Our hotel proprietor in Pekutatan told me they had recently hosted a couple who had fled Ukraine, leaving behind a thriving chain of 30-some shawarma restaurants. The pair was regrouping in Bali, deciding where to live and eventually rebuild their restaurant empire. They considered Bali, but the proprietor dismissed the idea, telling them, “you know, people in Bali really only want to eat Balinese food.”
I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I sure can’t fault folks for preferring Balinese food. We loved it when we visited 10 years ago and this time—maybe because we knew what to look forward to, or maybe because our time in Asia was so limited on this trip—we savored every minute of our mealtimes. Here are a few of the best things we ate (caveat: a lot of these dishes aren’t exclusive to Bali, but are widely available on the island and were certainly staples of our diet there):
- Nasi goreng/mie goreng: Available just about everywhere, at any time of day, these dishes are pretty much the perfect meal. Consisting of rice (nasi) or noodles (mie) fried up with meat, vegetables and a yummy sauce, served with a fried egg on top and often some crispy rice crackers on the side, they’re just so, so satisfying. Dan loved nasi goreng for breakfast, while I favored mie goreng for dinner, but you really can’t go wrong however you eat it. We ate so much, in fact, that I can’t believe we didn’t manage to photograph a single dish of it! No matter, it will live on deliciously in our memories.
- Soto ayam: A new discovery for me this time around, this soup full of shredded chicken and vermicelli, flavored with turmeric and topped with crispy shallots and a hard-boiled egg is basically the best chicken noodle soup ever. Flavorful and nourishing (especially spiced up with with some sambal (Balinese hot sauce)), the one at Tandjung Sari haunts my dreams.
- Nasi campur: The perfect meal to order when you can’t decide what meal to order, this awesome plate includes a scoop of rice in the middle surrounded by a whole mess of delicious sides—meat sate, tofu and/or tempe, veggies, eggs—the mix varies, but the deliciousness does not. Another can’t-go-wrong go-to.
- Breakfast: Breakfast is almost always included with your hotel stay and we got our money’s worth every darn morning. Bali coffee (darker and siltier than we had in Australia but still yummy), papaya and pineapple and watermelon, fresh-fruit smoothies, trays of baked goods both familiar (croissants and toast) and novel (purple-hued rice dough stuffed with sweet coconut filling)—and that’s just to warm you up for whatever you actually order, usually eggs or nasi goreng (Dan), yogurt and granola (me) or pancakes (Fi). It’s enough to make you want to head back to bed for a little nap before actually starting your day.
- Fine dining at Kelapa Retreat: Dan already mentioned the incredible meals we were treated to at Kelapa as their only guests. The giant, fresh-caught whole fish and richly flavored fish curry were standouts, as were the sticky-coconut-rice-wrapped beef and and tuna ceviche appetizers. We ate ourselves stuffed.
- Corn on the cob in Jimbaran: We traveled too far for a lackluster fish-market meal one night, but the roasted cob of corn we bought on the beach beforehand almost made the trip worthwhile.
- Rice: I won’t lie, our kid didn’t eat much of the good stuff, but we could always rely on a perfectly cooked serving of rice to keep her happy, served in beautiful Bali style, and sometimes topped with an adorable palm-leaf cone hat.
- Kopi luwak coffee: Bali’s famed “civet cat coffee” (made from coffee cherries partially digested by the titular wild animal) disappointed us last time, but blew our minds this time (interestingly, ordered from the very same cafe we drank it at 10 years ago).