It all began with a dinner. There we sat, in a restaurant that nobody knew, in a town in the middle of the Balinese jungle, at a table with mostly strangers. We were perusing a menu where we didn’t recognize the names of half the dishes. The waitress was patiently waiting for us all to order.
It was this meal that literally and figuratively broke the bread on my 9-day Beautiful Bali trip with Intrepid, and it was the perfect way to begin.
It was over this meal, and the subsequent others, where strangers became acquaintances and then friends, and where we tried dishes we’d never heard of, and flavours we’d never tasted. “Did you try the mie goreng?” “Yes, I had that last night, it was amazing.” “Okay, I’ll try it!” These became almost automatic conversations of our group as we became allies in our endeavor to conquer the Indonesian food scene.
Many of my favourite memories of this trip, in fact, involved food and drink: devouring pineapple that tasted like honey sold by a man on the side of the road, sipping hot ginger lime tea on the top of Mount Batur while watching the sun rise, and the deep belly laughs I shared with my tour mates over yet another amazing meal.
Whether you’re the ultimate foodie or just like to eat (who doesn’t?), you can’t go to Indonesia without having at least one of these foodie experiences.
In certain areas in Bali, most notably the tourist hotspots, there can be more Western restaurants than Balinese. While it’s nice to have a taste of home once in a while, don’t forget where you are! Make sure to have at least one (if not many) authentic meals made by a local to get the true Balinese foodie experience.
My group had many chances to eat locally on the tour, but one meal stands out in particular. On New Year’s Eve we sat down to a homemade Indonesisan meal on the beach in Lovina, made by a local woman named Wayan. The food tasted just as good as it looked; there was an audible ‘yummm’ from each of us as we dug into baskets of marlin and chicken sate (grilled skewers of meat), gado gado (vegetables cooked in a peanut sauce), and much more.
What was even more satisfying, however, was her story. Wayan’s husband had been injured the year before, and Wayan needed to take on some work to make ends meet. Intrepid employs her part-time to cater to their group tours, and each time she prepares the entire meal on her own! By the end of the meal, both my stomach and my heart were happy and full.
Trying the mie goreng and nasi goreng
Mie goreng (fried noodles with vegetables and chicken) and nasi goreng (fried rice with vegetables, chicken and a fried egg on top) are staples in the Balinese diet. Needless to say, you will find both dishes on most restaurant menus! You will also see a lot of Indonesians ordering these dishes bungkus, or takeout style, where the food is wrapped expertly in a banana leaf and eaten by hand.
While it is not only delicious, it is especially a great meal choice if you’re travelling on a budget; during my travels I saw prices as low as 20,000 Rupiah (less than $2 USD)! To the great satisfaction of a few devout vegetarians in my group, both dishes can be served with or without chicken. By the end of the tour many of us became experts in the art of eating and ordering mie and nasi goreng.
Eating ALL the fruit
In Bali, fruit is everywhere… and I mean everywhere. Coconuts in the palm trees, pineapple plants on the side of the road, and fruit stands as far as the eye can see. There are few places where you will get fruit fresher than this, so why not try them all? On my tour we went to a local market where our local guide Deni let us try many different fruits native to Bali, including some we had never heard of or tried before, like salak (also known as snake fruit), rambutan, and durian. I will never forget the wide-eyed surprise of one of my travel mates as she tried jackfruit for the first time!
Thanks to Deni, I found myself with a borderline obsession with snake fruit for the rest of the trip, an odd little fruit with a scaly exterior that looks like snakeskin and a crunchy interior. In case you’re wondering, it tastes like a cross between a pear and a lychee.
Tip: Want a way to take home the fruit from Bali with you? In grocery stores they sell freeze-dried chips of many local fruits, such as jackfruit, durian, and snake fruit. It packs easily into your suitcase and will get through customs!
Knowing that seafood is good food
Whether it’s day or night, you will find markets everywhere in Bali, and much of the food you’ll find there will be cheap and delicious. You can find most anything your heart (or stomach) desires, from fruit stands where they will chop up a mango before your eyes, stands where they grill sate (skewers of meat served with sauces), and most notably, fresh seafood. Many fisherman will bring that day’s catch to the night market, where you can buy an entire fish or pieces of it on a sate skewer. They will grill it in front of your eyes, dousing it with garlic butter.
Tuna is also a popular fish here, and you will find many restaurants that sear a tuna steak to perfection. Not sure what food stand to choose from? Buy from stands where you see a lot of other locals eating, as it guarantees the food will be fresh and delicious.
Sharing the foodie experience with others
While Indonesian food is delicious no matter what company you’re in, I’ve always believed that there’s something about food that helps to bring people together. Whether your dinner companion is just one other person or a big group, it’s a great idea to get multiple dishes to share!
This was the way my roommate and I discovered our love for urap urap (steamed vegetables tossed with grated coconut) on the tour; we decided to share two dishes so we could try more. It wasn’t just the food itself that made the memory, however; it was also my group mates. While the food and the flavours of Indonesia initially stitched our group together, it was our friendships that kept us eating together the rest of the trip.
During our farewell breakfast, as I sat down to my final meal of eggs and pancakes at our cute hotel restaurant in Sanur, I realized I’d never eaten a single meal without them.
Ready to enjoy the foodie experiences described above? Here’s the 9-day Beautiful Bali trip this writer went on.
Looking for a different Bali adventure? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours.
(Hero image c/o James Vodicka. All other images c/o Ali Frustaglio.)