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Mar 1, 2011 09:57 PM

Bali Trip Report - February 2011

I used this thread for research and was going to just append my notes to it, but then realized things were getting a little wordy:

At the time of of my visit, the exchange rate was about 9025 rp = 1 USD

UBUD – restaurant owners banded together to ban street carts from Ubud years ago, so finding street food took a lot of persistence, and a little luck. Early morning was the best time to catch women peddling nasi campur (5k rp) and little plastic bags of spicy vegetables or banana leaf wrapped fish mousse (1k rp). One morning I was able to score a variety of sticky rice and palm sugar concoctions, and a small pancake filled with what I think was more palm sugar.

It took a while for us to realize it, but a lot of the random convenience store-type warung sell 5k rp paper cones of nasi campur as well, displayed on folding card tables in front. They were always still warm when we bought them, and quite good. The best street nasi campur was sold by a man who was usually on Jl Hanoman somewhere near the intersection of Jl Jembawan.

On a walk one morning around Ubud, we finally found a few carts clustered around a gas station on Jalan Hanoman/Jalan Raya Pengosekan/Raya Mas Ubud (we’d walked past the Monkey Forest, and kept going south). They weren’t operating yet, but we had the best nasi campur of the entire trip at the nearby Warung Pak. Sedan (? – I think that’s the name) – at 10k rp a plate, it was unusual in that even the regulars didn’t pick and choose components, they just ordered “a plate”. Elements included a very good lemongrassy sate on sugar cane, fried tempeh (literally the first time I’ve ever undstood why anyone would eat tempeh) and spicy eggplant, but mostly I remember that everything was fresher and spicier than in any other versions we had on this trip.

Other enjoyable stops on that sweltering day were Asian Prophecy (also on Jl Raya Pengosekan, near the same intersection), which bills itself as a spa/art gallery but also had some excellent coffee and Japanese/French pastries, and Warung Alami (on Penestanan Kaja), which describes itself as a “Japanese Country-style Deli”. We were lured off our path by the smells of delicious frying things, and were not disappointed – they had a good selection of impeccably fried croquettes and fresh juices. The croquettes were 2 for 7-8k rp, and the juices were in the 15k range – they seemed expensive to me at the time, as we’d been traveling with a friend who now lives in Bali, and were looking at prices from his perspective, but in retrospect, I wish I’d ordered more. I doubt I’ll ever find that quality and execution at that price again. That goes for the pastries at Asian Prophecy as well – I’m still regretting not ordering a stuffed bread with pandan-flavored custard.

I really enjoyed Ibu Oka – we arrived around 2pm, didn’t have to wait too long for seats, and still got good bits from the pig. My portion of skin was terrific, absolutely crispy and melting, but some of my friends complained of toughness in theirs, and preferred the 10k rp plates we had at a random roadside market a few days later. At Ibu Oka, a plate of the especial is now 30k rp.

Dewa Warung had serviceable Indonesian standards at local prices and was a decent budget option.

Bollero was a first-night choice – hungry, tired, and hot, we just wanted to be comfortable, and chose it for its plush-looking seats. The food was relatively expensive and unremarkable.

Since the closest night market was in Gianyar, we hired a cab to take us there and back one night (at 40k rp an hour, this came out to 100k rp for the entire trip – even with five of us, it would have certainly cost less to stay in Ubud an eat somewhere with tourist prices, but we wanted to see the night market).

The one thing we saw in Gianyar that we didn’t see anywhere else were the spit-roasted barbecued chickens – they were quite striking, flattened, head attached, and displayed in vertical stacks. At the last second, my fear of eating poultry sitting out at a night market got the best of me, and I didn’t get one, but I wish I had now. We ended up eating mostly fried fish that night – good stuff, but not unique to the area.

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    On the way to Tulamben, we enjoyed a stop at Amertha Yoga Agrowisata, a coffee/cocoa/spice plantation that may have been the most tasteful tourist trap ever. They sample a number of coffees and cocoas free of charge, and sell a generous (and potent) cup of kopi luak for 100k. Hilariously, the informational sheet on the tasting table states bluntly that while kopi luak is very good, it is no way worth the price it commands in the US. I enjoyed it – while I didn’t think the flavor was significantly better or different than the best coffees I’ve had in the US, the nearly syrupy body was a new experience for me. Also different – the sludge at the bottom of the cup was such high quality that I was effectively able to reconstitute a second cup of coffee by adding hot water.

