Eating out in Bali

People coming to Bali for the first time including delegates for the UNFCCC may wonder about the restaurant scene in Bali. Where can you get decent food? Is it safe to eat? How expensive is it? What are the rules of etiquette in Bali concerning eating?

Some guidebooks say the food in Bali is somewhat bland compared to other Asian destinations. It may not compare to Thai food for its complexity, but nevertheless Indonesian food (encompassing Javanese, Balinese and Sumatran) does have plenty of choice and if you find the right places it is deserving of respect. Some of the sauces found in Indonesian food, the dark thick spicy coconut sauce used in sapi (beef) rendang, the tangy sauce for turtle / tuna sate and the spicy hot sauce found on sate babi (pork satay) are fantastic. it does take more effort and a bit of courage for a first time tourist to choose to visit and Indonesian warung over western place. So let’s answer some of those questions.

Where can you get decent food?
You can get decent food in many places, including the restaurants in high end hotel resorts, such as the Oberoi in Seminyak. Certain areas popular with tourists and expats boast a selection of places to eat, including Ubud, Tuban, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Sanur. There are other areas too, but these are the main ones.

Is it safe to eat?
The food in Bali is generally safe to eat. Most expats eat a combination of western and Indonesian food on a daily basis. The odd stomach bug does occur but don’t let fear prevent you from enjoying what Bali has to offer. Restaurants now know to wash their vegetables in filtered water, salads are fine to eat.

How expensive is it?
Tourist warungs in the Kuta area on the narrow lanes leading to the beach will serve you a plate of food for $1-2, depending on what you order. An example of this type of place is Bamboo Corner on Poppies I. Warung Murah on Jl. Oberoi and also Jl. Double Six will do the same with an Indonesian selection. Mid-range places serving western food may found all over. Good options in Seminyak include Ultimo, Trattoria, Rumours, Warung Bonita, Taste and Mykonos. A typical meal can be had for $5. High end places also exist including KuDeTa on the beach in Petitenget, where you can spend $30 or more for dinner. BaliEats does a good job of detailing popular Bali restaurants.

What are the rules of etiquette in Bali concerning eating?
The rules of etiquette are virtually the same as in the west, except in the budget places you do not have to wait to be seated. In Padang style Indonesian warungs, where the pre-cooked food is in full view, you will get a plate of steamed rice and choose what you want, receiving a ticket and paying before you leave. If you need the waiter / waitress just look in their direction and raise your hand, no need to click your fingers or tap your glass with the knife. In Indonesian the word ‘permisi’ means ‘excuse me’, so “Permisi blee” to a waiter, “Permisi mbah” to a waitress.

In a restaurant / tourist warung your food may not arrive the same time as the other members of your group. In Indonesia it is fine to start eating before other people. Service and tax equaling 21% will be charged in restaurants, not in warungs. Tipping is not a Balinese tradition, however if you would like to leave an extra 5-10% the staff will appreciate it. Warungs will not usually accept credit cards, but restaurants will. If in doubt ask the waitstaff before ordering.

The usual western cutlery is found in restaurants in Bali. Warungs often substituting a spoon for a knife. Eating with one’s hands is perfectly okay in an Indonesian warung.