The Best Local Spots to Eat in Bali with Maya Kerthyasa
The Best Local Spots to Eat in Bali with Maya KerthyasaMaya Kerthyasa
The wonderful thing about eating in Bali is that you’re spoiled with diversity. I’m a big advocate for the local cuisine as it’s seriously tasty, deeply connected to the landscape and our culture, and deserves more attention than it currently gathers. At the same time, it’s exciting to see how the international food scene has blossomed. Many talented professional and home cooks from all stretches of the globe have set-up camp here over the past few years, bringing with them everything from natural wine-making skills to seriously sharp sourdough wisdom and pizza-dough formulas straight out of Naples. Pair all this with the fresh, carefully cultivated produce that springs from the island’s rich volcanic earth and you have, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating (and at times, random) culinary melting pots of the world.
But back to the local food. If there’s any piece advice I would offer to people travelling or living in Bali who would want to know more about it, it would be to eat as much of it as you can outside your classic restaurant setting – join a cooking class, ask people if you can meet a great home cook, go to the morning markets for breakfast and the night markets for dinner. Balinese food at its purest is so vibrant, layered and full of meaning and it tastes so much better when you consume it in its original context.
The main thing I’d like to emphasise, is that if you’re dining in Bali, look for honesty, go local as much as possible and don’t be afraid to seek out the artisanal stuff. Native ingredients and old-school cooking methods are at a risk of dying out. The best way to preserve them is to support them, and the best way to support them is to consume them. How fun is that?
In this Guide
“One of the best Balinese meals I’ve had recently was at Dapur Bali Mula in Les on the island’s north coast. Basically, it’s a kitchen run by chef Jero Mangku Dalem Suci Gede Yudiawan, who also happens to be a pemangku, or priest, in the area. He cooks everything over wood-fire in a hand-built clay stove, using only traditional, local ingredients and techniques. This could be mackerel, caught that morning, massaged with yellow spices and turmeric leaves and cooked in a tube of young bamboo, or smoked chicken with raw sambal and Javanese long pepper leaves for greens. You might end proceedings with daluman leaf jelly in a glass of coconut cream and lontar-palm sugar syrup, or work your way through Yudiawan’s impressive collection of house-made arak – palm wine (also made from the nectar of the lontar tree) flavoured with everything from moringa leaves to fresh mango and fermented in 8th century Chinese clay pots. Either way, you’ll leave inspired.”More Info
“Mek Juwel is another absolute go-to in my books. It’s a warung, which is best described as a small local eatery that’s usually family-run and specialises in a specific regional dish. Mek Juwel serves nasi or rice, with ayam or chicken, braised in a secret formula of spices and aromatics until it’s fork tender and simultaneously bright and earthy on the palate. It’s displayed behind a glass counter alongside a spread of equally-as-delicious condiments – torch ginger flower sambal and stir-fried noodles, among them. Head there in the morning when the birds are still warm. Over the past few decades, meat has become the star of the Balinese diet – but this hasn’t always been so. As recently as 35 years ago, our cuisine was mostly made-up of native plants. We’d cook whatever nature provided – whether that’s fern tips, mango leaves, young papaya, banana-tree trunks or young bamboo shoots. Proteins from larger animals (pigs, ducks) were reserved for ceremonies or special occasions, and smaller animals (dragonflies, frogs, small eels known as belut) would be foraged in the rice fields and eaten on more of a daily basis.”More Info
“Batukaru Coffee Retreat is up in the foothills of the island’s western mountains and a great place to explore home-style Balinese vegetarian food. Its proprietor, Kentri Norberg, prepares her menus based on the food she ate growing up: just-picked, minimally fussed-with, naturally medicinal. She only uses house-made coconut oil and palm sugar from the farm next door; her rice is sourced from heirloom fields below the property; her coffee is grown biodynamically on the adjoining plantation. Comfort eating in its most nourishing form.”More Info
“The north-east coast on the other side of the island, is brimming with artisanal producers such as sea-salt makers, home arak distilleries and coconut groves that turn out everything from palm sugar to coconut milk and oil. Many of the best cooks source their ingredients directly from these small producers out east. When I head up there, I like to stop at Warung Lesehan Merta Sari for fish sate. They use tuna, which they mince, spice and grill over coconut charcoals, served with white rice, a bowl of glassy seafood soup and stir-fried kangkung or water spinach. You dine lesehan-style, cross-legged on elevated seating platforms in a sprawling, buzzing dining hall.”More Info
“I’ve stopped eating pork for spiritual reasons, but have heard great things about the suckling pig at Babi Guling Pan Ana. The pork skin is the real draw here. It’s super-golden, crisp and glossy. Another big plus, is that this warung is located in Denpasar, which is a great place to explore all the different riffs on Indonesian cuisine. It’s often overlooked by travellers, but I strongly recommend it to anyone who loves food.”More Info
“Fu Shou Noodle Club Ubud is full of culinary treasures and one of its most intriguing casual diners. The offerings are kept simple. There’s a few varieties of steaming bakmie noodle soups with free-range chicken, mushrooms or pork, classic Hainan chicken rice and pangsit dumplings deep-fried or boiled in chicken broth. It’s all made from scratch, in-house and with a noticeable dose of care.”More Info
“Room4Dessert, on the opposite end of town, is my favourite special-occasion restaurant. You’ve probably heard of it if you’re a Chef’s Table binge-watcher or a proud owner of chef-owner Will Goldfarb’s dreamy cookbook (Room for Dessert, Phaidon, 2018). What I love about Goldfarb’s cooking and ethos is that he’s such a champion for real Balinese produce. He digs deep to source rare native foods from small-scale farmers, and works with them thoughtfully, allowing the produce to shine. There’s a blockbuster tasting menu 21-courses strong, and a new a la carte menu that’s super-accessible if you’d rather drop in for a tray of house-baked breads and condiments with a glass of natural wine.”More Info