You can smell Bali in Perth’s nasi campur long before you taste it. Lemongrass, turmeric, red onion, garlic, galangal and cumin. All the beautiful aromatic spices of the traditional Balinese bumbu dasar base sauce waft memories of shuffling sandals, clove cigarettes and Balinese canang sari offerings through your nostrils and into your mind.

The evocative fragrance comes from a retro aluminium caravan tucked into the corner of the Sunshine Harvester Works food court in Fremantle. In a world where choice can be fatiguing, the menu options here are delightfully simple. There is nasi campur (either as a chicken or vegetarian option), nasi goreng, fried rice, beef rendang, ayam goreng or fried chicken.

Nasi campur is a mixed rice. It is one of Indonesia’s most readily available and cheapest dishes. You’ll find regional varieties of it across the archipelago: whether it’s the world-renowned Padang style from West Sumatra; a cheap warteg, or warung tegal, originating from Central Java; or the blisteringly spicy Sasak from Lombok. Here, Indonesian-born Rossa Learoyd has brought her own Balinese version of nasi campur to Perth.

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Originally from Yogyakarta in Central Java, Learoyd grew up in the bustling metropolis of Jakarta. Her grandmother ran a nasi campur warung in East Jakarta, where Learoyd learned to cook. As a child, she took Balinese dancing lessons and the teacher would bring food for his students.

“I loved Balinese food. I loved the spice, and it’s usually cooked with terasi [shrimp paste], and had strong flavours,” Learoyd tells Broadsheet.

After graduating high school, she moved to Bali for a year and found a job with one of her grandmother’s friends, catering for ceremonies. Here, she learned to cook the Balinese variation of nasi campur. When she moved to Melbourne to study medicine, she brought her grandma’s recipes with her.

But as she was studying, Learoyd found herself cooking for friends and other students who did not know how or have the time to cook for themselves. She ran her business from an Asian supermarket with husband Jonathon.

Learoyd’s nasi campur comes out in a large paper bowl with chicken satay lilit wrapped on a stem of lemon grass, noodles with fried peanuts, shredded chicken cooked in a coconut sauce, and urap steamed vegetables and grated coconut joins the chicken around a central pot of blistering sambal matah.

It’s beautiful. There are none of the sickly vegetable oils or MSG-laden seasonings you might find in some Indonesian warungs. It is clean, crisp and fresh, and made with quality ingredients.

There have been slight tweaks to the original recipes. Terasi (shrimp paste) has been omitted because of allergies; and instead of cooking the urap with cassava leaves, Learoyd has opted for kale.

With every mouthful, I find myself transported back to the streets of Bali, to cries of “Hello mister!” and “Transport! Transport!” and the smell of Gudang Garam cigarettes and cocktails by the pool. That blissful sense of being on holiday. Such is the power of excellent food.


Bali in Perth
Fremantle Market & Sunshine Harvester Works
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