Foodie faves: Where to find the best warungs in Bali
Write your own tale of discovery from the humble roadside and beachside warungs of Bali, to its modern fine-diners.
- April 2018
There is no menu and we’re the only Westerners. But for around AUD $3 we eat like kings – dining on sate lilit (minced tuna grilled over coconut husks), pepes ikan (spiced minced tuna grilled in banana leaves), sautéed green beans, steamed rice and a clear parsley broth filled with bakso (fish balls). En route to Candidasa, a sleepy seaside resort town on Bali’s east coast, we’re dining at Warung Lesehan Sari Baruna. It’s a large, open-air roadside restaurant, a 45-minute drive from Denpasar’s hustle and bustle – and this is authentic Balinese cooking.
While Bali has been in the spotlight for its swag of fine-dining restaurants fronted by Aussie chefs, it’s in the humble hawker-like warungs that intrepid foodies can really discover the island’s authentic flavours. Scattered throughout Indonesia, these low-key restaurants are often family-run establishments with a few tables and chairs. Some have menus. Others specialise in one dish and have created destination dining for locals.
The next morning, Warung Ibu Oka 3, in a small shopfront opposite the Royal Palace in Ubud, pulls an early morning crowd. Like me, they’re here for one thing – the babi guling, a spicy spit-roasted suckling pig that is unique to Bali, Indonesia’s last remaining Hindu island.
Moist, with hints of chilli, turmeric, ginger and garlic, Anthony Bourdain once declared it the best pig he’d ever eaten. I’m inclined to agree. The AUD $5 ‘spesial’ arrives with chilli-flecked meat, slivers of turmeric-rich crackling, deep-fried puffs of pork rind and a side of green rice. Get there by 1pm, before the crackling runs out.
When we arrive at Sate Plecing Arjuna at 11am it’s already crammed. The shoebox space on a busy intersection in Denpasar is billowing with smoke from the open kitchen and its communal tables are packed. The only menu is in Bahasa (Indonesian) and the staff speaks no English. This is the rule, rather than the exception, at the warungs. The specialty of the house is sate — pork, beef or marrow barbecued on sticks — and I order the lot, to go, for around AUD $4.
Next on the day’s list is Warung Mak Beng, a popular seaside eatery in Sanur with communal seating and a brag wall of celebrity diners. Here it’s all about the nasi ikan (rice and fish) – deep-fried snapper cutlet, spicy sambal, rice and a fragrant fish-head soup. It’s minutes from the beach, a nice spot to take a post-lunch walk or dip.
Warungs aside, we can’t ignore Kaum restaurant, a new fine-dining Indonesian restaurant above Seminyak’s Potato Head Beach Club. Here pastry chef Dedy Sutan introduces us to the Balinese breakfast porridge known as bubur sumsum. Reimagined as a dessert on the Kaum menu, this simple coconut rice pudding has been elevated into a delicate suji (pandan betawi leaf) and vanilla bean-scented swirl of green and white, topped with fragrant coconut cream and sweet palm syrup. Kaum, Bahasa for tribe, celebrates Indonesia’s bold flavours with seasonal, local ingredients and the menu showcases signature dishes from the archipelago’s 18,000-plus islands.
We dine on spicy gulai udang, a curry of prawn tails, okra and plantains from Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, and perfectly cooked kalio daging sapi, a West Sumatran specialty made with braised beef, spices and coconut milk, and served with sweet potato crisps. The Balinese bebek goreng (slow-roasted duck) is dense and tender, and given a piquant twist with a green mango and chilli sambal. For dessert, there is a Dutch-inspired klappertaart (coconut bread pudding with chocolate meringue and rum-soaked raisins) and a Balinese es campur, a pretty pink Eton mess of sorts with fermented cassava, brioche, palm fruit, seaweed jelly and seasonal fruits.
Dip a toe in
Back on the warung trail we discover one of Bali’s best nasi campurs (rice with a mix of dishes) at Warung Eny, a family-run diner on Jalan Petitenget in Seminyak. Here the Indonesian favourite is given a clean-eats twist: the vegetables are organic, the fish caught fresh, and the meal arrives with a fresh coconut juice. Warung Eny also runs cooking classes at its Love Cooking School for those wanting to learn how to cook authentic Balinese food.
A must for any foodie’s list is Jimbaran Bay, on the south west coast of Bali, where each night about 30 warungs set up on the beachfront, selling everything from fish to shellfish and clams. It’s surely the freshest seafood on the island. Dine as the sun sets in a blaze of pink and tangerine and, as you are serenaded by travelling minstrels, feel the sand squelching between your toes.
RELATED: 8 top spots to have brunch in Bali
Our top four tips for eating in warungs:
- Most Bali warungs aren’t English speaking.
- Prepare to point – and stick with the signature dishes.
- Plan your visit before noon when the food (mostly unrefrigerated) is freshest and in supply.
- Learn a few local words to know what to order (below).
Helpful terms for ordering:
Make ordering a breeze on your warung adventure by keeping these Bali food terms in mind:
Nasi putih: plain white rice
Gado gado: mixed vegetables in peanut sauce
Bubur: savoury rice porridge
Nasi campur: steamed rice with a selection of meats and vegetables
Sate: meat on sticks
Where to find the warungs mentioned:
Warung Lesehan Sari Baruna,
Jalan Raya Pesinggahan, Klungkung
Warung Ibu Oka 3
2 Jalan Suweta, Tegal Sari, Ubud
Sate Plecing Arjuna
47 Jalan Arjuna, Denpasar
Warung Mak Beng
45 Jalan Hang Tuah, Sanur
51 Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak
97 Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak
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