Bali: The Online Travel Guide

"You'll probably smell a durian before you ever see one!"

The Online Travel Guide to Bali

Food in Bali.

Dining in Bali is generally a highlight. You may choose to eat in a five star hotel restaurant, or you may prefer a breezy open sided bamboo cafe. Hotels and restaurants in Bali offer guests a wide variety of excellent dishes to satisfy every budget and taste. When you feel like venturing outside for a meal, there are dozens of good restaurants to be found in the main streets of Kuta, Legian, Ubud, Candidasa, Lovina, Sanur and most of the major tourist areas.

The simple and relaxed restaurants, often with grass roofs, cane furniture and the latest top 40 singles blasting through the hi-fi systems are almost everywhere. Even more simple, are the warungs, the snack bars and the mobile carts that cater mainly to local workers and adventurous travellers who have discovered that low cost hawker meals really can be safe to eat.

The night markets are traditional outdoor eateries that come to life at dusk, and are famous all over Southeast Asia. Even if you cannot work up the courage to eat in the markets, you must visit one to experience the thrills, the smells, the sights and the noises that define this part of the world.

Surprisingly, authentic Balinese food is rarely enjoyed by the island’s thousands of visitors, simply because it is rarely served in hotels and restaurants. True, a wide variety of exotic dishes are available, but the typical fare is Indonesian and Chinese.

Above: Hot and Spicy. A way of life!

The true Balinese cuisine is, like all else in Bali, a matter of contrasts. Just as there are men and women, good and evil, night and day, there is everyday food, and there is festival food. The staple of daily fare is rice, accompanied by vegetables, a small amount of fish or meat, and a range of condiments, usually cooked in the early morning, and consumed whenever the need arises, often as snacks. Most Balinese meals are eaten quickly and without fanfare. Dining out and in groups is not a normal social custom.

Festivals are the major exception. Food is prepared in an elaborate and decorative manner and is eaten communally, marking the occasion as something out of the ordinary.

Some tourist restaurants present special Bali nights, featuring dishes such as suckling pig, a Balinese banquet favorite. Unless you are invited to dine with a local family, these special events may be your only way to sample the true Balinese cuisine.

Almost every restaurant will serve nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice with a fried egg on top) and mie goreng (fried noodles with egg). These basic dishes are generally the favorites amongst tourists and travellers. Vegetarian versions may be requested. Prices range from Rp.3,000 to over Rp.15,000 depending on the surroundings.

Another Indonesian favorite is satay (spicy marinaded thin slices of meat, threaded onto a skewer, barbecued, and served with a spicy peanut sauce). Satay ayam is chicken served in the same way. Satay prices vary widely from Rp.3,000 in the markets, to over Rp.15,000 in the larger restaurants.

Gado gado is an Indonesian salad, served with spicy peanut sauce and often with prawn crackers. Expect to pay about Rp.5,000 to Rp.15,000.

Chinese dishes, such as sweet and sour, cap-cay (stir fried meat and vegetables) etc. are also widely available, as is an abundance of fresh seafood, which is often kept alive in tanks until ready for cooking. Expect to pay about Rp.5,000 for basic dishes to over Rp.50,000 in restaurants (lobsters, will of course be far more expensive).

Some other popular Indonesian dishes are;

  • Martabak (a fried roti bread, filled with meat or vegetables).
  • Nasi campur (steamed rice with some vegetables and meat).
  • Nasi rames (rice with vegetables, meat and a fried egg),
  • Opor ayam (chicken cooked in coconut milk usually served with white rice (nasi putih).
  • Martabak Manis (A sweet pancake with butter, chocolate, cheese, condensed milk and peanut toppings - not common on Bali, but sometimes available).

A special Balinese treat that is widely available, is black rice pudding (Bubuh Injin). This is a desert made from natural black glutinous rice, served hot, in a sweet sauce of palm sugar and thick coconut cream. For those with a sweet-tooth, this is the best of local cuisine--Robyn's favorite.

Indonesians prefer to eat snacks, which can be bought everywhere on the streets at the small three wheeled carts, often pushed by young boys (the mobile stalls are called kaki lima, which means five legs - the three wheels of the cart, and the two legs of the boy - a kind of joke). Popular snacks include bakmie (rice flour noodle soup), sate (grilled meat on a skewer served with peanut or soy sauce), bakso (meatball soup), lemper (sticky rice), lumpia (fried spring rolls with vegetables and meat), sop (clear soup), soto (a meat and vegetable broth with rice), nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles).

Sweet offerings include pisang goreng (fried bananas), peanuts in palm sugar, cooked peanuts, jaja (multi-coloured coconut confectionary) and ice-cream, as well as cool drinks and coffee.

Bakso - a favorite at mealtime
Above: Mealtime in Petulu. A boy sells bakso from a kaki lima in the main street.

Each kaki lima typically sells only one type of food, although a different one will pass by every few minutes during the late afternoon. Wait until you see food you like.

Many tourists see these vehicles as potential sources of food poisoning, although realistically, the traders do not see tourists as a major market for their fares. They service local needs, and local people are hardly likely to buy food from sellers who will make them sick. The food bought from kaki lima is not likely to cause major illness to a visitor, but like market food, may contain bugs that could upset tourist tummies. Try it if you can tolerate exotic foods.

