Friday, March 20, 2015

Eating in Bali

If you want to eat good, go to Bali!

We ate well, for very affordable prices. We didn't go super cheap and eat at roadside food stalls, but if we had we would've spent a fraction of what we did...and would've spent a lot more time on the toilet (which thankfully was barely none)!

Let us begin our culinary journey in Ubud.  First things first, I'll start off with the breakfasts at our hotel, Joglo Taman Sari.  I believe there are 3 options for breakfast, but we only tried 2 of them.  Once I tried the mi goreng (fried noodles) it was game over for me.  I was hooked!

Nasi goreng to the left, mi goreng to the right
There's something about Asian breakfast that speaks to my fat, fat soul.  I don't much care for breakfast, I never eat it, but I could eat Asian breakfasts everyday of my life.  Nasi goreng is fried rice and, while tasty, didn't hold a candle to the mi goreng when prepared by our hotel.

The other breakfast we tried was banana pancakes, which are more accurately crepes than pancakes.  The sauce to pour over them, I believe, is pure honey.  The lime wedge added a surprising amount of flavor.  This would be easy to make at home and I should totes do that.

I gather that "warung" is the word for restaurant in Indonesian, as most restaurants have it somewhere in their name.  It can be a bit confusing trying to keep all these similarly-named places straight!

Fair Warung Bale is run by a charitable organization that provides free healthcare to locals.  It's a great place, as TripAdvisor told me it would be, and was the perfect choice for our first meal in Bali.  Because it's a charitable organization I found myself leaving all my change with them as a donation.

Melting Wok Warung is a bit more upscale, with smaller portions at about the same price point as Fair Warung Bale, but undoubtedly delicious.  It's run by a super friendly French woman and they don't have a menu, only chalk boards, so you know they keep their menu aligned with ingredients that are fresh that day.

Because it's well outside of the city center we took a cab to Terracotta, and got this Indonesian mezze-style platter.  It had a variety of things try, the most surprisingly delicious being marinated tofu.  This restaurant overlooks a rice field, which looks really cool as the sun goes down, and there's a little fenced in area containing ducks (some with fancy hairstyles that I love so much) which are fun to watch.

The Balinese aren't big on dessert, which perplexes me about their culture.  Who doesn't love sweet stuff?!  But there is one dessert that they do have (strictly for the tourists, of course):

DQ!  Dairy Queen!  The small town, Midwest staple that I grew up with.  One thing I did not grow up with, however, was Nutella at DQ!

It's like the moon and the stars align; peace and serenity have enveloped the world at last.  Nutella and DQ are a match made in heaven!  I haven't been to an American DQ in years but I hope they've adopted Nutella onto their menu.  A Nutella Banana Blizzard, though not cheap by Bali standards, was seriously tasty.

Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia, is primarily Hindu, not Muslim.  This means one thing: porky deliciousness!

Ibu Oka serves Bali's arguable most famous dish, babi guling, which is roast pork.  Really tender, tasty, flavorsome roast pork.  This place pretty much got taken over by tourists when Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations (available on YouTube) rolled through town and told the world that it's Bali's best babi guling.  As a result, locals deserted the place, prices went up and they added 2 ancillary restaurants to handle the overflow.  Still, for $5.50 AUD it's a hell of a meal.

We ate here 2 days in a row and if we had more lunchtimes in Ubud we probably would've went back.  We got the "special", which includes rice, a blood sausage (eat it, ya pussy!) and lawar which is an indistinguishable yet tasty green vegetable side dish you'll find everywhere.

Important to note: We went at 1 p.m. and we had to hike it to Ibu Oka 3 (not far down the road) and they were all out of crackling (crispy pork skin).  On our second visit we showed up right at opening time at 11 a.m. and we were the first ones in the door at Ibu Oka 1.  I never did see where Ibu Oka 2 was.  If you're a lover of crackling like Martin I advise you get there as early as you can or you risk missing out!

I don't know if it's because I have the hots for Anthony Bourdain or my love of pork products, but Ibu Oka was my favorite culinary experience in Bali.  I would've loved to try the place when it was authentic and not "ruined" by the white man such as myself, but I can't imagine the food has gone downhill too much from the original.

Let's move farther south now to Seminyak.  After 3 days in Ubud and a constant feeding frenzy of Asian food I was getting pretty sick of Asian flavors.  Martin picked a highly rated restaurant on "Eat Street", Ginger Moon, which thankfully offered a mix of Asian and western food.  I felt guilty for doing it, but I ordered a pizza - with a side of corn on the cob.

And it was delicious!  Really impressive by anyone's standards, but the real hero of the evening was Martins' ayam betut, or smoked chicken.

This was beyond incredible and definitely a contender for the best dish of the whole trip!  I don't even like smoked food but this had a subtle smokey flavor and was really awesome.  While I would hardly consider Seminyak a must see destination in Bali, Ginger Moon is totally worth a stop.

Before going to Bali I had heard that they do a lot of Mexican food, and that they do it well.  How bizarre, I thought.  Until I tried a babi guling TACO!

