Written by Kim Wilson
Co-written by Beverley Lennon
You seriously have not lived until you have tucked into a freshly made plate of delicious Nasi Goreng or tried some mouth-watering Babi Guling!
We thought it would be a great (and delicious) adventure to hunt down all the restaurants and warungs serving the best local food.
What’s the best part? You might find yourself sharing a communal bench with the locals at the warungs, or indulging in a delectably local dinner accompanied with a performance at a restaurant.
Regardless, you’re bound to have an enjoyable experience at any of these places!
Psst! For those not fluent in Bahasa Indonesian, here are a few keywords when looking at menus:
1. Discover an authentic Balinese hideaway: Laka Leke
Laka Leke is a must “dintertainment” spot while in Ubud. You get to dine and be entertained alongside local performances, surely redefining the way you usually savour in local delicacies.
Everything at this restaurant depicts authentic Balinese lifestyle – from the welcoming entrance, walk through rice paddy fields and reach the temple-shaped gate, you will then be directed to your lesehan seating (dine picnic-style while sitting on a mat) in your private pavillion with a few monkeys eyeing you (or rather, your food).
Don’t worry as they will head back to the forest when you are all settled (they are just here to double-check that you are enjoying!).
Local dishes at Laka Leke are exquisite – the restaurant is known to be dishing out not only hawker favourites, but also modern Indonesian fare, authentic Balinese cuisine and more!
We personally loved their popular crispy duck, which goes amazingly well with some sambal matah. Then again everything at Laka Leke taste fantastic, but nothing does justice to their mouth-watering Nasi Campur – colourful and flavourful are the best two words we can find to describe. For Rp.50,000 (approximately USD 3.60), it’s super affordable for the quality you get and the comfortable restaurant setting.
(Psst – We always return for their Nasi Campur, not to mention asking for extra sambal!) See, even the classics are taken to the next level!
On specific nights, the restaurant gets busy with their traditional performances, with locals dressed in colourful and shiny outfits replicating theatrical dances such as the Barong and Kris Dance, Frog Dance, Jogeg and Children Dance as well as Bali’s popular Kecak Dance. Join in, get to learn a few steps and go back with plenty of good memories!
2. Do you smell something fishy? : RM Pak Bagong
What’s a trip to an island if you don’t savour authentic seafood dishes? With the sea so close by, all you can expect is fresh and juicy seafood – the real sea-to-table experience!
Drop by this local eatery and make sure your stomach is empty, ready for a fishy feast! At RM Pak Bagong, fish is served the traditional way with a rich sauce mastered by Indonesians only. Tangy, spicy, saucy, crunchy, steamy and flaming hot – their Mujair fish topped with thick NyatNyat sauce is what you are here for!
First you’ve got the crisp of the fried fish, then comes the NyatNyat seasoning, spread all over your fish and dripping goodness! You’ll smell and taste the rich flavours of ginger, coriander and chili – all mashed and mixed with coconut milk, boiled to perfect thickness!
RM Pak Bagong has to be our ultimate local find on this precious parchment of must-try local food in Bali – it is yet a hidden spot, unknown by most visitors but oh-so loved by the locals!
Of course, you can choose to go simply for the fried fish without the sauce if you are feeling less adventurous but why eat less when you can eat more?!
You are here to share seats with locals and simply indulge!
3. Where you feel and feast like a local: Kampoeng Bali at RIMBA Jimbaran BALI by AYANA
It’s 6pm. You’re not the only foreigner here. In fact, anyone looking for great local cuisine in a comfortable yet authentic Balinese ambience would have been told to visit Kampoeng Bali, where you can experience life (and food!) in a local, traditional Balinese village.
Your evening begins with an immersion in local traditions – attend a sunset ritual directed by locals carrying offerings and colourful Balinese parasols.
And as you settle in, it is now time for some shopping – a traditional market atmosphere comes to life, with locals proudly presenting their locally crafted products and souvenirs.
The clock strikes 6.30pm, and dinner is ready. Come, serve yourself directly from the live cooking stations! Don’t miss out on the house specialties – the famous Babi Guling (suckling pig) and their sumptuous grilled seafood and skewers.
And yes, you can even see how your dessert is made, live! Expect to savour fresh Pisang Goreng (fried banana), Es Campur (a bowl of fruit served with shaved ice, coconut, syrup and milk) and more. Or why not try your hand at making some local dessert such as klepon (traditional rice cake balls filled with liquid palm sugar and coated with grated coconut) and lak lak (Balinese tea cakes made from rice flour) yourself?
