Blackout over Lembangon

bali lembangon street foodThe smell of a mosquito coil is unmistakable. I must be passing a shop or someone’s house. I can’t tell. It’s pitch black. As I pass an alleyway I squint to see a pair of eyes peering back at me, the glow of a cigarette burning brighter as he or she takes a long, deep drag. Further down the street the headlights of a dozen mopeds dance in symphony like fireflies, swerving back and forth back and forth to avoid potholes on the ground. They succeed. Smoke fills the air, a heavy concoction of charcoal and peanut and burning meat. A man is sitting by the side of the road with a torch strapped to his head, methodically fanning row upon row of chicken skewers lying on top of red-hot embers. “Satay. You want satay? Come inside sit down,” says his wife. At least I think it’s his wife. Maybe it’s not his wife. Who knows. ‘Inside’ is merely a plastic chair on a porch. I sit down beside two girls who look like her daughters. At least I think they’re her daughters. Maybe they’re not her daughters. Who knows. “How many you want, eh?” I ate only an hour ago, so I order ten. I wait. It’s dark. The wife lights a gas lamp and sets it on the table. I ask when the power’s going to come back on. “Always trouble. This is small island. No power. How many you want?” I tell her again, ten please. The husband hands her ten satay sticks which she carefully wraps in a banana leaf and hands to me. The taste is undescribable. Delicate. Charred. A nostalgic mix of sweet smoke and subtle spice. She smiles at me, “taste good yeah?” All I can say between mouthfuls is, “ten more please.”


Nusa Lembangon is a small island off the coast of southeast Bali. Until recently the island relied solely on generators. Now there’s an electrical cable that runs underneath the sea all the way to the mainland. Pity it never works. Bring a torch.

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