There are so many reasons why Bali is still, despite a recent run of lousy luck, one of the most beautiful and interesting places to visit in Southeast Asia. I’d go so far as to say that no other destination in the region can compete with its combination of culture and history, gorgeous beaches, lush tropical vistas, great shopping, good people, sexy hotels, and sleek bars and restaurants. Sure, some places might be better at one thing or another, but Bali has the total package. Want to loaf around on a white sand beach, hole up in a sexy bungalow with a loved one, play a round of golf, go diving, get pampered in an ultra-luxe spa for the afternoon, spend the day touring temples or sourcing awesome homewares and other accessories to ship home? No problem. You can do all that and more in Bali.
Bali also has several pretty good restaurants. Over the last week, I had the chance to eat my way across the island. I checked out the very well-reputed and up-market Mozaic in Ubud, helmed by a Thomas Keller protege; the sexy and very romantic Kafe Warisan in Seminyak, which serves excellent, classic French food; the seductive Breeze, also in Seminyak, whose tables are as close as you can get to the ocean and whose duck tasting plate was well worth getting lost for half an hour trying to find the restaurant; and the restaurant at the Damai in Lovina, whose new Danish chef is serving stylish food in a relaxed and comfy setting. I also had a lovely chicken porridge at Amandari in Ubud, an insanely fresh ginger tea in a private herb garden in East Bali, and some delicious crispy duck at the Komaneka resort in Tanggayuda.
The best two meals I had in Bali were in Ubud. They were also, ironically, the cheapest meals of my trip. The first was at Ibu Oka, a babi guling (spit-roasted, spiced suckling pig) specialist that is famous across the island. Seriously, mention babi guling to any Balinese native and he or she will smile and immediately say, “Ibu Oka.” And given that there’s a babi guling stall on just about every street corner and in every village in Bali, being the best really means something there. My travel companion, and babi guling fanatic, L had been to Ibu Oka three times during her last trip to Bali (it was a 4 day trip). For the first few days of our visit, it was all she could talk about. She even brought it up during our meetings (it was a work trip after all). Thankfully, babi guling is a shared passion in Bali and several of our new business acquaintances shared L’s fetish for the roast suckling pig. Instead of being appalled, they sympathized.
Ibu Oka is a small, slightly dingy open-air restaurant located smack in the middle of Ubud town. You have to go early (ideally around 1030am), firstly to avoid the queues, but also (and more importantly) to ensure that you won’t arrive only to be told that they are sold out (the restaurant only prepares a couple each day). While there are a few variations, order the “pisah”, which translates to a plate full of everything: soft, succulent meat, crispy skin, deep-fried intestines, more pork meat mixed with spices, and a chilli-vegetable relish. This is served with rice. Order your meal, take off your shoes and head into the dining area. Sit on the floor and dig into one of the most transcendental food experiences of your life; it really is an almost religious experience.
Not too far from Ibu Oka is Naughty Nuri’s. This roadside shack of a restaurant is directly opposite the Neka Museum (a must-visit for art lovers), so it’s easy-peasy to find. This open-air dive is divine. The menu is written on a number of boards that adorn one of the interior walls. While there are a number of both Western and Indonesian options, every regular will tell you to order the ribs. Each gorgeous rack is marinated (in some sort of “special sauce”) and barbecued to order. The meat is soft and tender and utterly adictive. Nuri’s is also well-known for serving the very best martinis on the island. And I have to say, they were pretty darned amazing. I had not had such a good, ice-cold, properly made vodka martini in ages. It was so good in fact that I had two, at lunch!
Ibu Oka and Naughty Nuri’s are clear examples that not all good eatin’ is chi-chi eatin’. In fact, sometimes the very best meals are the cheap and cheerful ones shared with good people. Of course, it helps that the food at these two establishments is mind-blowingly good. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are so many reasons to visit Bali. Ibu Oka and Naughty Nuri’s are, without doubt, two of the best.
Jalan Tegal Sari No 2 Ubud, Tel: 976 345
Jalan Sanggingan, opposite the Neka Museum, Tel: 977 547