Balinese Street Food, On The Street

Day 46, Grand Asia 2018

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, Bali, Indonesia:

Tourists don’t come to Denpasar, our driver said. The capital of Bali, with its 1 million people, is a big city with crazy traffic but no popular tourist sites. The tourists migrate to Ubud’s art markets, the temples throughout the countryside, the monkey forests in the hills and especially to Kuta and other beaches along the coast.

Two of us met our hired driver and dove deep into the heart of Denpasar, inching along in traffic jammed by a cremation procession somewhere ahead, our driver surmised. We were heading for Bhineka Djaja, established in the 1930s and the oldest coffee purveyor on the island. It was the starting place for our walking food tour of the city center. Our guide was Ayu, a native of Denpasar with excellent English and a joy in sharing her food and city. As her business card states, she is a Senior Foodie Buddy with Good Indonesian Food, “presenting culinary heritage to the world.”


We started right there in the café, where a cup of Bali coffee was just 8,000 rupiah, or $0.55. Cappuccino was about a dollar. Because the café only sells coffee, Ayu had brought a large bag of fried bananas, which we found delicious. She left the rest for the other customers at the handful of tables. Sharing food brought to the café is a tradition.


The coffee shop is on Jalan Sulawesi, a street in the center of town known for its fabric stores. We wandered through a few, admiring the bright colors, the sheer laces and the beautiful border patterns for sarongs. Unfortunately for many of us Americans, the sizes of the ready-made clothes are small, and I would estimate that their largest would merit a medium tag at home. Of course, if you had time you could buy the fabric and have the local tailors fit it for you. We were satisfied just admiring what we saw.


A few blocks down the street is a large city park, across from the governor’s mansion. We stopped here for lumpia, an Indonesian spring roll, and fried tempeh, a soy product. The vendor used scissors to snip them into bite-sized pieces placed in a paper cone and then doused with a flavorful peanut sauce. She added a couple of long toothpicks and we devoured them at a nearby picnic table.


I never would have dared to eat from a street cart on my own, and this wasn’t even a cart – just a woman with a box of food placed on a small concrete pedestal.

We next walked a few steps to a pedestrian road between the park and a temple for pork satay and vegetables called seromotan. Ayu went to one of the vendors sitting along the street tending a small grill. He finished cooking a handful of the skewered meat for us. It was delicious.


I wasn’t as crazy about our next sampling, goat. The small restaurant had a grill out front and a few men washing and drying dishes, with a few tables behind them. We tried the flavorful goat curry, but my bite was more gristle than meat. The goat satay was better – still a tough chew, but well seasoned and worth the effort. The same family has run this establishment, a block away from the park, for three generations.


All along our leisurely walk we stopped to take photographs while Ayu described the buildings and temples we passed. The heat and humidity was oppressive. I was glad to be wearing my “kool tie” with its moisture-containing crystals around my neck. The forecasted rain never came, but I used my umbrella as a parasol when the large trees lining the streets didn’t shade us. Today was a “dress day,” meaning lots of locals wore traditional garb rather than western to the office. We saw lots of them, and a schoolboy waved from the back of a scooter.


After several samplings of spicy food, we headed for a bakery where Ayu bought us small pastries. One was a layer cake made popular by the Dutch. Another was a rice roll wrapped in a banana leaf.

Our last stop was at a restaurant with an air-conditioned dining room – heaven! Equally refreshing was the orange ice – essentially orange juice in a glass of ice. I was momentarily concerned about the ice. But Ayu encouraged us to not be concerned, and so I wasn’t.


Along with the refreshing orange ice we had nasi campur, white rice with small portions of meat, vegetables, fried dried shrimp, eggs and seasonings. Each was flavorful with varying degrees of spiciness and heat. The problem was that we were growing very full, so we barely made a dent in it. No problem – when we had our fill, Ayu packaged up the leftovers to take home to her three dogs, who apparently like spicy Indonesian food.

Throughout our walk, we saw numerous temples, shrines, statues and offerings placed on the sidewalk and grass.


We hated to leave Ayu, but the tour was over and our driver had returned to fetch us. Our original plan included a stop at a beach, but we agreed that we were drained by the heat and ready to return to the ship and a cool shower.


At dinner others described their day traveling to the temples, the art centers and the beaches of Bali. But we think we had the best tour – and we might have been the only passengers on the ship who visited the not-so-touristy destination of downtown Denpasar.