What a genius concept!  Taco Beach Grill had all the usual Mexican suspects, and another exceptional dish was the array of salsas you could order with tortilla chips. 

Many of the salsas were sweet, which worked surprisingly well, and there was lots of tasty variety.  Again we went 2 days in a row for lunch, because it was just that awesome.  Pro tip: the babi guling taco was much better than the babi guling burrito.  While I prefer a burrito over a taco 99% of the time the taco allowed the meat to shine in all its porky deliciousness more so than the overstuffed burrito.

Not everything we ate was amazing.  The blah food we had was at places we chose randomly off the street without researching it first.  Be smart, research first!  Every meal, every snack if you want top notch results.  If the restaurant has a menu on the wall like this, you know it's a good sign to move along.

Mmm...chicken taco style
Otherwise you will be served room temperature beer and when you question this, they will offer you a glass of ice.  They won't even think to give you the glass of ice with your piss warm beer unless you ask!  Yes, that happened to us.

Our final meal was a variety of seafood in Jimbaran.  It was hard to see what we were eating; it's pitch black out there because the closer you are to the ocean the farther away you are from the lights of the restaurant.

Expensive, even for seafood, even by Bali standards, but it is really close to the airport so makes sense to eat here just before your late night flight.  You can watch planes land while you eat, which Martin of course enjoyed.

We didn't get sick once in Bali, but we're usually pretty good about not eating dodgy things and paying dearly for it later.  That's not to say there haven't the past but it was smooth sailing all 5 days in Bali.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bali, Indonesia

Bali is the quintessential bogan (a.k.a. white trash) Australian tourist destination.  When I announced I'd bought cheap flights there more than one respectable eyebrow was raised at my decision.  But I assure you, Bali is a legit travel destination!  If you know where to go and where to avoid.

We spent the bulk of our time in the town of Ubud, the "cultural capital" of Bali an hour and a half north of the airport.  It's not quite central enough to be considered the middle of the island, but it's far enough from any coast to be considered inner Bali.  If it were up to me we would've spent all our time there, but other people (ahem, Martin) had other plans.

On the day we flew into Bali we didn't get to Ubud until after 4 p.m. so the day was a wash and we spent the evening eating and drinking our way around town.  That's how we do.  Not party drinking, though, make no mistake.  When we're on holiday we're lucky to see 11 p.m.  Sometimes we're in bed at 9!

In the awesome infinity pool at our hotel...

...we met a family from Brisbane who we got to chatting with.  Turns out they were headed to the same place we were the next day so we decided to carpool to save some cash.

For a whole $10 per person we rented a taxi and drove an hour to the Bali Bird Park & Reptile Park.  Admission to the park(s) is substantially more than $10 so it's not a bad idea to save on transport there if you can.

Martin, the biggest bird nerd on the planet, enjoyed the various exotic birds that get to roam around the park.

I am personally more of a reptile nerd (I think snakes are super cool) so lucky for us the reptile park is connected to the bird park and it's one admission price for both.  $core!

We spent most of our first full day in Bali nerding out to animals, which didn't leave much time or energy for doing anything else that day.  I took the opportunity to turn Martin's down time into shopping time for me.

It's customary to haggle in Bali, so I went to the market with my game face on and was expecting to flex my haggling muscles and get a serious bargain on the pashmina I wanted to buy.  I didn't screen my market stall very well because the one I settled on was run by a pregnant woman.  How am I supposed to haggle down a few bucks (that I can easily afford) which will literally mean food out of the mouth of that fetus?  I could've fought harder for a bargain, but I did get 2 items for less than her first suggested [extortionate] price for 1 item.  So I guess you could say I just warmed my haggling muscles up.  Next time I shop at a market I will get ruthless in my hunt for a bargain.    

The next day we were off to another really-not-cheap, animal-centric tourist attraction, the Elephant Safari Park.  This is a refuge for Sumatran elephants (not as big as African ones, but still huge) who used to work in the logging industry.  They let you feed the elephants:

Pose for pictures with them:

And ride them!

Super fun!  And yes, these elephants are treated well and are happy.  I wouldn't spend my money there if they weren't!

After that our driver for the day (more expensive this time, $30 or $40 for the day for just the 2 of us, I can't exactly remember how much) asked us if we'd like to stop at a coffee plantation.  We had heard about the local coffee delicacy, called lewak coffee, so we agreed to stop at what was guaranteed to be a major tourist trap.

What is "lewak coffee", you ask?  Well, first you must know what this little feller is.  This is a civet:

This little feller eats coffee berries, and then shits them out and you drink it.  I'm not even kidding.  I shit you not (hardy har har).

They take the half-digested coffee berries, that came from a butthole I remind you, and make coffee out of it.  And then you drink the coffee, which we did.

