When chef Judy Joo agreed to be a speaker at the 2019 Ubud Food Festival, the Cooking Channel host of Korean Food Made Simple had an ulterior motive: it gave her the opportunity to eat her way through Bali.
“Indonesia is home to the Spice Islands and was the hub of the historic spice route,” says Joo, who runs Korean restaurant Jinjuu in both Hong Kong and London. “This plentiful bounty of exotic herbs and spices makes for a wonderfully punchy and fragrant culinary scene showcasing ingredients such as chilis, shallots, various types of ginger, garlic, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, tamarind, calamansi limes and more. Local chefs use these ingredients generously, giving their cuisine extraordinary flavor and umani.”
Among Asian cuisines, Indonesian food tends to fly under the radar — but not for long. “Restaurants in Bali are now winning international acclaim, with places such as Nusantara, Locavore and Room 4 Dessert gaining the most attention,” she says.
Joo found Bali’s restaurant scene to be dynamic and trendy. “The vegan and no-waste movement is quite big here as well, as this small island has a strong commitment to preserving the environment,” she says. “It’s a wondrous place where you can nosh on traditional dishes such as babi guling — glistening whole-roasted pork — or modern fusion inventions, like a curious scoop of sweet chili tempeh ice cream.”
Below, Joo explains why the following were her favorite bites and sips during her first visit to Bali:
Must-have drink: Jamu
Where to get it: on the street (the accompanying photo is from Capella Ubud, Bali)
Why you should try it: Ubud comes from the word Ubad, which means “medicine,” and people come here to heal physically and spiritually. Jamu is a magical elixir concocted mainly of fresh turmeric, tamarind, ginger and kaffir lime, designed to reduce inflammation and help with all bodily ailments. It is traditionally a women’s drink and you’ll see lines of ladies every morning, waiting to get their daily rejuvenating shot. I gulped one down every single day and felt better for it!
Must-have dish: Chicken and rice
Where to get it: Nasi Ayam Kedewatan Ibu Mangku
Why you should try it: This classic must-try Balinese breakfast plate looks and feels like a full-on dinner, but it’s the best local way to start your day.
The chicken is braised and mixed with sambal, which gives it a deep, addictive flavor with a good amount of heat. Fried gizzards, a half-boiled egg, roasted peanuts, long beans and a savory stick of chicken satay fill out the plate, as well as a choice of fried rice crackers. I was in a serious food coma afterward, but my tummy was happy as ever.
Must-have dish: Coconut moringa curry
Where to get it: Kaum
Why you should try it: Served in a young coconut, this fresh, vibrant curry is chock-full of local moringa leaves and snake gourd. First, carefully scrap the flesh from the inside of the shell to add some extra creaminess to the curry. Traditional Balinese spices such as galangal, candle nuts, turmeric, garlic, shallots and chilis elevate this dish further, packing it full of local flavor. A good amount of toasted coconut floss finishes it off with a bit of crispiness, and it’s so tasty you’ll forget it’s vegan.
Must-have dish: Chilled seafood broth
Where to get it: Seasalt
Why you should try it: This gorgeously light, chilled pea flower soup delights with its bluish-purple hue and refreshing taste. Dashi gel, local crab and sea coconut fruit — which tastes a lot like green grapes — give this nori-infused broth intriguing texture and aroma.
Must-have dish: Ikan goreng
Where to get it: Capella Ubud, Bali
Why you should try it: It is common to eat fish for breakfast in Asia, and Bali is no different. This filling board of fried sardines, tossed with crispy garlic, chilis and lime, harbors a delectable savory quality complemented with a fragrant green chili and coriander sauce that proves insanely tasty. I ate every single piece of golden fried garlic and chili with a moist morsel of white meaty fish. It’s a breakfast for champions.
Must-have dish: Samurai
Where to get it: Sundara at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
Why you should try it: This award-winning Valrhona dessert impresses you first with its architectural design, and then captivates you with your first bite. Fruity deep chocolate notes marry with fresh red berries, but the surprise lies within, where a sweet fig and sansho pepper compote adds a welcomed subtle kick and makes this dish worthy of its accolades.
Must-have dish: Pepes ikan
Where to get it: Jala
Why you should try it: This local line-caught snapper is slathered in local spices and sambal before being wrapped carefully in a banana leaf. It’s grilled to allow the fish to essentially steam in its own juices.
The flavors blend together gorgeously, making this local delicacy one of the best bites on the island.