Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Places to Eat in Bali

Bangladeshis - if you thought we had lots of rice fields, just wait till you see Bali


Before you read further, please consider donating to the Red Cross Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal. The Red Cross is supporting rehabilitation efforts from the tsunami that struck the country in December 2018.


I spent a large part of my childhood in Asia, living between Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Thailand and even briefly the Philippines. This time was perfect for seeing much of the continent, but somehow I never made it to Indonesia till late last year. For someone who spends his life meticulously planning every meal, it was a somewhat impromptu trip - aided by the fact that Bangladeshis no longer need visa to visit the country as a tourist. I think this is a relatively recent rule change, and I took full advantage of it while booking last minute flights and hotels. 

I had around 9 days in the country, courtesy of a break in between jobs and a relocation from Scotland to England. My friends and I kept the itinerary simple, visiting 3 different parts of Bali - Ubud, Sidemen and Nusa Dua. Bali felt like the perfect holiday destination for me, as the it had a whole range of things to do within driving distance: from mountains and jungles to beaches and watersports. But I digress - this is a food blog rather than a travel blog! And hence the below is a very short food guide, focussing mostly on Ubud and with a single entry in Sidemen. I will unashamedly admit to confining us to a luxury resort while in Nusa Dua. Unusually for me, I've also listed a couple of places I wouldn't necessarily recommend going - more as a cautionary tale as they're quite well known. 

The food in general around Bali was quite good, and you can't go far wrong if you're amenable to south and southeast Asian flavours. I found myself making regional comparisons a lot - the fried rice was served a little differently to Thailand, with many small portions of food surrounding a central mound of carbohydrates. More interestingly, so many of the curries reminded me of Bangladeshi dishes, with slight accents of lemongrass or peanut. But as ever on holiday posts, I can claim no expertise on the food - and the below is simply a list of places I recommend going (or not!). 

1. Ubud

Warung Makan Teges

Mixed meat and rice

This place serves simple but excellent Balinese meat-based dishes. The sate I had was the best of the trip, and the mixed dish platter is a great way to sample a range of different items. A lucky Google find, it's also the closest we made it to a traditional Indonesian warung on this trip. The venue serves food from a counter and has a few communal tables out front, with further tables in an inner courtyard that's part of the family home. Expect almost no English from the staff, but counter has helpful posters illustrating chicken and rice or mixed meat and rice options for tourists. We paid about 37,000 rupiah per head for "mains" and a soft drink. And speaking of tourists, this place is clearly on the itinerary for a few guided tours, as evidenced by the aforementioned posters and some of the other customers we saw. Warun Makan Teges is a bit of windy walk or scooter ride through Ubud to get to, but it's definitely worth a visit. Link to Google Maps location here

Warung Pondok Madu

Balinese yellow rice, omelette, aubergine, dried salted fish,
chicken and chilli sambal 

Recommended to us by a couple we met on a coffee plantation tour, finding this place was a stroke of luck. Always speak to other travellers while on holiday! This place leans more towards being a casual restaurant than a traditional warung, and with English speaking staff and English menus it's definitely geared towards tourists. The folks who recommended it said it delivered on both Western and Indonesian foods, though we only tried the latter. Our starters were the best, including some amazing peanut sauce with our chicken sate and other really nice BBQ meats. The mains were a little less satisfying for me personally - we had portions of Indonesian yellow rice with various sides - as they weren't served with as much meat as I would have liked. However, I'm told that this kind of portioning is normal. Starters were priced round 15,000-20,000 rupiah and Indonesian mains around 30,000-40,000 rupiah. Western food was more expensive, at around double this. There are many nice places to eat around Ubud at this price, so shop around, but I'd recommend this place if it's not too far out of your way. Link to Google Maps location here

bridges Bali 

Barramundi served Thai red curry style with shaved cuttlefish

This is something of a fine dining venue in Ubud, and I would only recommend visiting if you want something a little fancier while on holiday. Do be aware that it's more expensive than the casual restaurants in Bali, and while the food is nice, it's not particularly special. They serve a range of Indonesian and international fusion dishes, priced around 100,000-150,000 rupiah for starters and 150,000-300,000 rupiah for mains. I am only including this entry in the post because the place is very Google-able, but I feel people need to know what they're getting into!

Manisan Bali

Beef safe - which tasted exactly like beef from home!

We went to Manisan by accident, while looking for somewhere to have an early dinner at short notice. It's set under a pavillion surrounded by rice paddies, but as we walked up to it I realised it was part of a resort. I was prepared to be disappointed by the food, but what followed was probably our most well put together meal in Bali. We had delicious soft shell crab and calamari to start, followed by slow-cooked duck and beef sate. The beef sate was finished to perfection, with the meat super soft and tender - and tasting exactly like a Bangladeshi beef curry. I ended the meal with chocolate-filled pandan pancakes served with a scoop of black rice ice cream. The ice cream was a new flavour to me - subtle and perfectly complementary to the pancakes. Starters were priced around 100,000 rupiah and mains around 200,000 rupiah. Note, the portions were a bit small, and as characteristic of many a too-long menu, certain items like the beef rendang were unavailable. However, the cooking, service and venue were otherwise so outstanding that I definitely recommend a meal here during any visit. 


I don't even remember what this was

This dedicated dessert restaurant was a disappointment. Its chef advertises the kind of pedigree that would normally make me run a mile, but it came recommended by word-of-mouth and I hazarded a visit. It was an odd experience - their website and automated emails are super-obnoxious, yet walk into the restaurant and the staff are super-nice. They run a 9-course tasting menu at 780,000 rupiah, which is aimed at couples sharing. I was there with a friend, and we're both gluttons, so we opted for 9 courses each. We don't regret this choice, though nothing we were served was memorably impressive. There were no faults with the preparation of any dish, but the ideas were either rehashed classics (not always done well) or disgusting experiments (that should not have made it past the test kitchen). If you must go, avoid the tasting menu and order a la carte.

2. Sidemen

Teras Bali

Chicken betutu served with vegetable uraban

This was our (mini) resort in Sidemen rather than a standalone restaurant. What I'm actually recommending here is the cooking class the establishment runs for guests, charging around $35 per person. Our teacher was one of the chefs from the resort restaurant, and she went through a huge number of dishes with us, covering chicken sate, fish soup, corn fritters, stir-fried veg, banana-leaf steamed fish and coconut-filled pancakes. We made enough for both lunch and dinner, and they were happy to keep the food stored so we could finish it later. The class was great in terms of how many dishes we made, and how hands-on we went with the cooking. Do be aware that language is a barrier - and the emphasis was very much on cooking rather than descriptions of ingredients or chat about Balinese food culture. I would generally recommend the resort as well - the helpful staff were great at organising treks and activities with us by email even before we arrived. This was partly why we never made it to any of the warungs in the village - we were too busy touring the surrounding areas!

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