I think I have sufficiently proven on this blog that there is nothing I won't eat or drink when traveling.  I guess putting heinous things in my mouth is all part of the adventure!  I was right that it was a tourist trap, as a cup of poop coffee cost $5, more than a fancy flat white in Australia, renowned for its pricey yet delicious coffee.  But you know what?  Poop coffee wasn't bad!  It had a very deep, rich coffee flavor with minimal butthole aftertaste.  You can enjoy your scat coffee with an incredible view, too, which I miraculously don't have a picture of, but I do have a picture of Asians using a dork-ass selfie stick.  Priorities, yo.

If you go to the Elephant Safari Park you must make a stop by the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, which is really close by (with poop coffee in between):

We didn't go down into the terraces (partly because there were some gnarly looking storm clouds ahead, partly because we couldn't find the damn path to get down there) but from the people who were already down there we could see that each "step" was much taller than a person.  I'm told this rice terrace is teeny tiny compared to the ones in the north of the island so that would be a sight to see!

That night we went to a traditional Balinese dance at an open air temple:

It's pretty much a must do in Bali, and the pretty costumes make it worth it.

The next day, our fourth in Bali, we packed it up and moved out of Ubud.  We made a quick stop at the water temple, which we'd walked by 25 times already but somehow managed to miss:

Then on our way out of town we stopped by the Sacred Monkey Forest.  Monkeys!  Big ones, small ones, old ones, young ones, ones itching their arse:

We are damn fools for not allowing ourselves more monkey time.  I could've stayed for hours and watched all the monkeys go about their monkey business.  They're so entertaining, the cheeky buggers.

This one jumped on me when I wasn't looking!  He was getting fresh and playing with my chest.  When I shooed him off he bit me a little, but not hard enough to break skin.  They're more than cheeky monkeys, they're (lovable) little turds.

Our second Balinese destination was Seminyak,  This is a coastal area, farther south, but not so far south that it's in the super disgusting party area.

One thing Bali does really well is hotel resorts.  That was the highlight for me in Seminyak.  We picked our hotel, Villa Seminyak, because of the pool.  It is like the Venice of hotels!

You can go directly from the living room into the pool!

It is a really super cool setup and I had a great day of reading the Hunger Games and barely leaving the hotel.

The reason we came to this region at all is because some friends of our from Brisbane happened to arrive in Bali that day so the dudes just had to get together and go out in Kuta, the disgusting, Aussie-filled party region of Bali.

As expected, this area is best avoided.  It was just as feral and unpleasant was I expected!  It was loud, crowded and overpriced.  Needless to say there isn't a shred of culture, either, so I beg of you - avoid at all costs...unless of course you are 18.

On our last day we didn't fly out until 11:30 p.m. so we had the whole day to chill and do stuff.  Luckily we had Thomas and Allison's place in Nusa Dua to chill at, so we weren't completely homeless for the day.  We chillaxed at a nice ocean side, completely deserted resort and had the whole place to ourselves all day:

We didn't see a lot of coastline on this trip, but what I saw was totally underwhelming.  The beaches weren't good at all.  I know I'm spoiled living in Australia, but like I said before Bali does resorts - and infinity pools - really well.  But if you're looking for beach then fly the extra few hours to go to Australia.  Bali ain't worth your time.

Just before sundown we got a cab and went to Uluwatu, a temple on a cliff with prime sunset views and guess what, more monkeys!

While the monkeys at Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest could be considered "cheeky monkeys" these ones can only be described as straight-up assholes.  They steal peoples flip flops and glasses just because they can, and chew on them until the break.

We watched them coordinate an attack on an old Chinese lady to steal her glasses.  She never got them back and they got destroyed.  One tried to steal my flip flop, but when I stood my ground and he couldn't take it off my foot I got bit - again.  No broken skin again this time, but these guys were seriously little shits.  Beware!  We had to turn back when the monkeys got too thick because Martin doesn't have contacts, so losing his glasses would be bad news bears.

Eyesight intact, Martin got this amazing shot, which showcases the awesome sunset and yawning - not screeching - monkey:

Between Uluwatu and the airport is an area called Jimbaran, well known for one thing: seafood!  The beach is lined with seafood restaurants as far as the eye can see, with tables set out along the beach:

The picture isn't great but it's hard to get a shot of 2 miles of coastline in the dark.  We had some last minute seafood before getting dropped off at the airport for our red eye flight back to Brisbane.  We slept on our 6ish hour flight back home, showered and went straight to work.  I do not mess around when it comes to milking all the time I can out of my travels!

I felt five days was a decent amount for our Bali adventure, no doubt the first of several if we hunker down and stay in Australia for a while.  It is the Australian travel destination.  Next time I'd like to go even farther north on the island, and completely avoid the grody south (which I knew I'd hate, but was pressured to visit by party animal dudes).

I realized something on this trip, something I'd never thought about but is pretty profound.  There are 3 things I really, truly care about when traveling (in no particular order): culture, wildlife and food (paired with, to a lesser extent, booze).  Bali hit all 3 of those priorities magnificently.

With that said, I think the food was my favorite part of this whole trip.  OMG, the food!  I will do a whole separate post because the world cannot live without seeing the unspeakable amounts of delicious food we ate!  The world has got to know!