The Interview: An Ubud Original

The Interview: An Ubud Original

hello bali logoThe Interview: An Ubud Original


Hello Bali, April 2006


The Interview: An Ubud Original. Comprised of 4 levels and situated on a lush ravine overlooking the sacred Campuan River in Ubud, Murni’s Warung is an institution that has been serving the best in traditional Balinese cuisine for over 3 decades. Besides its food, décor, and locale, the Warung is also well known for its proprietor, Ni Wayan Murni, an Ubud local whose congeniality is known to all who have walked through the hand-carved doors of her restaurant over the years.

From the time she sold a sarong to Mick Jagger in 60’s Sanur to her current involvement with the Royal Pitamaha Gamelan in which she is a member, Ibu Murni’s life is a fascinating one. She took time out from her busy Warung duties to speak to Hello Bali about the good old days.

Ubud Origins

Murni, 1974

I am an Ubud original. I was born in Penestanan, about 5 minutes walk from Murni’s Warung and was raised in Campuan. My grandparents are from about 100 meters from Murni’s Warung and I’ve lived here all my life. Ubud at the time was, of course, very different, very rural. There was no expansion bridge across the river, all the roads were made of dirt, and there was no electricity.

Dutch suspension bridge, 1977

Most Balinese from this area at the time, including my family, were very, very poor and didn’t have much to eat. Around 1952 or 53, when I was 6, I remember going to the river to collect rocks to sell on the road. We used to have to carry water in terra cotta pots from the big spring just below where my grandmother lived because there was no plumbing then.

Most of my family worked from this river, gathering whatever they could from rocks to sand and selling it on the road. Or they would work in the rice paddies where they would work during the harvest season that was only every 6 months and not like today where there are sometimes 3 harvests a year.

I would also go to the rice paddies to help my family: my grandparents, my father, to harvest the rice and afterwards we would sometimes catch rice paddy eels or snails to eat. All this work would keep us busy for about 2 months at a time. At other times I would go to the old Ubud market with my mother to sell different types of leaves, vegetables, rice, or anything else that was used or eaten every day.

The Warung

Murni’s Warung, 1978

In 1974, I started Murni’s Warung and it was one of the very first restaurants in Ubud. There was no running water or electricity. We used oil lamps for light and cooking kerosene for the burners. There were still very, very few tourists in Ubud at the time and they usually stayed at the Campuan Hotel, which was one of the first hotels in Ubud.

View from Murni’s Warung, 2006

At the time, I wasn’t really planning on opening a restaurant. My husband and I used to go to a warung near the center of Ubud where they cooked food with kerosene burners. That’s when I decided to open a warung in this area because it took so long to walk to central Ubud to get some food and was very inconvenient. So then I started to sell some very Balinese dishes at our warung. We only had one bamboo table and two chairs at the time, but people started to come and within one month I had expanded to 4 tables!

Murni’s Warung, 1984

There were many interesting things that passed in front of the warung that made it quite an attraction. People going to the rice paddies, ducks that crossed at 5 a.m. every morning and then cross again in the afternoon on their way back home, cows, pigs, people going to or returning from the market carrying produce on their heads. The tourists would come to my warung and just sit in front and watch the procession of happenings. It was like dinner and a show! We also had our regular customers who lived in the area and tourists, who if they stayed for only one week, would come to the warung once a day.

Lounge Bar, Murni’s Warung, 2006

At that time, I only knew about Indonesian and Balinese food. I would go shopping at the market every day because there was no refrigeration except for an icebox and I would do all the cooking myself, as well. Every month we would have more and more tourists coming and started to have more tables and chairs for the warung. In the 80’s we had our first big expansion during this good time when many tourists were coming after the new bridge was built and buses started arriving.

Traditional Smoked Duck in Murni’s Warung, 2006

Most of the food we serve is very traditional Balinese cuisine. Smoked duck and smoked chicken, for example. I also created a dish called “Murni’s Fish” which is sautéed tengiri served with vegetables and a special sauce that won an award in a Nusa Dua school in the 80’s. This is still popular and is always on the menu. I also cook a few Western dishes whose family recipes were given to me by friends. We serve Indonesian and Balinese desserts as well, such as Black Rice Pudding that we make fresh from scratch every day.

Murni’s Warung, 2006

I also have a shop here that I was running over 30 years ago, even before the warung, where we sell jewelry and antique and new textiles. And I have started a small beautiful villa called Villa Kunang-Kunang (Fireflies) that is in Ponggang, Ubud, about 12 km north of Campuan.

Tradition and Changes

Even until today, I would say that our cultural life in Ubud is still very strong and everyone here, including myself, is very involved with the community. But after the year 2000, I would say that Ubud really changed in terms of development. There were more buildings, more shops, more restaurants, more hotels, the roads are very busy and there is much more traffic here. I think that during the past few years, it has gotten out of control and I am hoping that we stop and really think about it so we don’t overbuild. It is not easy and I hope that the local government will maintain the traditional ways of building in Ubud.

Mortar and Pestle used in Murni’s Warung

That is why I keep Murni’s Warung like it was in the old days. This is a difficult task these days, but I try to preserve these traditional methods with the workers and the way we cook here. For example, instead of using a blender or food processor, we use a mortar and pestle to prepare ingredients. This takes more time, but I prefer using this traditional Balinese way of cooking because I believe the food tastes better this way.

Murni’s Warung Sign

It is also the reason we use more people to work here. I think it’s very important to give people jobs. Two of the staff have been working with the restaurant since we opened for business! At the time they were about 9 years old and now they have grandchildren. They are like family. And a few of the original regular guests that I’ve known for 35 or 40 years still come here even though some are in their 80’s.

Murni’s Warung, Level 3, 2006

Within the family and the community of Ubud, we really try to retain the traditional ways of living. Like my grandchildren, for example, I try and show them how we care and how we are involved in what we do in the community. A member of the Ubud royal family passed away recently and all the members of this community really helped each other for the ceremony. We are very much tied together here and spend more than 30% of our time doing things for the people of Ubud, supporting each other and trying to make all the generations understand and stay strong. For the 32 years that Murni’s Warung has been open, we have always had strong ties here.

The Interview: An Ubud Original