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Indonesian Food: Bali, Ubud and Yogyakarta

If you’re like many tourists your trip to beautiful Indonesia includes Bali and most likely Depensar, Kuta and Ubud.  Amid the chaos and the clutter, is some of the best and least expensive food you’ll find anywhere.  Most tourists looking for cheap eats are drawn to what they know, and it’s not hard to find a joint that reminds you of home.  Along Kuta beach, the filthy, narrow streets are cluttered with fast food’s most famous restaurants including McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s and Burger King, and prominent coffee shops like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean are magnets for tourists. When thinking of a classic tourist destination, Depensar has all the usual suspects like The Hard Rock Cafe and even some unusual ones like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Johnny Rocket’s.  While there is nothing wrong searching for a taste of home, skipping out on the local flavor here would be a big mistake.

While you most likely don’t want to drink the water on the island of Bali, it’s easily replaceable with a delicious, creamy fruit shake.  Most restaurants and even some roadside stands blend up Banana and Honey, Chocolate Avocado and Tropical Fruit drinks.  The sweet, fresh flavor tickles your tastebuds as it slides down your throat offering pure refreshment on a hot day.  If beer is more your style, you’ll simply grab a Bintang from any restaurant or from a cooler along the beach.

When your stomach is rumbling look no farther than the quaint Indonesian restaurants tucked back along the side roads away from the hustle and bustle.  Here fresh meats and vegetables steamed and soaked in spicy sauces are a delicacy.  If you crave something that is light on your pallet and won’t sit heavy in your stomach, try the Indonesian Gado-Gado.  Gado-Gado is a healthy portion of steamed or sautéed vegetables in a perfectly seasoned peanut sauce served with a traditional Indonesian cracker, which has the texture of an American pork rein.

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My favorite Gado-Gado in the Denpensar/Kuta Beach area is found at Made’s Warung.  In my opinion, it’s one of the top places to eat on the island serving both tourists and locals alike.  Remember, however, you are in Bali, which is a predominantly Hindu island in Indonesia.  Hindus believe the cow is sacred and do not eat beef.

But as is true in many country, food varies from region to region.  Just hundreds of miles away on the main Indonesian Island of Java, which is predominantly Muslim,  beef is favored over pork, which is forbidden in the Qu’ran.  “Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked a name other than that of Allah.” [Al-Qur’ân 5:3].  For breakfast for example, your hotel may offer beef bacon instead of the traditional pork.  And, you won’t find suckling pig, a favorite on the Island of Bali, in Jakarta or Yogyakarta.

In Ubud, for example, the small, rough-looking Babi Guling eatery called Ibu Oka sits directly across from the Royal Palace near Ubud’s famous Arts Market is THE place to try Bali’s famous Suckling Pig.

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The “special” will cost you $30,000 RI or approximately $3.50 US and includes strips of juicy, flavorful pork, a link of blood sausage, veggies or a chunk of well-marinated potato topped with a square of crispy pork skin.  It’s all perfectly seasoned with a mix of spices sure to heat up your palate without being overly spicy.  While the restaurants itself isn’t clean, don’t be intimidated.   As you enter, you’ll wander past the “kitchen”, which is more like an assembly line.  You’ll take your shoes off, wash your hands in the small, dirty sink positioned outside and climb up onto a platform and grab seat on the floor.  Don’t be afraid – dig in!

You’ll find most meals in Bali and on the islands of Lombok and Java include a rice, a meat and a vegetable.  Sate is huge here.  It’s one of the cheapest and tastiest eats on any of Indonesia’s islands.  At night markets in Bali and along Malioboro in Yogyakarta men and women fan the flames of a few coals cooking small skewers of beef, chicken or pork.  Alongside sit carts filled with colorful sweets and pastries or fried, flavored dough or stalls filled with small, brown jack fruit and bananas.