    TULAMBEN – Tulamben is tiny, and most of the restaurants are connected to hotels, but there were a few budget options. There was a woman near Paradise Dive selling very good, spicy babi bakso for 5k, and two warungs down the street – we went to the one on the side street. There was also a small warung across the street from Paradise Dive, but it re-sold food from another supplier, and only received nasi campur deliveries every other day.

    AMED – Kamara Resto Warung had very good nasi campur, with more protein than most versions. I enjoyed the spicy chicken component the day I went, but our friends swore that the crispy pig they’d had the day before was far superior.

    1. DENPASAR – I have to give Lonely Planet some credit here – I usually use LP when I travel, and I generally disregard their dining recommendations (invariably, high marks seem to go to muesli/banana pancake/pizza joints). However, as I was researching this trip, I realized that nearly every recommendation on Chowhound was listed in LP as well. Knowing that Denpasar wasn’t a tourist destination, I flipped through the restaurant section and chose a few promising candidates to hit en route from Amed to Kuta.

      Ayam Goreng Kalasan – 15k for absolutely killer fried chicken (one piece, served with a mound of fragrant cardamom-scented rice). Spicy, a little coconutty, strewn with a shower of bright yellow toasty panko, this was so good we went back on our last day before heading back to the airport. We also loved the spicy fried eggplant here.

      Cak Asm – LP actually named the salted egg yolk battered calamari as the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat for under a dollar. By the time we got there, had increased to 20k rp for a small order (just over 2 dollars). It was good, but if you’ve had a lot of salted egg yolk battered stuff before, it’s not that unusual. We also had a very good fried fish with an excellent spicy baba ganoush-like sauce on the side.

      Virgin Duck – we saw this place as we were driving, and couldn’t resist the call of “Crispy Pizza and Roast Duck”. I probably would have avoided it had we been in a more touristy area, but we figured in Denpasar, it might actually be good. The spicy duck was absolutely fantastic (I think it was 45k). I think the roast duck pizza was just ok, but I might have been really, really full at this point.

      1. KUTA
        We had to head back to Kuta because Green Bay was playing in the Super Bowl. Note to anyone looking to watch the Super Bowl in Kuta - Stadium Café is the only place that reliably shows it. We’d arrived the night before and asked two separate sports bar if they were showing it, were told yes, only to find the next morning that they were not showing it at all.

        After Green Bay’s victory, we rented scooters and went with a friend who now lives there to Tiga Pala, a small restaurant in a strip mall in Tuban that specializes in fish head curry. We ordered two kinds – one with a dominant flavor of lemongrass, the other sweet/sour/spicy. Both were excellent. One medium curry was 35k, and served two. Side note: Kuta was way more enjoyable via scooter. It’s only 50k for a day, and on scooter, no one asks you if you need transport!

        Restaurant Utopia in Legian bills itself as French fare using local seafood – an approach I enjoyed, and was surprised I didn’t see more of. I had a delicious, if nontraditional bouillabaisse (really, a deeply crab-flavored stew – a small portion, I think around 22k). A hand written sign outside announced the availability of eel in green herb sauce (70k) and tongue in madeira sauce (50k) that had to be ordered before 4 pm the day of.

        While I only had a melon ice at Warung Mina, I appreciated their friendly service, reasonable prices, and free wi-fi. Mee goreng was 20k here, probably the least expensive I found in central Kuta.

          On our first night, we ate at Ryoshi, which was connected to Tir Na Nog, so menus were available from both sides. Friends of mine ordered fresh fish (attractively displayed on ice), while I had a tuna chirashi – excellent tuna, rice was only so-so.

          The next day, we rode around on bikes and found a little stall selling terrific black rice pudding as well a vendor by the dock selling excellent gado-gado, served on giant shrimp chips. We also realized that there was a small but very good night market directly across the dock – our favorite vendor was the only one that marinated its fish (at 15k, it was 1/3 the price of the restaurant fishes, and equal in quality)

          We only had drinks at Beach Café, but it had a terrific upstairs dining area that was high enough to dissuade mosquitos.

          Free wi-fi was less of a given on Gili T. than anywhere else we went on this trip – of the places we went to, only Scallywags and Vila Ombak gave free wi-fi with purchase (I had a giant omelet for breakfast at Scallywags, and a large, inexpensive burger at Vila Ombak). Of note, all the random European/American food we had on this trip was quite good (except maybe the burger, which was a little too soy-saucy for me). While all of us are generally committed to exploring and trying local food, random urges for omelets or pasta or burgers do hit, and all of us reported having positive experiences when we did succumb.

