Bali: This volcanic Indonesian island’s cuisine absolutely explodes with flavor! Compared to the food in most other parts of Indonesia, Balinese cuisine is super unique. It’s filled with intense signature spices and hot flavors. Also, unlike most of Indonesia, there aren’t many Muslims in Bali. So, cooking with pork’s perfectly acceptable (and pork stars in some of the best Balinese dishes).
There’s so much to eat in Bali, and so many amazing restaurants, that you’ll need to narrow your list down to the best authentic foods and spots to enjoy them. That’s where our guide comes in!
We’ll highlight the best savory dishes, desserts, and drinks in traditional Balinese cuisine. We’ll also spotlight the best areas of Bali for different cuisine components, like street food and veggie fare. You’ll definitely think it’s all lezat (delicious)! Oh, and make sure to stay until the end, because we have a surprise for you at the end of the article!
Let's start with some savory dishes.
Sate, or smoky skewered meat, is a super popular street food in Indonesia. You’ll find pork, beef, chicken, fish, and even turtle and rabbit versions. For a unique Balinese take, try sate lilit---ground meat mixed with basa gede and other spices, then grilled on a lemongrass stalk.
Learn how to make sate, plus other Balinese classic dishes, in this popular cooking class!
Babi guling (“turning pig”), or suckling pig turned and roasted over a fire, is the most famous Balinese dish. It used to be reserved for special occasions, but tourism has turned it into a restaurant dish, so now any visitors to Bali can sink their teeth into it. If you haven’t had babi guling, you’ve never had a pig roast quite like it! The pig’s both rubbed and stuffed with a blend of spices--- usually, the famous basa gede (spice paste of Balinese seeds and roots). Then, it’s served with rice, beans, and crispy pork skin. It’s mouthwateringly tender!
This one’s for the vegetarian foodies! Gado gado is a tempeh and tofu salad with mixed vegetables, plus an iconic peanut sauce. Sometimes, eggs and shrimp paste make an appearance, but they don’t have to. (Make sure the chef doesn’t use the dried shrimp paste if you’re vegetarian; also ask to skip the eggs if you’re vegan). The name gado gado means “mix-mix” or “potpourri,” so it’s super fitting that the veggies vary based on the chef and the season!
Want to learn how to make gado gado yourself? Take this vegetarian cooking class!
Now, it’s time to please the duck and chicken fans. To make betutu, duck or chicken is stuffed with basa gede (or chiles and garlic), then slowly roasted in coconut tree bark or banana leaves. It’ll melt in your mouth! The duck version is called bebek betutu, while the chicken version (shown above) is known as ayam betutu. Better plan ahead if you’re going for the duck, though! The best bebek betutu must be cooked in a pit for an entire day, so you might have to order in advance!
So you can’t decide what to order? Go for the nasi campur, or mixed rice, and you’ll get a little bit of everything! You’ll get a scoop of rice, some veggies, and small portions of proteins like chicken, fish, pork, tempeh, and tofu. At many restaurants, those proteins get chosen for you, but at some warungs (street food vendors), you’ll get to choose your own nasi campur adventure!
Love chow mein, pad Thai, or any Asian noodle-based dish? Go for mie goreng, or stir-fried noodles with veggies, meat, and a bit of spice. Often, the meat’s chicken or beef sate. You might even get a big fried egg on top! (There are also vegetarian and vegan versions of this dish.)
There are several versions of lawar, but they are all mixes of minced ingredients and spices. The most traditional lawar’s minced pork mixed with pork blood! Yes, the blood may make classic lawar a bit “out there” for some, but it’s awesome for the adventurous!
For plant-based visitors, there are more accessible, vegetarian versions made with jackfruit and fern instead of the pork. Obviously, these versions leave out the blood. (Don’t worry, meat lovers! You also have plenty of meaty lawar choices with no blood involved, like the chicken lawar pictured above!)
Want to take a taste of Bali home with you? At this scrumptious cooking class, you’ll learn recipes for chicken lawar and much more!
Craving fish the Balinese way? Pepes ikan is whole fish (usually snapper, mackerel or sardines) smothered in a spice marinade, wrapped in banana leaf, and then steamed or grilled. The banana leaf lets the signature Balinese spices infuse the fish with little to no mess.
This spicy shallot sauce is awesome with fish! Shallots mix with lemongrass, chili, ginger and lime juice. Is your mouth watering yet?
Also known as bumbu bali , basa gede’s a must-try sauce. This essential spice paste includes a wealth of seeds (peppercorns, coriander, cumin, sesame seed, candlenut, clove, and nutmeg) and a number of roots (shallots, garlic, the two types of galangal, turmeric, and ginger), mixed with coconut oil, chiles, and shrimp paste. (Veggie versions omit the paste.) Complex, delicious, and truly Balinese!
Now, let's check out some mouthwatering Balinese desserts!
Bali’s hot and humid, so you’ll want some es campur, or shaved ice, to cool you off after a long day of doing fun things in Bali! The ice is always drenched in coconut milk and condensed milk, but the other toppings vary. You’ll probably see versions with grass jellies, nata de coco jellies, and avocado.
Bubur sumsum, or black rice pudding, is a combination of rice flour and coconut milk. It’s topped with a molasses-like palm sugar syrup. You might enjoy it with sweet potato dumplings.
