With fresh, flavoursome food, there's always something interesting to eat in Bali. A blend of Chinese and Indian influences gives the fare of this corner of Indonesia a unique style. Balinese food is often lightly spiced and enhanced with peanuts or coconut. Here is our guide to the dishes most commonly appearing on menus in Bali.
What to Eat for Starters
Bakwan: Crispy fritters of shredded deep fried vegetables, often carrots and beansprouts. Bakwan usually comes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Lumpia: The Southeast Asian take on spring rolls. Lumpia are deep fried pastry pouches filled with finely chopped carrots, cabbage and other vegetables. You may find meat options in some places too. Lumpia are usually served with a dipping sauce.
The Main Event
Many Balinese main courses centre around meat or fish served with vegetables and white rice. There is also plenty for vegetarians to eat in Bali. Most places have a good choice of tofu, tempeh and vegetable options.
Unlike most of Indonesia, Bali is primarily Hindu. The Hindu tradition prohibits beef though chicken and pork are common. However, in a few predominantly Muslim parts of the island, you'll find less pork and more access to beef. Fish may be locally sourced, often mahi mahi or barracuda.
Typical Dishes To Eat In Bali
Nasi Goreng: Fried rice packed with all kinds of bits and pieces, usually chicken, cabbage, beansprouts and sometimes a fried egg.
Mie Goreng: Fried noodles mixed with meat and vegetables. Most places offer the thicker mie noodles as standard. Some also offer bihun goreng, made with rice vermicelli.
Sate or Satay: Skewered chunks of meat in a creamy peanut sauce. Fish satay is a refreshing variation on the usual theme, though it's not always available. You may also see sate lilit, minced meat and coconut pressed onto skewers.
Nasi Campur: The Indonesian version of a mixed grill. Expect succulent fried chicken and a selection of tasty morsels often including prawns, kerupuk crackers and a boiled egg.
Plecing: Shredded tempeh or chicken in a spicy tomato sauce.
Ayam Betutu (chicken) and Bebek Betutu (duck): Your poultry of choice roasted in a fragrant blend of herbs and spices.
Bebek Betutu and Sambal
Soto Ayam: Shredded chicken and vermicelli in an aromatic chicken broth. This makes a surprisingly satisfying meal.
Gado Gado: Steamed vegetables, tofu and tempeh in a rich peanut sauce.
Cap Cay: This vegetable stir fry is often augmented with chicken, pork or fish. Cap Cay is served in a thin gravy.
Urap Urap: Vegetables seasoned with spiced, grated coconut.
Megibung: A Balinese sharing platter, traditionally eaten at festivals and other celebrations. Revellers sit in a circle (megibung) and share from a communal plate. Many restaurants now offer these megibung platters for groups of two or more. Satay kebabs, grilled fish and rice are usually part of the feast but megibung can include almost anything.
What is Sambal?
Sambal is an optional condiment served with almost every Balinese meal. There are several varieties of this hot sauce, each offering a different level of heat. The fairly mild, tomato based Sambal Tomat is popular with children and regularly turns up at restaurants in Bali. For those who like a little more spice, Sambal Matah, made with shallots and lemongrass, is a better choice. Sambal Terasi is a hot blended shrimp paste. Only try this if you think you can handle the heat.
Bubur Injin: This black rice pudding is sweetened with coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan leaves. Bubur injin tastes like blackcurrant jam.
Pisang Goreng: Indonesian banana fritters. Chocolate sauce and grated cheese are two of the more common toppings.
What to Drink in Bali?
Freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice is widely available and options may include dragonfruit, papaya and banana. Some places will also prepare fresh coconuts, carefully cut open and served with a straw.
Coffee is a staple for most Balinese people. Served with a healthy dose of sediment and no milk it can be a bit of an acquired taste. Bali is also known for Luwak Coffee, the famous cat shit blend.
For something a little stronger, Bintang (meaning star) is a light golden lager and the local beer of choice. Cocktails are also popular in touristy areas. They are usually expensive, however those made with the local palm tree spirit, Arak, tend to be cheaper.
What Should I Eat for Breakfast in Bali?
Many backpacker style accommodations in Bali will serve pancakes with fruit for breakfast. If you're lucky, they might add some juiced suri leaves, turning your pancake a delightful shade of green. While the pancakes are delicious, try to eat bubur ayam at some point during your stay. This surprisingly tasty chicken congee is often topped with crispy fried onions for added crunch.
Bali Travel Tips
Warungs are independent restaurants or shops that can be found all over Bali. These restaurants offer a good selection of local Balinese dishes, which are generally freshly cooked, delicious and great value for money.
Although the food hygiene standards in Bali are generally good, the bathroom facilities can be another matter altogether. It is therefore a good idea to carry a bottle of water for impromptu hand washing and some antibacterial hand gel.
If you're visiting Ubud, you will find the restaurants on the main street, Jalan Raya Ubud, touristy and often overpriced. There are small warungs down many of the side streets that offer better value Balinese food. We found a few good warungs on Jalan Arjuna.