Eat, drink, (not) be merry?

I gained 11 kilos during my university years due to eating high-calorie meals five times a day, including midnight snacking during crushing deadlines. I kept the weight until I started working and finally could afford gym membership and a nutritionist. I managed to lose 3 kilos and 10 cm in girth.

After four years of solid career work in Jakarta, I moved to Bali and pretty much threw in the towel on the diet front. I thought: I’m young and I want to live an island life: eat, drink and be merry. My only cardio was walking around five-star resorts in heels.

The alcohol- and pork-induced carefree life I had was over as soon as I moved back to Jakarta and subsequently became pregnant. I became very aware about my weight gain. First: my weight is recorded by the nurse. Second: if I gain more than 2 kilos in a month, my Obgyn will frown on me.

I’ve gained 15 kilos during my pregnancy and I still have a couple of weeks to go. But you know what: weight gain was the least of my problems, and I learned that the hard way.

As this pregnancy came much sooner than expected, Matthew and I wanted to savor our twosome time as much as we could. We’d planned a weekend getaway as our pre-babymoon. Tickets and hotel were booked and paid in advance. We got our flight permit from the Obgyn (even at 32 weeks along). At nine hours before the flight, I decided to cancel the trip.

COD: severe heartburn.

What a stupid reason to cancel a romantic trip, you’d say. You’re right! For weeks I had been having this terrible heartburn and we all thought it’s just the hormones. Well, it was the progesterone level that caused it but we should have worked around it. We should have altered my diet, which is hardly rocket science.

It’s now been a month since I quit red meat, high-fiber high-gas vegetables, acidic fruit, pasta, noodles, tea, coffee, baked goods, and chilli/sambal. It works! I no longer need to swallow an antacid every four hours. I no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night just to burp or let go of a massive fart (yes, pregnancy is really glamorous). I no longer have nausea. And more importantly, I feel normal and up for doing more activities like yoga and powerwalking.

Every day since I’ve been feeling better, I say to myself: if only we thought of this much sooner, we would’ve had that weekend away and we wouldn’t have spent millions of rupiah for nothing.

That was just a small example of how your diet really would define your health (and at the end: finance). People think diet only has to do with wight gain/loss. But no—so much physical discomfort is caused by a wrong or unbalanced diet. And by wrong, I don’t mean just junk food; I mean the wrong type of food for your personal lifestyle and preceeding health condition.

Yes it sucks to know that you can’t eat or drink certain things, but if you pay enough attention, your body won’t have to pay for it, and in the long run, you wont have to literally pay for it. There’s no point of living a long life full of discomfort, aches and pains, and to be drug dependant. My plan is to live large and die fabulous even when it means very limited access to sambal.


(Pretending to cook) Wagyu and lobster fried rice at main kitchen of Flying Fish, Bali.

The story of a low fat oxtail soup

Okay… This is an impromptu post due to popular demand of my Low Fat Oxtail Soup recipe.

Disclaimer: I honestly don’t like oxtail. My good friends will testify that I normally only eat the broth and vegetables around oxtail soup.

So, this began with Matthew and I being unhappy with our existing stubborn body fat. We both love eating so much that we think it’s just not possible to reduce portion or frequency.

At Warung Eropa, Bali. LOVE the crispy duck and sambal! (Notice that Matt only eats itsy bitsy tuna salad? Pfft!)

The best way is then to make sure that what we put in our mouths is the perfect balance of high in taste and low in toxic, sugar, and trans fat. And the only way to ensure that is to always cook it myself whenever possible. Matthew and I always eat my home cooked meal every day, three times a day, except when we’re travelling or attending a social call.

Matthew’s lunch box. Prepared every morning with BBC News on the background.

It’s pretty embarrassing when we have guests at home and they sometimes point out that every product we have in our fridge is low sugar, non-fat, and unsalted. It’s embarrassing for me because I never wanted to be that pretentious girly girl who orders skinny latte. *pokes finger in the mouth* But fair enough, since we’re not getting any younger and none the slimmer, we do have to watch our health on top of our waistline. So I agreed to go down this route that Matthew started.

A big HOWEVER, I have to claim that there are things I don’t want to give up. First and foremost is MSG. Second is rice. Third is meat. Go ahead and call me Asian!

