Jill Gocher, otherwise known as Ayu Sekar, takes us into the homes of a Bali sea salt farmer . Once a common industry on the island, now reduced to three little shacks on Bali’s east coastline. Another great story from our Secret Bali columnist:
Salt is one of our necessities of life, especially sea salt, which contains all the minerals our bodies need. As we derived from the ocean, and our bodies contain up to 60% water, it is the same mineral consistency as sea water. While doctors are busy putting patients on low salt diets, what they should be doing is putting them on sea salt diets, rather than the mineral bereft processed salt, that passes for the same thing.
Ever wonder where your fresh white, Bali sea salt comes from? Or maybe you don’t realise that the Balinese make fine and pure sea salt, although much less than they used to. As salt making brings in a less than enviable income to this country, it is a trade where the youth flee from the land to become tour guides, drivers, or almost any other work that is less demanding and as a result, Bali’s sea salt industry is rapidly declining.
The black sand coastline near Kusamba was once home to dozens of families of salt makers. Their simple atap shacks dotted the coast and now only three remain. Wayan Sueca and her husband Nyoman Mewarta are one of those three remaining families on the strip. While their children have all left to find work in the city, Wayan and Nyoman stay on to do the work they know. Their lives are simple in the extreme, but they laugh easily and radiate a happiness that is rare to see. Now both in their sixties, they have the clear unworried faces of those without a care in the world. When I asked them the secret to their happiness, they laughed and said “we get up early and work hard, take rest in the middle of the day, work again in the late afternoon and go to sleep by nine”. Not an exotic life to be sure, yet they don’t seem to mind one bit.
They stay on the beach just past Goa Lawah – the famous Bat Temple where a simple sign saying “traditional salt making”, marks the place. It is a bit of a trip from the south, though the sparkling white salt they produce is worth a trip in itself.
Today the complicated salt making techniques have started to attract tourists and they are able to sell the bounty of their work for higher prices than those of the past when hardened traders used to buy it. The tourist trade has once again been the salvation of a dying craft..
Credit: Ayu Sekar (Jill Gocher)
The process is interesting and one of several that are used in Bali. First seawater is sprinkled on a levelled patch of black sand, where after a couple of days it crystallizes into a rough salt. It is harvested before being mixed with water and put into big vats of coconut wood. The next step is a little hazy, but the final step is to put the thickened brine into shallow wooden troughs which evaporate off in a couple of days of good sun to provide the beautiful sparkling white crystalline salt that looks just so appetising.
Known as garam, you can also buy good Bali sea salt in the markets, but it is much less fun.
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