The moments you remember most fondly from travelling are often not quite those you’d expect to recall or to take such a place in your heart. I have many wonderful memories from my recent trip to south east Asia: spotting an orang utan in the wild in the heart of the Borneo jungle; immersing myself in the sights, sounds and scents of one of Penang’s biggest hawker markets; snorkelling in turquoise waters off the coast of Sabah; walking through lush rice terraces in Java surrounded by papaya trees. And yet one of the moments I remember best, and that fills me most with a tranquil sense of happiness, is one that is comparatively trivial.
I arrived in Ubud, Bali, the last stop of my trip, after three weeks of manic backpacking around three countries and four islands. After seven flights, many buses, numerous hostels and a dizzying array of sights. After some minor crises, a few tears, and a lot of smiles. When I look at my route on a map now, it seems completely insane. How did I ever think I would manage to see everything I wanted to see in three and a half weeks? Bali was no exception – I’d planned to stop in Ubud for one night, then do a whistle-stop tour of the Gili Islands, a four-hour boat trip away, for another night, somehow fitting two diving trips into that time too.
Then I arrived at my room in Ubud, took in the glorious tropical garden surrounding my personal balcony, dropped my bags (three by this point…I’d set out with two), collapsed onto the double bed (one of two in my palatial room), and completely abandoned my insane plan to leave at six in the morning on a speedboat. I stayed for three nights in Bali’s capital of culture, an amazing mix of gorgeous architecture, stunning temples, excellent shopping and some truly fabulous food.
Instead of waking up at 5.30 to catch a speedboat, I enjoyed my first lie-in of the entire trip the following morning. I woke to the strangely comforting sounds of a fierce tropical rain shower, at the decadent hour of 8.30. I ran myself a bath (again, the first of the trip – bath, that is, I of course did shower at some point in this month-long voyage, though not in the jungle where I washed with buckets of chocolate-brown river water…but that’s another story), soaked in the hot water until the rain stopped, then went to sit on my balcony. Here, the lovely hotel staff brought me breakfast: a big mug of hot tea, a colourful plate of tropical fruit, and a banana pancake.
It may not be the stuff of postcards or holiday photo albums, but that moment was one of the highlights of my trip. I sat there in the warm air while the lush garden seemed to exhale around me, droplets from the shower still clinging to its foliage, everything alive and steamy and bursting with colour. I was warm, clean, well-rested. I had the prospect of a relaxed three days’ sightseeing ahead of me: temples, rice paddies, markets, and (though I didn’t know it yet) some absolutely beautiful food. Most importantly, I was not already two hours into a speedboat journey.
Actually, no. Most importantly, I had before me an absolutely delicious banana pancake and a plate of the tropical fruit that is predominantly responsible for my deep love for south east Asia. It was a squidgy, comforting pancake, like a thick crêpe, nothing particularly special, but pressed into the batter were thin slices of caramelized banana. The centre was gooey and warm, the edges buttery and crisp. It was hot, sweet, and absolutely delicious. All the more so because I got to savour it, for the first time not needing to rush off anywhere, catch a plane, or tick off a mad list of ‘must-see’ sights.
So there’s my ostensibly trivial holiday-making moment. Four weeks after returning, I still think about that pancake. On a quiet Sunday morning in York, I decided to bring a little bit of Bali into my kitchen, to recreate that delicious breakfast and relive a happy memory. I didn’t have the Asian weather or the lush tropical garden, but I did have one of the warmest days of the autumn so far, a pot of tea, a little Yorkshire sunshine, and my best friend to share it with, which is almost as good.
For something that has occupied my memories so much, this is very easy to make. You basically make a crêpe batter (I used the one from my Vietnamese pineapple pancakes, also an attempt to recreate a memorable Asian breakfast…), but add less milk so that it’s quite thick. I use spelt flour in my pancakes, because it makes them a bit more robust. Before you cook the pancake, you melt butter in a pan and add slices of banana (arranged, if you wish, in pretty concentric circles) and a sprinkling of desiccated coconut (I don’t know if the Bali version had coconut, but adding extra coconut to something can never, in my view, be a bad thing). Let these sizzle for a minute, then pour over the batter in a thick layer. It turns crisp and buttery on the outside while staying gooey in the centre. Flip it over, cook for another minute, then it’s ready to go. I only had one pancake in Bali, but I made two per person here, because they’re so good you’ll want another.
I served these with a big platter of tropical fruit – mango, papaya, lychees, strawberries (yes, not tropical, but a nice colour contrast) and a squeeze of lime – and a pot of mango green tea. I also drizzled over a little coconut syrup, a souvenir from Ubud, which is like extra-dark, rich, treacly maple syrup with a hint of coconut – it’s amazing stuff. You could serve these with maple syrup instead, but they don’t need much, being quite sweet and satisfying on their own.
So, as we descend into the misty depths of autumn and then winter, I’ll graciously let you hijack my holiday memory for a morning and improve your mood with this recipe. Grab some bananas, put the kettle on, and cheer yourself up with a little bit of Bali.
Bali banana pancakes (makes 4 pancakes; serves 2):
- 150g spelt flour (or normal flour if you prefer)
- 1 large egg
- 300ml milk
- Pinch of salt
- 3 medium bananas
- 4 tbsp desiccated coconut, plus extra to garnish
- Butter, for cooking
Sift the flour into a large jug or mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg, then pour in a little of the milk. Using an electric whisk, gradually whisk the egg into the surrounding flour, adding milk as you go, until all the flour has been incorporated and you have a smooth batter. Set aside.
Slice the bananas diagonally into 5mm thick slices. Get a non-stick frying pan, about 20cm diameter, quite hot and melt a knob of butter. Swirl it around the pan so it covers the base, then arrange a quarter of the banana segments over the base of the pan (see picture). Sprinkle a tablespoon of coconut around the bananas, then pour a quarter of the batter into the pan so it surrounds the bananas and slightly covers them. Cook on a high heat until it is all opaque on the side facing you, then (carefully!) flip over and cook for a couple of minutes on the other side. Keep in a warm oven while you make the remaining three pancakes, then serve with a little extra coconut sprinkled over and maple syrup, if you like.