And now back to the point, my low-fat oxtail soup and any other of my low-fat dishes consist of basically the same thing as the original recipe. What makes them low-fat is the smart ingredients substitution. For example, while restaurants and warungs cannot afford using with olive or canola oil all the time, I can! Also, we follow the right proportion. For each plate, we serve 50% vegetable, 25% meat/protein source, 25% starch/carbohydrate source.

Cooking tip: I stir fry the carrot with spring onion before mixing them with the oxtail soup. It makes the carrot crispy! Plus, the aroma of fried spring onion is yummy!

So, please find yourself or use whatever recipe of whatever dish, I don’t create new recipe! But here’s the substitution I normally have instead of the fattier one:

Oxtail lean stir-fry cut beef and/or mixed with lean minced beef… in supermarkets you can ask the attendant for beef that has less fat or you can see that the meat is all red without white fatty bits.
Palm oil canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil
Sugar the good ol’ honey… I never like nor recommend artificial sweetener because it’s laxative, expensive, and does not taste good at all
Fruit to blend or juice To refrain from using sugar at all, always use the very ripe fruit. If you see a banana or strawberry that doesn’t look appealing, as it’s almost rotten, don’t throw it away! It will make THE best smoothie ingredient.
Yogurt I am currently in love with Elle & Vire brand as they have a 0% fat product line with various flavours that have the fruit pulps in it!
Spices Since I cannot not include MSG in my food I try to limit the amount. But my Asian taste buds need strong and powerful flavour. So what I normally do is to go liberal on spices like onion, spring onion, shallot, garlic, chilli, paprika, and pepper. I use a combination of most if not all the above in one dish every single time. I live in Asia where spices grow effortlessly and I thank God for that.
Rice I don’t and can’t substitute rice with anything. Also, I’ve just learned that the tip I’d been practicing was a myth! It was: to cook/steam rice the day before you want to consume it. Take it from the cooker, let the steam out, and then keep it in a container over night in the fridge. Reheat it just before you eat it.The new tip I learned today, which I will start doing is: to always choose brown rice if possible and to soak the rice overnight before cooking it, as the rice will be easier to digest. This will prevent constipation and other digestive problems.

The important thing to remember in any diet method is to enjoy your meal. Matthew and I always clean our plates because we don’t sacrifice flavour over calories. Really, life is short so not enjoying an activity you do 3-5 times a day is unacceptable. Tasteless dish is bullshit. But above all, there is no food or drink in the world that is literally to die for!

Grilled chicken breast with garlic, lemon, and butter sauce. Served with a side dish of boiled string bean and l.o.v.e

Bali’s Best Bites

The island of the gods has a bewildering array of dining options—from street food to fine dining. Here, Fredina Rebecca chooses the choicest eight of the best of the bunch

Last year, a so-called friend made a somewhat disparaging comment: “Rebecca, doing what you do for a living, I’m surprised you’re not a fat, raging alcoholic.” I did wonder that myself—five kilos of weight gain and partial sobriety are nothing if you see how the hospitality industry spoils me. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Of course, being based in Bali and getting assignments like this one (“eat as much as you can then sit down and write about it”) don’t help. But what’s a girl to do? So I loosened my jeans a little and set off wondering: just how will I fit into my wedding dress next year?



Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa, Nusa Dua

Award-winning Raja’s brings you the best—and only—authentic fine-dining Balinese cuisine on the island. Served in an immaculate poolside setting by attentive wait staff, the must-try here is the bebek betutu, slow-cooked (roasted) whole duck marinated in 16 Balinese spices for a reasonable AU$45. Newly appointed Australian executive chef Geoff Clark is at the helm, making Raja’s a recommended stop on any itinerary as he fine-tunes the menu. Balinese chef Mudana also told me that only one couple had ever finished the duck completely, so I did my best (it was so spicy) and hoped my next stop would offer up simple salads.



