Rice nation

in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
779 words, 4 minutes to read

Nasi goreng comes with rice (it’s literally “fried rice”), Mie goreng with noodles (accordingly “fried noodles”). Both basics around here, the former local Indonesian, the latter imported from China. Lest you think if you order them “with chicken” you’ll actually notice the little poultry scraps. Meat in Bali is at a premium.

Ask a local about what would be a typical dish to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner and they’re very likely to respond with some form of rice. Even dessert would be rice, but sweet. For the first two days we had difficulties finding proper proteins to keep a balanced diet without paying an arm and a leg for some tourist-targeted steak.

Mie goreng

Mie goreng

The places where we did get large meat portions were quite expensive, compared the warungs (local restaurants, though same name also used for small grocery stores) where residents dine regularly. Think 60,000 IDR for a Thai-style curry or 80,000 IDR for a whole (small-ish) baked chicken versus 15-20,000 IDR for either of the gorengs. Meat simply is expensive here, perhaps because the heat makes it cumbersome to store and transport, or perhaps grains for feeding animals need to be imported from a cooler climate. And since it’s a Hindu island, eating beef is out of the question.

Acquiring our favorite veggies is a problem too. I thought the tomatoes we have at wintertime in Poland are bad enough, but the ones sold here have hands down beaten those at home. Bland and tasteless. Cucumbers are soft and wrinkled, so no luck here either. They do have iceberg lettuce, plenty in fact, and they must be importing it from somewhere, since I can’t imagine it growing here. Carrots are popular, which is surprising, since I know them from our cool Polish climate, historically used for their virtue of durability and easy storage in the winter.

Fruits are in abundance. Melons, papayas, mangoes, ten types of bananas (twice as expensive as in Poland, though), watermelons (these much smaller and not as sweet as in Bulgaria). Our breakfast consisted usually of two or three fruit varieties, accompanied by plain, sweet yogurt (no way to find it unsweetened, similarly like in Spain) and a cup of local Kopi Bubuk—black, strong, Balinese coffee. It wouldn’t keep us satisfied for long, but with the delicious taste of most local fruits, it was a very graceful start of day.


Local selection of Bananas

We dined out for all remaining meals, so having acquired some recommendations from residents, we tested a number of restaurants around. Surprisingly, most of the dishes weren’t nearly as intensely spiced as we were expecting (and hoping for), based on what we know about cuisine in the vicinity of the equator. In fact, we had to ask for extra chili everywhere (and every time they were forgetting to bring it, so we had to ask again). The times when a dish was spiced properly, it was usually sweet. Not sure if that’s because we’re white and locals thought we were too delicate to stomach local tastes, or because the whole cuisine is just this way.

Bintang beer

Bintang beer

Alcohol is crazy expensive. Compared even to the prices back in Poland, where a standard beer pint in a shop would cost the equivalent of 8,000 IDR, compared to minimum 25,000 IDR around here. Indonesia is a Muslim country after all, even if Bali is a Hindu enclave, so alcohol is scarcely welcome and taxed accordingly, so as to prevent the general population from indulging.

Even so, most of the foreigners don’t seem to mind (and for people from Australia, Holland and elsewhere “western” the prices are probably still reasonable), so the one Balinese beer brand is literally everywhere—in restaurants large and small, shops, in the streets, on t-shirts, tank tops and flip flops. Obviously, the brand is aiming to become synonymous with the island itself.

Pringles salt & seaweed flavor

Pringles salt & seaweed flavor

Finally there are the international food conglomerates and corporations, always present wherever there’s money to be made. It still feels odd to travel to the other side of the world, go to a shop and see the same Mars, Snickers, Kit-Kat bars and Pringles, albeit with a local twist—Kit Kat had a “green tea” flavor, Pringles and other crispy junk food often featured some sort of seaweed combination.

Frankly, we’re looking forward to come back home, go to our local Tesco, buy our tomatoes, cucumbers, olives (completely unavailable here), feta (likewise nonexistent) and prepare a big, old Шопска салата (“shopska salad”, a Bulgarian classic). As much as we love the fruit extravaganza here, we would’ve had trouble staying on the local diet longer than the three weeks we managed.