If you haven't been to Bali, it's probably on your bucket list: Maybe you're dying to sink your toes into its sandy beaches, relax at a five-star resort or find Zen on a yoga retreat. The Indonesian island has become an international destination that's synonymous with luxury and wellness—that's no doubt why more than four million travelers a year go to experience the magic. And while it's easy to spend an entire trip feasting on smoothie bowls and other healthy fare, to do so would mean missing out on the island's traditional cuisine.
Warungs, small Balinese restaurants typically run by families, are the best places to eat local food. Balinese cooking shares some similarities with other types of Indonesian cuisine, but one primary difference, thanks to Bali's Hindu population, is that beef is rarely on the menu. More often, you'll find pork, chicken, seafood, tofu or tempeh, all prepared to explode with flavors of turmeric, ginger, coconut, chiles and lemongrass. Rich, creamy peanut sauce tops many dishes, and it's not uncommon to add sambal, Indonesian hot sauce, to everything you eat.
If you're lucky enough to have Bali on an upcoming travel itinerary, here are six things to eat.
① Nasi Campur
This is the first thing you should eat in Bali—it's the best way to sample the island's cuisine. Nasi campur, which translates to "mixed rice," is a ball of rice accompanied by small portions of various dishes like curried chicken, veggies, tofu or tempeh, and maybe an egg on top. No two nasi campur plates are the same, but they always showcase the kitchen's best.
② Babi Guling
Bali's most famous dish couldn't be further from a macro bowl: suckling pig that's been roasting on a spit and smothered in Balinese spices. It's truly a Balinese classic; since most of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is one of the few places in the country where pork is consumed. Naturally, babi guling has gained a reputation as one of the best pork preparations in the world.
③ Sate Lilit
Chicken satay originated in Indonesia—here, it's spelled sate. Although chicken on a stick is ubiquitous throughout the country, the Balinese version, sate lilit, consists of minced meat or fish mixed with coconut and spices, skewered onto bamboo or lemongrass stalks, then grilled over charcoal. A perfect street snack.
④ Nasi Goreng
Though nasi goreng translates literally to "fried rice," don't discount it as a boring side dish. Rather, it's a carefully made plate of rice, meat and veggies, stir-fried with spices, topped with a fried egg and often served with skewers of sate. In short, it'll change the way you look at fried rice forever.
⑤ Gado Gado
Translating to "mix mix," gado gado is a salad of mixed vegetables like long beans, potatoes, cucumbers and bitter melon, plus an egg, tofu and tempeh, all smothered in peanut sauce and sambal. So, yes, it's moderately healthy, and, like most things smothered in peanut sauce, it's all-out delicious.
While soto ayam (chicken soup) may be one of Indonesia's national dishes, it's bakso—Indonesian meatball soup—that packs the most punch. In Bali, the meatballs are made with pork, chicken or fish, and the soup overflows with tofu, veggies, noodles and spices.
Dana deLaski is a writer, photographer and videographer in search of stories about people and what they eat. Follow her on Instagram at @dana_delaski.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.