          6 Replies
          1. re: daveena

            The Ayam Kampong at Gianyar was indeed a local favorite. The guide took us there when we asked for his favorite food - we got there at 3pm and the vendors just started operation. The best one was at the market entrance but it wasn't open yet so we tried another one on the main street.

            The meat was quite dry but very tasty. There were other offering together with the chicken but we didn't have any.

            Ibu Oka was good - It tasted as if it was a bigger pig than the suckling ones we got at Singapore's Cantonese restaurants. Another one we enjoyed was Sari Organic after our rice paddy hike - probably because of the hike. We had dinner most of the times at Bayu’s Kitchen in Penestanan, Ubud. We meant to try Cafe Mendenz but it was booked for private functions when we passed by.

            1. re: Ting Ting

              Aw... the stall at the market entrance was the one I had originally planned on buying the chicken from. They did look plumper and fresher than some of the other chickens that were being sold. I actually picked a chicken, didn't have enough cash on me, went back to where my friends were to get more, then started having second thoughts and didn't end up buying it.

              1. re: Ting Ting

                Ting Ting - an uncle & aunt who visited Indonesia for the first time recently ate at Ibu Oka, but they couldn't get used to the "funny" pork flavor/scent of Balinese pigs. They preferred pork back in HK, Singapore or Malaysia. Did you feel the same?

                daveena, did you also detect any difference in pork between Bali's and back in California? I liked Californian pork - I'm sure you remembered how much I enjoyed dining in the SF Bay Area (esp. Oakland, Berkeley, etc). Interested to hear your views.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  I had suckling pig at East Ocean in Shaw Center at Singapore and the taste is indeed a lot milder. The offering at Ibu Oka was spiced extensively so I really can't comment on the pork flavor - they were MUCH better than some I got at Gianyar as the skin was so tough and rubbery it's not possible to eat! And occasionally the smell of a boar meat (definitely not a suckling!) did come through in the market.

                  As for California meat - I find most of the pork dishes in regular restaurants tasted much like tough chicken - a few places in Berkeley I went to faired better - with higher price organic (prob sow) meat. Most US supermarket pork either have iffy flavors or are just bland (castrated boars?). In addition to the suckling one I had at Singapore & Hongkong, I've had good pork dishes in Japan (!!) China (Tibet/Sichuan/Yunnan hairy black little ones), Indonesia(!), and Cambodia.

                  1. re: Ting Ting

                    Thanks, Ting Ting. As for me, the best roast pig I'd ever had was served at Madrid's El Sobrino de Botin. Their cochinillo asado was roasted in an antiquated oven which they claimed had been used since 1725!

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      And here's a Spanish study on boar meat - funny that some people LIKE the GAMY smell!

            2. Good to have you visit this part of the world again, daveena, and thanks for the fab write-up. No Singapore this time?

              5 Replies
              1. re: klyeoh

                Hey klyeoh - I really wanted an itinerary that would give me a layover in Singapore, but Singapore Air was way more expensive than China Air, so I ended up in Taipei instead.

                I can't say I found a distinct difference in the flavor of the pork, although there's so much stuff in that marinade I don't think I could have tasted a difference if there were one.

                1. re: daveena

                  Next time then, daveena - do give us a shout if you're ever in the neighborhood. Happy chowing back in Oakland - I miss that place :-)

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    And same here - does your work not take to Oakland much anymore?

                    1. re: daveena

                      Unfortunately no. The office's moved to Scottsdale :-(

                  2. re: daveena

                    Wonderful report. Sounds like you were travelling in Bali around the same time we were, and went to completely different places along the way. As I was travelling with small children and my father I didn't feel brave enough to do too much street food out of paper cones on this trip. Our favourite nasi campur was at Warung Pulau Kelapa near the Neka Museum, perhaps because we were looking for good Javanese cooking, plus their cendol is very addictive. We went back to that area another day for Nuri's Ribs which were good too. We did eat at Ibu Oka's2 in Mas, a branch of the main one so I thought I'd post a photo here to illustrate your point about the fabulous skin.

                    Other food we loved included the almond milk with honey at Bali Buddha (hit and miss but so good when a hit), the Dutch croquettes at the Treehouse Cafe on Poppies Lane in Kuta, the sweet and sour deep fried carp at the food court at the Discovery Mall in Kuta, a soto ayam and deep fried tempeh somewhere along Monkey Forest Road that may well have been the same place you mention in Ubud, oh and the grilled butterfish at Un's in Kuta.