What I Ate Wednesday
I was in Bali 5 years ago. 18 years old and fully prepared with travel insurance, local currency, and all the right injections (good-traveller admin that I’ve got increasingly worse at). I was in my first year of vegetarianism and as much of a foodie as I’ve ever been; the month I spent in Indonesia was a feast of local goodies. Oily Mie/Nasi Goreng, super sweet coconuts, and Tempeh Curry were my daily dose…I loved the palm leaf plates and huge piles of white rice. My tastes have changed a little over the years, and to my surprise, so has Bali’s.
5 years on and the Hipster-Raw-Vegan-Poached-Egg-Avocado bomb has erupted like a volcano (too soon? My bad), and places like Ubud and Canguu are now the domain of some of the best wholefood, organic, and vegan cafes in the world. This is great… sort of. When I first arrived I was delighted by the innovative menus and amazing food art; who knew you could get raw bread?! 5 different kinds of vegan cheese? Chocolate brownies with more nutritional value than a kale smoothie? I was blown away. But after a couple of days of tackling monster salads and necking turmeric shots, I felt a little homesick for the quiet rice paddy restaurants serving the humble local dishes of my memories. Luckily, these still exist; tucked into side streets and sandwiched between hippy hangouts, there and tons of ‘Warungs’ doing Indonesia proud with their beautiful food and even more beautiful smiles.
So, this month I’m giving you not one, but TWO editions of What I Ate Wednesday! Behold, a full days of hipster vegan food VS a dedicated day of local cuisine. Which would you choose?
Week 1: #Hipster Wednesday
Breakfast: Seeds of Life Jar
Seeds of Life is the most amazing raw vegan café! Turns out everything under the sun can be raw, from Pizza to chocolate brownies. Today I tried their Green Chai Soul Jar: Coconut soaked Chia seeds layered between 2 different kinds of superfood smoothies, topped with their homemade seed bar and dried banana. This was ridiculously filling and unbelievably yummy.
Lunch: Raw Lasagne
My first ever raw vegan lasagne happened at Sayuri Healing Food. I was expecting it to basically be just like a layered salad, but the minced spiced veggies totally tasted like bolognaise, and the cashew cream béchamel sauce was legit cheesy. Homemade pesto marinated spinach in the middle, with a crunchy nut sprinkle to top it all off. Totally sold.
If that wasn’t enough, I also had a slice of their raw chocolate mud cake: think dates, avocado, and raw cacau wizzed into a marvellous mousey mixture and set in the freezer on a seed + almond base.
Dinner: Seitan Steak
I saw this on the menu and was too curious not to try it. This was by far the meaty-est dish I’ve ever experienced as a veggie, with the grilled Seitan (a kind of wheat gluten concentrate originally invented by Tibetan monks as a protein source) tasting salty and juicy, going perfectly with the mushroom pepper sauce it came with. Having a big ol’ plate of mashed potato and greens along side made me feel like I was back in English winter! Paradiso is Ubuds Vegan Cinema, so they serve your meal to your comfy sofa to eat while you watch (hence the gory dark picture!). Highly recommended activity.
Week 2: Warung Wednesday
Breakfast: Coconut and Dragon Fruit
Fresh coconuts are bountiful here, and while a more traditional Balinese breaky would have been Mai Gorerg or some other savoury dish, I couldn’t quite stomach rice this early in the morning and settled for a massive coconut instead. After drinking the juice you get to crack it open and eat the fresh coconut pulp, so this bad boy ends up being a pretty substantial and satisfying breakfast. I'm using my Bamboo Straw for everything now in an attempt to keep my plastic usage down.
I also munched my way through a big pink dragon fruit from a street stall in town – these crazy alien balls are hot pink through and through, and taste a bit like a sweet kiwi.
Lunch: Tofu Curry, Rice and Veggies
This was a total mystery order in a random local Warung. I basically just went in an asked them to bring me something nice, no meat. I knew the gamble had paid off when they presented me with this amazing pumpkin tofu curry, with greens sautéed in fresh coconut. Amazing.
Peckish after yoga, I dived into a little roadside Warung and paid 5p for a snack sized plate of Cap-Cay, a typical Balinese dish of stir-fried beansprouts and greens in spices. Hit. The. Spot.
Dinner: Gado Gado
My absolute favourite Balinese dish in my absolute favourite local restaurant! Warung Bai Bai is a family run joint in Ubud serving beautifully cooked traditional dishes for the cheapest price imaginable. My order tonight was Gado-Gado, which comes as a plate of steamed veggies and a bowl of roasted peanut sauce. I’m a die hard peanut butter worshiper, and have been dipping veggies in the stuff for years back home. I always considered this a bit of a weird personal taste… turns out I was just on the wrong continent the whole time.
So there you have it...
two ways to fill you belly in Bali. Both delicious, nutritious, and plant based… but as a socially conscientious traveller which really is best to choose? Interestingly, despite the health hype of week one’s options, I probably consumed way more sugar and oil that I did in week two (Yes it was raw fruit sugars and cold pressed coconut oil, but let’s not kid ourselves). I also spent far more money; the first day costing a total of £15, with the following coming in at a humble £4.50. And perhaps most importantly of all, although I loved eating swanky vegan food for a fraction of UK restaurant prices, is there really much point in travelling to the other side of the world to eat like a Westerner? Is it better, really, to support local chefs and embrace their traditional food culture?
I’ve run this dilemma through my head, and concluded that (as with pretty much everything), its all about balance. Culture is always shifting, always changing. In the 5 years between my two trips to Bali, the island has shapeshifted and evolved into something equally beautiful. Maybe it is even more of a testimony to the Indonesian culture of wonderful hospitality and acceptance. Bali has welcomed people from around the world, and all the baggage they come with. Many of the best raw vegan chef’s on the island are local Balinese people, who have trained and adapted to welcome philosophies brought in by westerners.
The answer? Try both. Keep it balanced.
Life is like a box of chocolates; just eat the whole damned box.
Peace, Love, and MSG,