Bali Fusion Restaurant

By on April 29, 2010

Some of the best Malaysian food you’ll ever eat can be found within shouting distance of Woodland Hills Mall, in a tiny restaurant cheerily decorated with photographs of Singapore, Bali and Kuala Lumpur. It opened in 2008. I heard about it, meant to go, but never did, put off perhaps by the word “fusion”. Meanwhile, the Indonesian woman who owned it sold the business, and the emphasis changed from Indonesian food to Malayan Chinese, for which the word “Bali” is as out of place as “Munich Cafe” as the name of a French bistro, but for which the word “fusion” is dead on accurate. Malayan Chinese is the world’s first fusion cuisine.

Sometime around the year 1500, small bands of intrepid Chinese left their ancestral villages in the area north and east of present day Hong Kong and set sail across the China Sea. Reaching the land of sultans, palms and pirates now called Malaysia, they settled down, thrived, and their descendants, known as Peranakan, out of touch with China, developed a culture all their own. And a cuisine too, a fusion cuisine, blending Chinese and Malay cooking techniques, with some Portuguese contributions (from their colony in south Malaya) and Indian spices thrown in. More Malay than Chinese, actually, the main thing being a blend of raw spices called a rempah, which is, like a Cajun roux or a Cuban sofrito, used as a base for sauces. That is totally unlike any other Chinese food I’ve heard of. Malayan Chinese food (or, as it’s called, Nonya food) is totally unique (and I know that a lot of grammarians say “totally unique” is not correct grammar, but they haven’t tasted Nonya food).

“What does it taste like?” I asked my friend Cathe. “Like nothing I’ve ever tasted in my life,” she replied. It was 4 PM on Monday and we’d just started on our meal at Bali Fusion. Here’s what we had. First, the Beef Rendang ($9). That’s probably why I was there. Beef Rendang is one of the most famous Nonya dishes, though it was invented, not by the Peranakan but by the Minangkabau people of central Sumatra. I’d tried it many times in New York, and I’ve never found it done right. It was always dry and tasteless, even though on two occasions I traveled for miles by subway to try authentic Minangkabau restaurants (which is a story in itself, the man at the cash register reluctant to admit he was Minangkabau because it is a matriarchal society, meaning he wasn’t in charge). I was lamenting my sadly rendang-deprived life on TulsaFoodBlog last week, and Dhevi, who found Asian Cuisine for me, tipped me off to the rendang here.

Finally, a good Beef Rendang!! The best I’ve ever tasted. This is what a good Beef Rendang looks like:

It takes hours to make. Beef is slowly simmmered in coconut milk that’s laced with spices, including ginger, galangal and lemongrass. It tasted so good! Tender moist beef, each bite redolent of that heady Southeast Asian spice blend. (And before you all rush to comment, yes, I have tried the rendang at Keo, but the chef there has totally reconfigured the traditional recipe, so while it’s very good, I don’t consider it a true rendang.) I think that was everyone’s favorite dish, though the rendang had stiff competition from our other two dishes. The first of these was Sambal Calamari($10).

This was a tip from our waiter, whom I think was the manager, and if he wasn’t he probably should be. He was informative and helpful. I’d ordered another kind of seafood dish, and he suggested this one as being more authentic. And he was right. It had all the elements of Nonya food pulled into one. It had a rempah, the blend of spices, and it had that most famous (or notorious) of Nonya ingredients, belacan. Belacan is a paste made of shrimp that are allowed to ferment (i.e. decay), then dried in the sun. Use the right amount, and it enhances all flavors. Use too much and you’ve ruined your meal. (And here’s a cooking secret: put one teaspoon of fish sauce (belacan’s cousin) — not more! — in an Italian ragu or spaghetti sauce as you’re cooking it and it will add a rich subtle flavor.) Here, they used the right amount, and the belacan added a rich, salty, seafood tang to mild, white, fresh and yummy squid. There were chilies too, and 20 other ingredients, and they each played a role. But, just as we were focusing on the squid, and the tasty coconut rice (and before I forget, always order the spice-infused coconut rice instead of plain rice, well worth the 50¢ extra), along came the laksa:

Noodle soups are very popular in Malaysia. Laksa is a kind of noodle soup, and it comes in several varieties. This one is a curry laksa. Noodles, with a sliced chicken breast thrown in, swimming in a rich curry liquid. Basically an Indian curry, but the kind popular in Japan and southern China, introduced by Portuguese traders hundreds of years ago. And this laksa was huge. “It’s enough for three people!” I said. But, hypnotized by the rich, wonderful flavor, we ate every bit.

“Dessert?” said the waiter. Oh, no! We were stuffed, stuffed and happy.

Bali Fusion Tulsa
6808 S. Memorial Dr., Next to Windsor Market across from Woodland Hills Mall
307-0006
http://www.balifusion.com/

Open daily from 11AM to 9 PM

They have special dishes on the weekend, and when they do, they are listed on their Facebook Page Here.

Bali Fusion Café on Urbanspoon

Brian Schwartz:

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

0 Comments

  1. Ryan S

    April 29, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Great post! I am an attorney on the East Coast and I’m getting ready to relocate to the area. I follow my close friend’s blog, who is on a detail in Kuala Lampur. http://www.gravytrainblog.com/the-gravy-train/ Reading your post, I thought I had accidentally been redirected to your blog.

    Of course, first on my list in terms of relocation was finding a good road map to the best food in Tulsa. After reading a couple of your posts, I consider that mission accomplished. Thanks!