As the sun has set, take a seat for a dramatic Kecak dance performance. Beguiling but magical, this almost-hypnotic show builds to a climax as the sky darkens… Surely, this is a way to immerse in local culture. While your other senses are woken up, savourful aroma of spicy and flavoursome local food calls you for another round!
Kampoeng Bali is where you get to experience Balinese culture, traditions and tastes in perfect harmony – it’s a fantastic place for gourmet lovers who aren’t afraid to indulge once in a while.
4. Queue up for the divine pork skewers: Sate Babi Bawah Pohon
What’s Indonesia without its legendary ‘sate’? And what’s Bali without Sate Babi Bawah Pohon, also known as the sate stall under a tree (it used to be, but they recently moved away!)?
Those pork skewers attract crowds of babi-lovers! The stall started small, owned by a lady but is now directed by a whole crew! It is that good and that popular among locals!
Don’t expect these to be adjusted to foreigners’ tastes – just be ready for the spicyness! But according to us, it is just right! Some might want to bite on the extra chillies on the side too.
The pork is perfectly grilled – tender and juicy and all soaked in flavours and spices, while the sauce drips – sweet, savoury and a little spicy. This is a one-of-a-kind street food experience you shouldn’t miss while in Bali!
Pick between a bowl of rice and some rice cakes or simply choose to level up on your sate pieces! Each portion comes with 8 skewers but it’s never too much sate when it’s from Sate Babi Bawah Pohon!
5. Ribs barbecued to perfection: Warung Chef Bagus
If there’s something that rhymes with Warung Chef Bagus, it has to be “RIBS”! Warung Chef Bagus does world-class ribs – glistening, smoky, slow-cooked – it has the potential to be one of the most heavenly good foods in existence, especially when enjoyed with their icy-frozen bottle of beer!
Best eaten with your hands and a pile of napkins on the side, your ribs set comes with an array of accompanying dishes like yellow rice, local pickles and vegetables while you can also choose to go for a mix-and-match of ribs and skewers (sate).
So what makes Chef Bagus’s ribs so very special? The tenderness, sauce-to-meat ratio, smokiness, and good charring!
So moist, so tender… that not even a 5-star eatery would be able to do it better – their meat emerges tender and pulls clean from the bone without falling off while you lick the sauce off your fingers. You’ll definitely want to come back for more!
Try out their cooking school too and bring some taste of Warung Chef Bagus back home; it’s a fun way to get your hands on their secret recipes, and who knows, with a bit of practice you would surely be able to reproduce their to-die-for ribs platter!
6. Drop by for a beach-side local feast: Nasi Campur Men Weti
Dearest germaphobes, please ignore the fact that your food is served with bare hands – this is apparently what gives it more flavour!
Some minutes of patience, a generous spoon of rice, a look out to the beachside, and within a few minutes, your empty plate will be turned into a colourful, exotic delicacy. All is there – chicken, boiled egg, mixed vegetables, rich curry sauce, topped with peanuts and delicious sambal.
The Nasi Campur here is known to be legendary, you can judge by yourself once you get to see the queue for it, from as early as 8am! Be here early for breakfast as they get sold out pretty fast!
Everything in your plate matches so perfectly; you’ve got that crispy chicken skin, with tender flesh topped with spicy red sambal, soft boiled egg that has soaked up the red sauce, fresh veggies, crunchy peanuts on the side – how can you not possibly like it?
7. Feast like a king – Gabah Restaurant & Bar (Kuta)
We mean it literally. If you can’t be king, well, you can at least eat like one.Now that you’ve tried almost all there is to try about Bali’s local fare, there’s one last experience to be had – the Balinese royal feast.
While Gabah also serves up other yummy Indonesian dishes with in both modern and traditional styles, what you’ll really want to try is their Royal Kingdom menu. It features the best of traditional specialties from around the island of Bali!
You’ll get to feast on 22 signature dishes that the royal family eats on the first day of harvest season, including traditional Balinese soup, grilled chicken and fish satay.
And it’s not just eating – you’ll also be having the full experience of being a king/queen for a day.
Put on your Batik headdress, which will immediately elevate your sense of self-importance, and sit back as your dinner is served to you on an intricate platter – along with some traditional live music and dances to whet your appetite.
8. Dine above water at a secret prawn haven – Bale Udang (Kuta & Ubud)