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Eating up Bali

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Bali food has definitely been one of my favorite parts of this journey…where do I even start? Well, as I sit down to write this, I’ve just finished drinking the fresh juice out of a coconut and am getting ready to scoop out the tender meat for a little post-yoga snack. Okay, it’s not so hard to write about after all… 

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Dragon fruit!

For years, I dreamed of having a rooftop garden in NYC so I could pick produce at its peak freshness, rather than over-paying at Whole Foods for fruit coming from California and veggies from Mexico, the nutritional content depleting with every moment. I had heard of the unbelievable sweetness of freshly picked mango but had never had the privilege of tasting. Until now. The fruit here is fresh, exotic (to me), bright and delicious. Hands-down, my favorite is the bright magenta dragon fruit, aptly named for its wild-looking outer skin. I once sought out this fruit in Manhattan’s Chinatown and paid almost $5 for one piece. Here, it’s more like $0.75. It’s the perfect smoothie base, along with papaya (also a natural sunscreen!?), mango, and avocado to turn it into a dense smoothie BOWL (my favorite – see first picture here with starfruit). It’s also easy to cut in half and eat with a spoon straight out of the skin, which is what I did for my breakfast this morning.

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Dragon fruit mango smoothie with a shot of fresh turmeric juice – a colorful breakfast!

Other food things that have me excited here are fresh turmeric (anti-inflammatory) and ginger (digestion) — both so cheap and plentiful that inflammation and constipation are a thing of the past. Tempeh (fermented soy) also abounds, a nice block selling for around $0.15 compared to $4 in New York. Luckily, tempeh is one of my preferred protein sources and really the only soy I eat, as it’s fermented, and, thus, much easier to digest than something like tofu.

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Two entrees at Dayu’s Warung in Ubud – split between two people – one would have been enough for both of us!

Fresh vegetables are also plentiful and rather cheap, although I sometimes wonder about the cleanliness of the greens and if they’ve been sprayed with pesticides. I always cook the veggies here for sanitation, and leave raw salads up to the local, health-conscious restaurants I find along the way. Speaking of which, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying researching — i.e. eating — new healthy dishes. Ubud seems to be the mecca for raw, vegan, and some restaurants can become somewhat expensive, but not more than New York prices. In general, I sought out the more affordable, yet highly rated, options, ranging from $2.5-6 USD an entree. Several favorites in Ubud were Dayu’s Warung — huge portions of tantalizing vegan, like tempeh pumpkin lasagna — and Soma — smaller portions but well-worth-it raw pizza.

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Roadside warung food in Canggu – less than $1.50 USD for tempeh, sprouts, red rice, pumpkin, bok choy

After leaving Ubud and staying with Elie in Pecatu, I cooked dinner every night — yay for purple sweet potatoes and black rice! — and Elie also introduced me to warungs, my new favorite go-to for cheap vegetarian. Warungs in Bali are basically modest, family-owned “restaurants” on the side of the street. Depending on the size of the warung, they often present 15-30 dishes, including vegetarian, seafood, and meat, and you simply dish out what you want or instruct them to do so (depending on the establishment). I’ve become a little bit addicted to the candied, crispy tempeh they all seem to serve, and I pile greens and sprouts on the soft red rice, all of it amounting to around 18,000 IDR, which is less than $1.50 USD (causing me to ignore any worry I have about the flies all around the food — let’s hope the Hep A vaccine is working!). The only question is how much MSG these places use, so it’s wise to listen to your body after eating and see if it’s been a overloaded with chemicals. So far, I’ve had no problems. I’ve also not gotten sick from this “cheap” food (knocking on wood right now). In fact, I’ve heard that hotel food here — often overpriced and not that delicious — is the most likely to make you ill, as the turnover rate of the food is much slower than that of a warung.

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Temple Monk Salad at The Temple Lodge

That said, I had a truly decadent meal at The Temple Lodge in Pecatu, with green juice, a wheatgrass shot, chocolate banana smoothie, salad full of avocado, papaya, tempeh, followed by bruschetta (the owner is Italian) and chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. Yes, it was a long meal and I was stuffed by the end of it in a very very happy way. I later met the owner, Cristiana, and learned she has studied Macrobiotics and Ayurveda, both of which were a clear influence on the nutritious, balanced food.

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Salad at Cafe Avocado with gluten-free garlic bread

After leaving Pecatu, I was sad to say goodbye to the warung there, fearing I would never again find such yummy candied tempeh. Luckily, Canggu is filled with warungs, and the first one I visited had the same sweet tempeh and twice as many veggie options as the last! I was in heaven. Canggu also has some delicious vegan-friendly spots like Betelnut Cafe — the beetroot burger on dense, nutty gluten free bread blew my mind — and Cafe Avocado — small and cute with big salads accompanied by gluten-free garlic bread. Really, in heaven.

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Even the Mediterranean plate at Betelnut has tempeh!

And with all of the good, there’s also the “bad.” I hate using the word bad because I always say there is no right way to eat. However, I’m comfortable saying that anything highly processed and full of chemicals is not great to eat all the time (it could be good to feed the inner child on occasion, as I found Oreo’s to be). Sadly, it seems a lot of the native locals here eat packaged, prepared noodles, crackers, snacks, etc., full of MSG, salt, sugar on the regular. I’m sure they have no idea of the health cost, and I think it feels like a luxury to have these pre-made foods available, as opposed to having to make everything from scratch as they would have in the past. It’s also very cheap, therefore, attracting surfer boys as well who just want to fill up ASAP after spending the afternoon riding waves.

All-in-all, these are my food findings after just two weeks in Bali, so I’m sure I’ll keep discovering and learning new things. If you’re familiar with the island, do let me know of any places I must try!

Eating up Bali

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