Ever popular with New Zealand travellers looking for a little bit of fun in the sun, Bali is renowned for its beautiful beaches, forested mountains, quaint rice paddies and deep spirituality. In addition to all of its natural appeal however, Bali is also well known for its food scene, with the island a real melting pot of flavours from across Indonesia and much of Asia.
Authentic Balinese dishes make good use of local spices and fresh produce, with flavours like ginger, galangal, lemongrass, chilli and coconut taking centre stage. The influence of India, Malaysia and China is also palpable in Bali’s food scene, thanks to centuries of migration and trading. As such, there’s no shortage of variety for hardcore foodie tourists. Best of all, Bali food prices are incredibly budget-friendly, meaning it’s possible to eat like royalty for breakfast, lunch and dinner without breaking the bank (although fancy restaurants run by some world-class chefs are also readily available for those looking to splurge…).
To help you navigate Bali’s many cafes, restaurants and warungs (local street-side food vendors), here is our Bali food guide highlighting what to eat in Bali – and what to avoid…
When it comes to authentic Balinese cuisine, it doesn’t get much more iconic than babi guling. Also known as Balinese sucking pig, babi guling consists of a whole pig seasoned and stuffed with herbs and spices, including chilli, turmeric, shallots and coriander seeds, then roasted over an open fire. The end result is a dish that packs plenty of punch, with tender pork meat, pork sausage, stewed vegetables, rice and, of course, crispy skin. While babi guling is a staple at any authentic ceremonial feast, you can also enjoy it at countless cafes and warungs across Bali, no invitation required.
Meaning ‘mixed dishes with rice’, Balinese nasi campur is a local favourite. This is a dish for people who can’t quite decide what they want for dinner, as it is made up of an assortment of Indonesia’s tastiest morsels. Typically, a serving of nasi campur incorporates four or five dishes, such as pork or chicken, fish, tofu or tempeh, egg, vegetables and crunchy krupuk (flavoured rice crackers). You’re unlikely to come across any beef, as cows are sacred in Bali, but your dish is guaranteed to be accompanied by rice. Pretty much everything in Bali is accompanied by rice; it is a staple on the island, and is actually revered as a gift of life from the gods. In fact, any meal not served with rice is considered a snack. For the best nasi campur experience, be sure to seek out buffet style warungs that let you select all your own add-ins. Word of caution: go easy on the sambal (chilli paste made from a mixture of aromatic ingredients) if you don’t cope well with heat. This fiery sauce can knock your socks off, so it is best to start with a little taster and then work your way up to more heaped spoonfuls. You’ve been warned!
Bebek betutu is one of two popular traditional Balienese duck dishes. While bebek goreng consists of duck that has been steamed or boiled before being deep fried, bebek betutu instead sees the duck wrapped in coconut bark and banana leaves and marinated with herbs and spices, then smoked for a full 24 hours. The result is rich and incredibly tasty meat, which is typically served alongside local vegetable side dishes, sambal and (you guessed it) rice. You can track down bebek betutu from many Bali street food markets, but one of the best places in Bali to enjoy this famous dish is in Ubud, with Bebek Bengil legendary for its sumptuous smoked duck.
A traditional ‘meat salad’ might not immediately sound like the most appetising dish, but don’t rule this plate out! Lawar is undeniably an acquired taste, but it’s also incredibly authentic and a must-try for any die-hard foodie. As with any traditional dish, there are multiple variations of lawar as to its ingredients, however common inclusions are minced pork, offal, young jackfruit, coconut, galangal, chillies, spice, and sometimes fresh blood. While the latter may have you feeling squeamish, if you’re looking for the full Balinese experience, you’d be remiss to not try it at least once. If you really want to give the blood a miss though, you can generally request lawar without it.
Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng
Who doesn’t love a big plate of nasi goreng or mie goreng? These traditional dishes are a staple in many pantries, but Bali serves up the real deal. The word ‘goreng’ translates as “fried” so nasi goreng literally means “fried rice” and mie goreng means “fried noodles”. Much like with nasi campur, there’s no one way to make these dishes, and what is mixed into the dish will depend on where you’re dining. However, both variations typically come with fried egg, fried shallots and vegetables, with a side of pickles and prawn crackers and perhaps a few chicken satays.
Vegetarian Food in Bali
After all this talk of pork, chicken and offal, you might be thinking that vegetarians will have a pretty hard time feeding themselves in Bali. Not true! In fact, vegetarians are in for a real treat in Bali, with vegetarian food in Seminyak, Ubud, Kerobokan and Canggu particularly tasty. Tofu and tempeh are staples of the typical Balinese diet, and feature in veg-friendly dishes such as nasi saur (rice flavoured with toasted coconut), urap (steamed veggies mixed with grated coconut and spices), gado gado (tofu and tempeh mixed with steamed vegetables, boiled egg and peanut sauce) and sayur hijau (leafy greens flavoured with a tomato-chilli sauce). Plus, given the way nasi campur is served, it’s super easy to pass on the meat and add tofu instead.
What NOT To Eat in Bali
Now, while tucking into all the delicious and authentic food Bali has to offer is just one perk of travelling to this Indonesian isle, it’s important to spend a minute discussing a less-popular aspect of the Balinese dining experience: Bali Belly. Everyone has heard horror stories of travellers in Bali consuming something suspect and then spending hours confined to a bathroom with a horribly upset stomach. Unfortunately, travellers’ diarrhoea can be common in Bali, but there are things you can do to limit your risk of picking it up. Here are a few tips for how to avoid Bali Belly:
- Bali Belly is mainly caused by consuming contaminated food and water, so it’s critical you avoid all untreated water. Only drink bottled or filtered water, brush your teeth with filtered water and avoid swallowing water when in the shower.
- Ask for drinks without ice, as the cubes and blocks may have been made with tap water.
- Make sure your tea or coffee is also made with filtered water.
- Never consume anything off a wet plate.
- Be vigilant about always washing your hands and using hand sanitiser.
- Avoid eating raw, rare or uncooked meat, as well as raw vegetables, as these may have been washed with tap water.
- Pass on the pre-cut fruit sold by street vendors, and instead buy whole fruit to cut up yourself.
It is of course important whenever you travel anywhere to take precautions to protect your health, but it would be a mistake to steer clear of Bali’s street food altogether. Instead, look for vendors frequented by other travellers and locals, as they are likely to be serving up fresh, hot food. And avoid all food that has been sitting at room temperature; better to eat from places where the food is cooked in front of you. That said, there is no one definitive way to avoid Bali Belly. So, before you head out on flights to Bali, be sure you’ve got any necessary medication with you, especially if you know you’ve have a sensitive stomach.
Hungry to experience Bali’s cuisine for yourself? Book cheap flights to Bali with Webjet and you can be sitting down to plates of nasi goreng before you know it. Don’t forget to book your Bali accommodation at the same time, or combine your flights and hotel in the one booking with a Bali holiday package!