Picture this: smoothie bowls full of tropical fruit, banana leaves stuffed with grilled fish, plates stacked high with rice, veggies, and smoked meat. If your mouth is already watering, you just discovered your new happy place — Bali.
This tropical paradise is truly a foodie’s dream, as the island caters to everyone from vegans to meat lovers. Best part? Food prices in Bali are quite affordable with street food vendors and warungs (small traditional restaurants) serving up inexpensive meals everywhere you look–you won’t have to break the bank to eat like a king.
Here are just a few of the staples, traditional dishes, and sweets you should sample during your time in Bali. Warning: this article may cause stomach rumbling.
Staples in Balinese Food
Tourists in Bali should prepare to eat their weight in rice–a Balinese food staple. Many of the island’s dishes come with a heaping plate of nasi goreng (fried rice) or nasi campur (steamed rice served with veggies and meat), an unsurprising culinary choice when you consider the number of rice terraces in Bali. Whether you choose to tour (and photograph) those rice terraces on a sunny morning or just enjoy the food they’re producing, you’re in for a treat.
The Balinese also love mie goreng (fried noodles), tempeh (a snack or side made from slightly fermented soybeans), and tofu. These staples aren’t quite as ubiquitous as rice, but you’ll still find them served in a number of variations with your main dishes.
Of all the delicious types of food in Bali, smoothie bowls reign supreme. They taste even better than they look, and if you’ve seen snaps of a smoothie bowl on your Instagram feed, then you know that’s high praise. Often arriving in a coconut with the top lopped off, there’s also a good chance that your bowl will include a combination of granola, nuts, grated coconut, and fruit slices. Admire the fuchsia color, take a picture to incite food envy among your friends back home, and dig in!
Gado-gado is another popular (and vegetarian-friendly) dish. The name translates to “mix mix,” an oversimplified description of this salad. It usually comes with green beans, leafy greens, tofu, egg, and potato, all covered in a delicious peanut sauce, and you shouldn’t leave Bali until you’ve eaten it.
As far as meatier options go, you might want to try babi guling (spit-roast suckling pig). For many years, it was the centerpiece of feasts that commemorated major events — holidays, weddings, and the like — but today, you’ll find it at warungs around the island. Babi guling gets its flavor from a lip-smacking blend of tropical spices, and while it’s pretty good throughout Bali, Anthony Bourdain once said that Warung Ibu Oka served the best roast pig he’d ever eaten.
Bebek betutu (smoked duck) and ayam betutu (smoked chicken) are additional slow-cooked specialties, so preparing these foods is a labor of love. To begin, the cook stuffs the bird with spices, then wraps it in leaves and/or tree bark, finally smoking the meat over hot coals for hours. Luckily, all that hard work pays off, resulting in a tender, well-flavored plate of poultry.
The Balinese answer to satay (a Southeast Asian favorite of skewered meat), sate lilit is another classic dish. The island specializes in sate lilit ikan (fish satay), but if seafood isn’t your thing, you can look for variations made from chicken, beef, pork, or duck. The cooks usually prepare sate lilit by adding spices and coconut milk to ground meat, wrapping the concoction around a lemongrass skewer, and grilling it to perfection. Unlike satay from other countries, sate lilit doesn’t usually come with peanut sauce.
Finally, pepes — more of a cooking technique than a particular dish — can take many forms throughout Bali, but it always consists of food grilled, boiled, or steamed inside a banana leaf. Pepes ikan (made from fish) is probably the most classic iteration, but you can also find chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or vegetables cooked in this style.
Drinks, Coffee, and Desserts
Thanks to a heavy import tax on alcohol, drinks can be pretty expensive in Bali, especially compared to what you’ll pay in other Southeast Asian destinations. Like food prices in Bali, beer is also affordable, and a cocktail will put you back about $10 (USD), but even low-quality wines often cost several times what you’d pay back home.
On the other hand, coffee-lovers shouldn’t have troubling finding their caffeine fix on the island. The climate and volcanic soil make it easy for growers to harvest grade-A coffee beans, and Bali has no shortage of cafés. Especially in Ubud, you won’t have to go far to find a tasty cup of joe.
For dessert, try pisang goreng (fried bananas, often served with honey, sugar, or vanilla ice cream) or pisang rai (boiled banana wrapped with rice flour and coated in grated coconut). And if you’re in the mood for something different, there’s also laklak (a traditional cake made from rice flour and coconut milk) and klepon (a rice ball with caramelized sugar and grated coconut).
No matter what you like to eat, we have a hunch that your days in Bali will leave you feeling like a real gourmand. After all, the island is foodie heaven — and every single Balinese meal will prove that. Rarisang ngajeng!
Did we miss any of your favorite foods? Is there a warung that you’d like to recommend to other travelers? Let us know in the comments below!
Cover photo by Heiarii Soler