Tuban. Again, a whole row of seafood restaurants, none of which is capable to fulfill my wish. One kind man said that he also loved turtle, and said that the best place in Bali for turtle satay would be a small warung in Sanur (which would be half an hour drive from where I was). He also warned me that turtle is very strong - expect a stomach upset, he pointed out. I decided to drive towards the airport, which was much closer. As I walked out of my car, I noticed that the small warung suggested by the Balinese lady in Kuta was just closing. "We are closing early - everything is sold out," explained the smiling woman behind the counter. Strike 3 for cosmic forces.

So there I was, two hours into searching for turtle satay. Three strikes and I decided that tonight was not going to be the night.

But it does not mean that I give up. The following day, as I was driving from Denpasar towards Kuta, on Jl. Raya Benoa, there was an old woman sitting on a short stool off the street, right in front of the soccer field. She was cooking turtle satay!

Off street gods' food soon found its way on a small plate at my dinner table at home. They look like regular satay, except for certain darkness that seems to dominate more than a beef or pork satay. No sauce. I took the first skewer, and appreciatingly took a small bite. The herbs and spices on the satay are strong: traces of sweetness yet distinctively hot. The consistency of the meat is almost like pork (No, it does not taste like chicken), but it chews and tastes much better. In minutes, all six skewers are gone!

Turtle satay is truly a cuisine for the gods and goddesses!


p.s. Yes, they are strong. A couple of hours later, my stomach turned upside down, but after it was over, it felt clear and freshened.

p.p.s. Yes, they are incredibly delicious, but certainly not for the weak-stomached or weak-hearted people. One way or another, turtle satay *WILL* be memorable... Try at your own risk!

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