These sweet rice flour cakes come in white and light green versions, and are a popular breakfast food. The green version gets its color from the pandan leaf. They’re often topped with brown sugar sauce, milk, or even the durian fruit! Look for them in town markets---you won’t have much luck trying to find them in cities.
Learn how to make laklak and bubur sumsum, plus authentic Balinese savory dishes, at this cooking class in Kuta!
Love the deep-fried food at carnivals? Balinese street vendors have their own local fried snack: pisang goreng, or deep-fried bananas (sometimes, plantains are used as well). Eating them with ice cream isn’t customary, but is highly recommended!
Somewhere in between a drink and dessert, these iced jelly drinks are a unique Indonesian experience.
- Es cendol (or dawet) is green rice flour jellies drenched in coconut milk, sweetened in palm sugar, and mixed with ice.
- Es cincau is very similar to es cendol, but uses grass jellies (made from cyclea barbata leaves) instead of rice jellies. Both are super refreshing!
Here’s another dessert-drink hybrid. Kopyor, meaning “broken,” refers to mutant coconuts, which have looser, spongier, sweeter meat than normal coconuts. Instead of being attached to the coconut, this meat floats around in the coconut water. So, you’ll enjoy the water and meat together as the kopyor drink. (Of course, you can also enjoy the meat on its own.)
Indonesia’s known for high-quality coffee, and kopi luwak’s the most premium type of coffee around. So, if you need caffeine, pick some up! The beans are digested by civets and left intact in their droppings---this process ferments the beans and gives them a light, smooth taste, with most bitterness removed.
If you’re more of a tea person and looking to drink tea like the locals, try teh panas. It’s black tea sweetened with lots of sugar. Sometimes, the locals add zesty ginger.
Where to Go for the Best Food in Bali
Best Spot for Seafood: Jimbaran Bay
By Bali Holidays Tours
You’re on an island, so if you love seafood, you’re in luck! Jimbaran Bay’s the most famous spot in Bali for local seafood cafes right on the beach. There’s 17 to choose from along the bay, and all are reliable choices. You’ll also get to enjoy breathtaking sunsets, followed by the flickering lights of fishing boat lanterns on the water, plus the sounds of strolling musicians. Keep in mind, though: you’ll probably need a reservation, especially during peak season.
Best Town for Vegetarian/Vegan Food: Ubud
It’s often hard to find reliable plant-based eats when traveling. Fortunately, that’s not the case when you’re in Ubud, the farm-to-table eating capital of Bali! There are loads of vegan restaurants and warungs in Ubud, most of which center their menus around local plants.
Plus, it’s easy to choose a plant-based cooking class in Ubud--- and some even feature rice field tours, market tours, or pick-your-own-ingredients experiences!
And Make Sure to Stop at Warungs!
Warungs are street food shops, and for the tastiest local fare, you’ll need to visit them. They’re much cheaper than fancy restaurants, but offer the most authentic versions of tasty local dishes! Usually, they are family-owned, simple establishments with small seating areas and a no-frills atmosphere. Often, their menus are limited, as they specialize in a single dish or dishes. There are so many awesome warungs in Bali that no one town on the island stands out for having the best set of warungs. Instead, here are the some of the best individual warungs for babi guling, sate, and nasi campur.
Best Warung for Babi Guling In Ubud: Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka
Easily the most famous warung in Bali for babi guling, Ibu Oka in Ubud rose to fame after the late Anthony Bourdain recommended it. Of course, the popularity means it’s usually packed soon after it opens. Located near the former palace, it’s easy to find. Just keep in mind---the babi guling usually runs out before 3PM!
Where It’s Located
Jalan Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud Tengah, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
Best Warung for Babi Guling in Seminyak: Warung Babi Guling Pak Malen
By The Bali Bible
If you’re in Seminyak and craving Bali’s most iconic dish, Warung Babi Guling Pak Malen is just as good as, if not better than, Ibu Oka. Pak Malen’s famous for the crispy pork skin and tender quality of the meat, and it’s less expensive than Ibu Oka, but just as packed. You’ll find it on Sunset Road.
Where It’s Located
Jalan Sunset Road No.554, Seminyak, Kuta, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Best Warung for Sate: Sate Babi Bawah Pohon in Legian
This warung’s name means “pork sate under a tree,” because its original stall was situated under a tree in Legian (it’s not under a tree anymore, but it’s still in Legian.) You’ll love the juicy, tender grilled and spiced pork, plus the famous sauce with expertly blended sweet, hot and savory flavors. Be ready for the spicy kick, though!
Where It’s Located
Jalan Dewi Sri IV, Jl. Campuhan I - Dewi Sri No.I, Legian, Kuta, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Best Warung for Nasi Campur: Warung Padmasari
Credit: The Bali Bible
The nasi campur at Warung Padmasari is super addicting, and is one of this warung’s signature dishes. Your rice will come with chicken, half a hard-boiled egg, tempeh, sate, urap and sambal sauce---a diverse mixture of Indonesian dishes. Plus, the warung staff is extremely friendly! So, if you’re ready for a cornucopia of flavors, look no further than Warung Padmasari. You’ll find it in Legian.
Where It’s Located
Jalan Padma No.14, Legian, Kuta, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
We hope you've enjoyed discovering what to eat on your Bali adventures! With this guide, you're sure to experience the top Balinese dishes.
Want to learn how to cook your favorite Balinese dishes?
Written by Jessica Huhn
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