Words and photos by Alison Bone
SET on a quiet back street in Sanur, Annapurna is a welcoming and informal space for gathering, playing mu- sic and inspiring creativity. At its heart is the notion that food is for sharing and to this end, it is the first café in Bali to offer meals by donation. The concept is straight-forward: you order from the à la carte menu and leave a donation in the box on your way out. The same applies to the themed buffets on Thursday and Saturday evenings, where you also drop some money in the hat for the musicians who entertain busker-style.
I visit on a sunny Saturday afternoon and find a vibrant space filled with paper lanterns, Tibetan prayer flags and colourful murals. Window boxes are filled with herbs, and a stage is fitted out with a drum kit, congas and guitars. In the corner three guys are jamming out the blues, and staff in the kitchen are busy preparing Indian food for the upcoming buffet. Customers are gathered around the long wooden tables – it’s the kind of place where you gravitate towards others, rather than sit at a table alone. The laid back traveller vibe also reminds me of the chill out cafés that you find in Oregon and Nimbin, and the beaches of Goa. The menu includes tasty all-day break- fasts, salads, curries, tempeh burgers, chicken schnitzel, juices and teas. A sign on the table explains, “We believe in the goodness of humankind and value friendship, trust and generosity. Also we believe that everyone deserves a spot at the table to have a healthy and tasty home cooked meal.”
Ben, a peaceful and gently spoken chef from Indonesia explains that he was inspired by the time he spent on the north coast of New South Wales, where he travelled with people from all walks of life, sharing food, music and good times. Arriving in Melbourne he discovered Lentil as Anything, a ‘pay as you feel restaurant,’ where customers give what they feel the food is worth. Running for 13 years now, with a string of four cafés, the Lentil as Anything philosophy is that everyone has a right to feel valued and respected, and that money should help bring people together rather than divide them.
Returning to Bali, Ben was staging regular music events in the café space he shared with his mother, but his thoughts kept returning to that strong sense of community he had discovered on the road. That’s when the idea of starting a pay by donation café was born. He opened with just Rp 440,000 and a bunch of day-old bread bought cheaply from Bali Buda. Posting his idea for the café on Facebook, he asked for suggestions for names. His friends were quick to post their ideas, “warung karma,” “warung bagus,” “warung 3 bags full” (of bread,) but the name Annapurna really stood out. In Sanskrit anna means “food” or “grains” while purna means “full, complete and perfect.” Annapoorna Devi is also the Hindu Goddess of food and nourishment. And so it was named.
The first menu was small and illustrated by hand, but friends came, then friends of friends, and word spread about this cool new café where anyone could get a meal and enjoy the atmosphere. The buffet nights continue to be a great success and draw some of the best known bands on the island; a painting day saw many people joining in to create the colourful wall mural.
Produce is sourced from local farmers, and Ben brings fruit and vegetables from his permablitz organic garden, while his friends also bring in excess produce from their own permablitz gardens. Permablitz refers to a direct action ‘green’ movement that started in Melbourne in 2006 and quickly spread to the rest of the world – including Bali. A permaculture designer draws up a site-specific plan, volunteers provide the labour and the host makes lunch. The network runs on reciprocity so if you attend a few permablitzes, you then are eligible to get your own permablitzed into an edible garden.
It’s not easy to survive as a donations-only business, but a few months in, the cafe is building a name for itself and looks set to last the distance. A successful event recently raised funds for Cahaya Mutiara, a foundation for people with disabilities, and there is talk of starting a co-op, and hopefully a Yayasan will collect left-over food from supermarkets and delis for distribution to the needy, which would be a great community service on the island.
Annapurna is on Jalan Tandahan #7 Sanur.