Jln. Petitenget No.6, Seminyak

OK, so this one’s not exactly simple: basking in the light of consistently rave reviews, Métis—a candidate for the reputable Miele Guide to dining—is arguably one of the best in the area, if not the island itself. Chef/owner Nicolas “Doudou” Tourneville was previously at the internationally famous Kafe Warisan. The prices tend to reflect the quality (a three-course meal with wine can come in at $200++ per head), but don’t be put off splurging here: the lily-pond atmosphere, the rice field, the jazz trumpet accompaniment and service are all worth savoring. The restaurant also played host to a cooking competition between WTA tennis champions Aravane Rezai and Kimiko Date-Krumm last year. Note to self: do more exercise…


Warung Babi Guling Sari Kembar

Jln. Teuku Umar Barat, Kerobokan

Bali is one of the top destinations for quality street food, with this warung (café) serving some of the best babi guling (suckling pig) in Bali—it was certainly a favourite of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain when he visited Warung Babi Guling Bu Oka in Ubud. But if you stay in the Seminyak area, you don’t have to go all the way to Ubud: this warung is 10 minutes away from Métis. You’ll be paying around AU$3 for a plate of pork meat, pork fat and almost everything else over rice with a glass of iced tea. My personal advice? Fast for half a day before visiting.


Omang Omang

Bali Hyatt, Sanur

My next stop was seafood—a slight respite from succulent meats and desserts, but no less delicious. One of the prime seafood outlets in Bali, Omang Omang is located in the Bali Hyatt hotel in one of the quietest areas in Sanur (there are two Hyatts on the island, so get the right one). The grill is housed in a traditional fisherman’s beach house with a thatched roof, lending it a briny feel, while the gardens and pool remind you that you’re actually dining in five-star luxury. The crowd here tends to be somewhat mature, so don’t expect 24/7 partying (and let’s face it, we all need somewhere peaceful to dine sometimes).



Jln. Laksmana No. 100, Seminyak

A little more casual than Ultimo, it’s more famous neighbour, Rumours is the perfect place for fine dining in a comfortable atmosphere. Located on Seminyak’s stylish strip, across from Amadea Resort & Villas, this recently renovated and reopened eatery is the ideal venue to visit with your mates for succulent steaks, perfect pizza and imaginative salad dishes. Cool tunes from the DJs add to the relaxed ambience of the place, and you’ll only find friendly service at Rumours. I recommend the wagyu steak (AU$12) washed down with strawberry daiquiris (AU$7 a pop), and the chocolate mousse (AU$5). The next day I ran five kilos, nearly passed out, and decided to abstain from chocolate for a while—definitely a few hours.



Various locations in South Bali

Love banana pancakes? Course you do, so what better place to head to than this hip and funky pancake chain. The array of pancakes, waffles, crepes and more makes it a true temptation. However, it’s the all-day breakfast with its Make Your Own Omelette innovation that may grab your attention. I managed to drag my rumbling tummy away from the comfort food, though, and was delighted with the chicken salad. Note that in the past year, Flapjacks has opened outlets close to many popular hotels and attractions, like Waterbom Park (Kuta), Mall Bali Galeria (Kuta), Bali Hyatt (Sanur), and Amadea Resort (Seminyak).


H2O and The Upper Deck

Bali Dynasty Resort, Kuta

H2O is the newest addition to the premier, beachside Bali Dynasty Resort. This stylish poolside eatery serves a sumptuous buffet-style breakfast, while lunchtime diners have access to an extensive à la carte menu consisting of tasty snacks, pastas, pizzas, and more wholesome main courses. My personal recommendation is the tasty chicken casadilla, which will set you back AU$11. And my personal must-do is to come for sunset and head to second floor (called the Upper Deck) for tapas and cocktails. Hotel guests will also love the themed buffet dinners, which start at AU$18 per person. Tip: children under 12 eat free when accompanied with the same number of paying adults.


Salt of the Earth

Jln. Raya Pantai, Kuta

Salt of the Earth is the epitome of casual Kuta beachside dining and located within walking distance of Harris Resort Kuta. Seemingly open all hours, this is one to visit for breakfast followed by a day of splashy beach fun, and then back for dinner. Renowned for its seafood platter with ice-cold vodka shots, I would also highly recommend the tapas or the lamb. Salt of the Earth has very recently been joined by Mocean, which offers a more intense party atmosphere, with lite bites and choice cuts of laidback vibes. And with one of those serendipitous moments that writers rarely get, I literally just received a reminder about Mocean’s grand opening party. I’m off—waistline be damned!

Published in TravelTalk Australia, June 2011