Those who are not sure but are willing to try should begin with simple fare such as the pisang goreng, lumpia, bakmie or bakso. A good indicator is to watch for those that are popular with locals. To be sure of paying the right price, ask the local people what to pay, but expect around Rp.2,000 to Rp.5,000 (or even less in the smaller villages where there is less direct reliance on the tourist dollar).

Some warungs serve the more traditional Balinese meal of plain rice (nasi putih) with meat or vegetable accompaniments and spicy condiments for about the same price.

Night markets are another great place for low cost meals and are also usually very popular with locals and budget travellers. The variety is often limited, but the food is usually very fresh and well priced. Satays for about Rp.5,000 and nasi goreng or mie goreng for about Rp.3,000 is a rough guide.

 Fruit seller
Above: Fruit seller.

Eating at warungs and markets will certainly endear you to the local population who are more used to seeing foreigners eating in the relatively expensive restaurants. This is often your best opportunity to speak to the Balinese people (other than in commercial transactions), and may provide you with greater exposure to their ways and culture than any of the "cultural events" that you will attend.


Bali has a great range of fruits, some of which you could not have imagined, and some you wish that you only had imagined! The fabled durian is the king of Asian fruit, although most westerners dislike the smell of this football sized monster.

What's that smell?
 Above: The famous smelly Durian!

Other fruit such as; mangoes, mangosteen, bananas, jackfruit, rambutan, makiza, pineapple, papaya, logan, melon, oranges custard-apple and a remarkable variety of others serve as fantastic refreshers at any time of the day, and will get you by if you cannot find an agreeable place to eat. Markets are always the best place to buy fruit.

 Tropical rambutans
Above: Rambutan (hairy).

Water and non-alcoholic drinks

Of course, the world-wide availability of famous soft-drink (soda) brands means that the culture shock will never be quite complete, but there are alternatives to the fizzy drinks. Bottled drinking water (aqua or air) is highly recommended (surely everyone you know has already told you not to drink the local water), is available everywhere, and is good value - drink plenty. The most common brand is Aqua, which is practically the synonym for drinking water. To order water, just ask for aqua. Just be sure the bottle has an intact plastic seal when you buy it.

Balinese coffee (Kopi Bali) and hot tea (teh panas) are also excellent drinks to refresh in the hot weather, although a cappuccino machine may be difficult to find outside of a hotel! Why not try tea with ginger for a treat? Sugar is called gula, and milk (often sweetened condensed milk) is susu.

If you prefer cold drinks, only ask for ice if you know the water has been boiled (most bars and restaurants will advertise if this is so).

Supermarkets are to be found in the larger cities, including Kuta and Ubud. Goods, including many western packaged foods, bread, biscuits, chocolate and bottled water (at the lowest prices) etc. may be stocked up on in case of a craving for a late night snack, or to save money by preparing your own breakfast or supper etc.

Food Safety

Although it is wise to take care in deciding where to eat, and of what food you choose, there are no rules, and there are no guarantees. Some people will become ill from eating in the markets while others won’t, yet some will become ill from eating in the most exclusive hotel or restaurant.

There are several possible illnesses that may be contracted from food or from poor hygiene in food preparation areas. Information about the most significant of these is provided in our section on staying healthy and safe in Bali.

Many people confuse the effects of a changed diet (especially the inclusion of ingredients such as spices and palm oil) with the symptoms of more serious illnesses. Many travellers will experience some form of changed bowel actions without showing any other symptoms (such as cramping or nausea). This is usually the affect of exotic rather than toxic ingredients and is unlikely to be any form of serious illness.

Please discuss recognition of the danger signs with your doctor before leaving home, and ask for instructions on dealing with illness.

All warnings not withstanding, very few travellers ever get seriously sick if they show common sense and prepare properly by being vaccinated with the standard prophylaxis before leaving home. There is little point in spending your entire trip in fear of being poisoned, so relax, and seek meals from places that are of a standard that you are satisfied with, and above all else, seek the advice of fellow travellers on which are the best places to eat.

Learning to cook Bali Style.

There are a few cooking schools in Bali, generally offering 1 or 2 day courses, but the prices are generally very high (many charge over USD $100 per person, per day). Anyone considering a cooking course should head straight for Ubud, or you can learn how to prepare your own black rice pudding (Bubuh Injin)Gado-Gado and beef satay (Sate Sampi) without even leaving home.

cookbk.gif (29448 bytes)
Above: The food of Bali by Heinz von Holzen and Lother Arsana (Periplus Editions).

A few cookbooks are available featuring Balinese style meals. The food of Bali is one that is sold in most bookshops and many other places around Bali. This is part of a series published by Periplus Editions, and is typically well presented, with excellent photography and of course, tempting recipes.


Return to our Bali: The Online travel guide index.

Copyright 1994-1999, Wayne Reid.
Contributions, including corrections, updates, new information and suggestions are welcome.

Disclaimer: All of the information available within this site is believed to be correct, however the author accepts no responsibility or liability for any outcomes that may result in using this site's contents.