Being a Veg while traveling to Bali

If you've been to South East Asia, you'll know that 'food, eateries and tasting local cuisine' isn't on the top of your list of things to do. I am no food person, but I do get cravings. And if you're in the middle of Indonesia, and have a veg burger craving, you're doomed! You're actually doomed. I was in Bali, and I wanted a burger. We must have asked almost every person who spoke good English and knew Bali well enough if we could find a joint that sells veg burgers. All we got were amused looks and sometimes a little sympathy.

But not getting what you want can be a bummer. It's a life and death situation - can cheer you up or leave you feeling empty. With scores of people turning veg or already veg and travelling all over the world, there are a lot of Saravana Bhavans, Haldirams and Udupi restaurants that have opened in many countries. So that's one big comforting factor.

Some of my experiences and small muddles of noodles that I fell into while in Bali !
  • Maggi can be a problem. The veg flavour tastes so bland, that if you're expecting it to taste like the maggi back home, you'll have a shock. I had only the option of one flavour of maggi on the return flight, and I couldn't finish it, I had to go hungry. (I assumed I would get some rice and curry, I didn't)
  • Also, the language on the cans of maggi and almost all other tinned food is predominantly Bahasa Indonesian, I couldn't make head or tail of it. It could drive you crazy if you're trying to make sure what you bought is pure veg or not. No green or red dot to help you.
  • Don't be surprised to find no Mc Aloo Tikki or the Veg Zinger burger in the McDonalds or KFCs. And unless you want a sub without a patty, nothing vegetarian at subway too. Am writing this down here so you guys don't disappoint yourselves like I did. Don't try the Burger Kings either :) - I was close to making my own burger !!!
  • We stayed a little farther than Canggu, and the nearest good restaurants were near Echo beach. So the options were we either stick to what we get in the villa, or ride a long way to Echo Beach. The small hotels in between do not serve any veg food. In fact, they wouldn't even understand if we told them we need something 'veg'. So I invariably landed having fruits every morning. 

  • I was quite apprehensive when we chose a package tour of underwater activities + sunset at Uluwatu + traditional Balinese dinner by the sea. Even though I had chosen veg, I had no hope! But to my surprise, I quite liked my dinner. Rice and some simple boiled vegetables with a tasty sauce to accompany it. 
  • Cravings had to be at times dealt with stopping at a Carrefour and picking up some chocolate donuts!!
However, even though Bali is largely aligned to non-veg such as sea food or pork delicacies you'll find some speciality restaurants. Vegetarian mei goreng (veg fried noodles) is a Balinese dish and is yumm. A local fruit, called durian or duren is loved by the Balinese, however I didn't quite like it. Apparently it's an acquired taste. Mangosteens are aplenty, and we loved them! Get a sense of the local fruits here.

Just a few tips to get you by :)
  • Wherever you go, you're going to find the basics - bread, butter, marmalades, toppings. You don't even need to pack it from home. Every departmental store sells this stuff. Buy and keep. You never know when you'll reach some locality where there's no veg food in sight.
  • Rice is a staple diet, and some hotels give you choices between a veg or non veg side dish. Although the options are going to be limited, maybe just a clear vegetable soup in some cases, you won't go hungry.
  • Salads are in plenty. So are fresh juices. That's one of the huge plus points. Most eateries in tourist areas serve all kinds of fresh fruits. They will even serve fruits that you may never have seen in your life! And the coconuts, they have enough water for two people!
Bintang is the popular brand of beer and is quite nice!
  • Another easy way to find veg food is walking into a cafe that's fairly popular with tourists. They serve cheese paninis or veg sandwiches. It might be slightly more expensive, but it's a great way to chill and get tasty veg food! I enjoyed the limited options at Cafe Moka. We were riding around and thought we'll try it out.
  • Just because you're a veg, don't skip the famous local restaurants. They are a great experience in themselves with traditional dances or music being played. The mood is too good. And as I said, they'll serve something veg. We went to Baliku Cafe in Jimbaran - and even though the name in big fat letters was 'Grilled Seafood' - I liked what I got.

The group of musicians came to our table and sang a traditional song, though we did not understand it, we were overwhelmed.

  • I saw myself ordering a lot of Margherita pizza. Sometimes it's the safest option. And super tasty. Also, the plain garlic pasta (Aglio E Olio). We recommend Old Man's Cafe - they serve western and continental food, as well as traditional dishes. It's a very chilled out place, with live music on weekends.
  • In the famous party areas of Kuta, every restopub/ hotel offers veg options. We had a great time at the Espresso bar with some live music and some Italian food! We went on a weekday, so we had to look for 2 things - a lively place and some veg food. And this bar, even on a Monday night had a live band, and their menu was quite decent.
  • Even to the hungry tourist in Tanah Lot there're a lot of veg options, in an other wise non-veg menu. We had our lunch from The Ocean restaurant, which is very close to the temple, with a beautiful view of the ocean and they serve spring rolls, veg pizza, margherita pizza to name a few. 
  • There are plenty of options in Ubud, you can read more here. In fact Ubud is the hub of healthy living, so you'll find completely veg restaurants :)
Don't go to South East Asia worried that as a vegetarian, you will suffer, for there are a lot of ways to work around it and keep your stomach happy. Bali is a heaven of healthy living, so you're bound to run in to a restaurant that's only vegan! Just don't have expectations to get familiar food. Having said that, go with an open mind, for there's a lot of good food waiting for you in Bali! Have you been there and had similar experiences? I'd love to hear, leave a comment :)
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  1. Plenty of salds and soups actually do make up for the non-veg centric food here. However, many of these salds have dried shrimp in them...

    1. That's true, you've got to ask twice to make sure they understand what you mean by veg. But it's still not difficult to get a total veg meal !

  2. Being vegetarians we have been in similar situations. It is sometimes such a let down, when you crave to try out some local cuisine and not being able to make sure if its veg or not. Loved reading your post on Bali veg food experience Shruti :)

    1. Totally, it worsens if you want to try out the local cuisine - but I think we figure out ways of our own :) Thanks for reading !

  3. A nice read n a very informative insight.