    • Brian Schwartz

      April 29, 2010 at 4:13 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. That’s a writer’s only reward. As I wrote as a comment to another post, if I had visitors from New York or anywhere in the Northeast whom I wanted to please, and make very very happy, I’d take them to places where you’ll find things you can’t get in New York. Buffalo BBQ in Sperry on a fine day when you can eat at the picnic table. N.Y. puts so much time and effort into BBQ restaurants and they never get it right. Shiloh Diner for chicken-fried steak cooked in lard. Sweet Lisa’s in Northside or Lazy Fisherman for fried catfish. Someone’s farm for fresh off the vine or tree or whatever vegetables, simply and perfectly cooked.

  2. Sasha

    April 30, 2010 at 10:50 am

    This place sounds great! I’m ready for lunch …

  3. Jim

    April 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

    You always write about the most interesting food. Thank you for expanding my knowledge on restaurants in Tulsa.

  4. Betsy

    April 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Mmmm…looks so good!

  5. Ann

    May 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Found my way here via my friend Ryan S. Glad to know there’s good Malaysian/Indonesian eats once we return home to the US!

    • Brian Schwartz

      May 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

      I’m thrilled you read my review. Your blog is wonderful. I have been a fan of http://eatingasia.typepad.com/ and I’m glad to know there’s another high-quality blog from the region. I was thrilled and amazed to find such good Perinakan food in Tulsa. New York, of course, has many choices, as well as unusual Chinese hidden places like this one: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/451804

  6. Edward

    May 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    We have been a few times and have always enjoyed Bali Fusion Cafe in South Tulsa. We went today (May 16, 10210) and they have a new menu. It was absolutely fantastic. I truly think this is one of the best restaurants in Tulsa. Their web site is http://www.balifusion.com
    There weren’t many people eating there, although it was a Sunday, so I recommended they move to mid town and they are already considering it since the location they are in is not very good.

  7. Sharon

    May 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Brian – I was hoping to provide a review on Bali Fusion and see that you beat me to the punch. Your review is excellent and has me eagerly anticipating the menu items you spoke about. My husband and I ate at Bali Fusion last night (Saturday) and what a treat we had. Upon entering the establishment we were kindly greeted by a friendly waitress who left right after she seated us. Richard, the owner immediately came over to welcome us to the restaurant and provided us with menus. He told us a little about Bali’s and conveyed that his wife, the Chef, was previously a caterer in Malaysia and that everything at Bali’s was fresh and prepared on site. Although very friendly, Richard was not incommodious and was interesting to talk to. Bali has a nice atmosphere, leaning on the cozy, casual and intimate side. The music was very nice and accommodating, and even though the flat screen was on there appeared to be no sound which was fine with us because the music just helped with the ambiance.. Richard asked if he could provide menu suggestions which we gladly accepted. My husband wasn’t that hungry so conveyed that he would get a beer and a couple of appetizers. He (we) started off with the Satay Beef and Chicken which is skewers of marinated beef and chicken with a side of red onion and cucumbers served with a spicy and sweet peanut sauce. It was soooo tasty. The cucumbers’ and red onion on the side dipped in the peanut sauce was a great compliment to the dish and was right on time. We then had home made crab cakes which consisted of several mini Singapore style, deep fried crab cakes, served with a tangy mayo sauce. They were scrumptious. My husband is a lover of Calamari; he was so impressed by his first two appetizers that he forgot all about not being hungry and ordered a third. The Calamari was deep fried, spiced with salt and pepper and served with a tangy mayo sauce. I’m not sure what the batter was made of but it was light and crispy, and as the other two appetizers, this too was very good. I’m not a huge calamari fan but I have to admit if I ever ate any it would be at Bali’s. Okay, by now even I’m full but I had ordered an entree, called Cher Kuay Teow that consisted of Malaysia’s famous stir fried noodles with chicken, shrimp & bean sprouts. It came with a side salad that had what I believe was a house dressing – everything we consumed was scrumptious and left you wanting more. I finally gave up and had to ask for a take out box. Today we ate out at another local restaurant and while waiting for our food I pulled out the to go menu from Bali Fusion – my husband and I were deciding what we would order the next time we were there. How ridiculous is that? My reason for posting is two-fold – first I’m selfish – I want Bali Fusion to be around for a long time. Secondly I love to recommend good establishments so I want people to go out and patronize the restaurant and personally experience what a great Tulsa secret this is. It’s wonderful when you go to a restaurant and you have nothing but good things to say from the awesome service we received, to the ambiance of the place and most of all for having one of the most satisfying dinners that we both totally enjoyed. It would also be remiss for me to leave out how great the prices are! And oh yeah – did my husband share the Cher Kuay Teow – you betcha!

    • Brian Schwartz

      May 24, 2010 at 10:22 am

      Sharon thank you for this long and lovely review. It’s really helpful since all the dishes you tried were dishes that I didn’t order. I wish more people would leave comments like yours!

  8. linda

    May 28, 2010 at 4:19 am

    thanks all for the review. just arrived from malaysia, haven’t miss malaysian food yet but looking forward where to get the kicap kipas udang…. addicted lorr…

    • Brian Schwartz

      May 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

      Soy sauce? I bet you can find it at Nam Hai grocery at Garnett near 21st, they have a lot of Indonesian products including soy sauces and some really hot sauce I like.

  9. Pingback: Smoke Woodfire Grill Restaurant & Cigar Room on Cherry Street | Tulsa Food

  10. Pingback: Bali Fusion Cafe: A Foodie Paradise | Tulsa Food

  11. Pingback: Daily Restaurant Specials for $5 & $3 in Tulsa | Tulsa Food

  12. Restaurants Bali

    August 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Very nice Restaurant I would like to say this is an excellent blog that I have ever come across. Very informative. Please write more so that we can get more details.
    Thanks for sharing……………..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>