I arrived in Bali and didn’t know what to eat.
Perhaps Singapore and Malaysia’s food had spoiled me, but Bali seemed barren. Restaurant after restaurant offered kale-infused lentil hamburgers and probiotic smoothies, but what the hell were the locals eating?
After trial and error, I stumbled upon the warung — Indonesia’s version of the family-run eatery. Located away from the tourist strips, it was here that I found some of Bali’s best dishes. To save you from repeating my mistakes, here’s my Indonesian food guide.
1. Nasi pedas
Nasi pedas was my go-to lunch in Bali. Translated, it means “spicy rice”. This is only partially accurate. In a vain effort to look like a local, I wolfed down the generous portion of chili served with the rice. Now I can handle my spicy foods, but I swear my tongue has nerve damage to this day.
Self-inflicted harm aside, nasi pedas is a delicious buffet-style meal. You are given a plate of rice and then choose some toppings. My favourites were boiled egg, crunchy tempeh (fermented soybeans — a must-try in Bali), fried tofu, and curried potatoes with meat. I’d been visiting one restaurant for a week when the owner kindly told me that the meat was “lizard”. I nodded like I’d known all along.
2. Soto ayam
Soto ayam was for those chili-free days. It’s a simple yellow chicken (ayam) soup with a healthy dose of veges. Part of its appeal is that it was dirt cheap at only 10,000 rupiah ($1). Despite the searing Indonesian heat, soto ayam remained a popular choice among locals in their leather jackets and long pants.
3. Soto ceker
An upgrade (or perhaps a downgrade) from soto ayam, soto ceker is chicken feet soup. I’m a big fan of chicken feet, so I enjoyed it, but not everyone will. I also appreciate that the below photo hardly sells this dish. It looked better in real life, I swear.
4. Pork skewers with rice cake
I found this meal down a dark lane in Ubud. An Indonesian woman sat hunched on the road beside some pork skewers. Their fat sizzled delightfully on the smoldering bed of embers. I sat on the ground as she handed me a bunch of skewers with some fried rice cakes. This meal proved that eating next to an open sewer can be delicious.
5. Mie goreng
Mie goreng is fried noodles, available everywhere in Bali. However, it’s important to realise that not all mie goreng is created equal. Many warungs serve you instant-noodles from a packet. They simply boil the noodles and then add the MSG sachets. Avoid these places if you want a delicious mie goreng, like the one pictured below.
6. Nasi goreng
Like mie goreng, nasi goreng (fried rice) is an Indonesian staple. Cheap and satisfying, it’s a good choice when your stomach can’t match your foodie-ambitions. Enjoy it, but let’s be honest — nasi goreng is a bit boring.
7. Nasi balap puyung
Slightly misleading, I actually had this dish in Lombok, but it was too good to omit. Dry-toasted shredded coconut, peanuts, and spicy dried chicken come served with white rice. The shredded coconut was the real winner here, and would’ve gone perfectly with a cold beer. Nasi balap puyung made a great snack, but was a bit too small for dinner.
8. Nasi padang
An Indonesian friend said to me, “if you go to the moon, you will find nasi padang.” He wasn’t far off. Nasi padang is everywhere in Indonesia. And for good reason too, as it’s delicious.
Hailing from Padang city, West Sumatra’s capital, nasi padang is rice served with a choice of pre-cooked dishes. Fragrant curries are available alongside sumptuous vegetarian options. Beef rendang is the most well-known — this caramelized curry is cooked in coconut milk until it evaporates and the beef absorbs the spices. Voted number one in a poll of the World’s most delicious foods, you don’t need me to tell you it’s good.
Gado-gado is an Indonesian salad of slightly boiled vegetables, eggs, tofu, and tempeh which is then lavished in peanut sauce and topped with fried shallots. There’s no point in pretending otherwise — you eat this for the decadent peanut sauce. The sauce is made from a concoction of fried peanuts, palm sugar, garlic, chilies, tamarind, and lime juice. Heavenly in flavour, gado-gado had me eating more veges than normal.
10. Babi guling
My favourite dish in Bali, babi guling is a divine feast of suckling pig. The pig is stuffed with turmeric, coriander seeds, lemongrass, black pepper and garlic, then spit-roasted. Crunchy crackling, crisp pork-skin, and juicy flesh are served on rice with a spicy coconut salad. Because Indonesia is Muslim, Hindunese Bali is the only place where you can savour this incredible dish. Don’t miss out.
Indonesian food guide
I hope this Indonesian food guide was useful. Bali has great local food once you know what you’re looking for. Avoid the overpriced tourist restaurants and take a chance at that shady looking warung. The most surprising places often have the most delicious meals.
Was this Indonesian food guide helpful? What’s your favourite dish from my selection? Are there any I missed? Let me know in the comments below