A guide to eating around Bali, by Rahel Stephanie

From typical roadside warungs to set menu spots and pay-by-donation eateries, the Spoons supperclub chef breaks down the best of the Indonesian island

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

From typical roadside warungs to set menu spots and pay-by-donation eateries, the Spoons supperclub chef breaks down the best of the Indonesian island

By Felicity Martin08 May 2024

There’s a reason Bali is dubbed ‘island of the gods’. Its white sand beaches, striking rock formations and rich culture make it a slice of paradise that’s increasingly making its way onto travellers’ bucket lists. With that has famously come an influx of influencers and digital nomads, with TikToks of the Indonesian province’s stunning landscape impossible to ignore on the FYP. But look beyond the tourist hotspots and you’ll find a vibrant culture, with Bali’s renowned culinary delights that dance on the tongue.

Chef and supper club host Rahel Stephanie (also a former woo’s one) was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and regularly visits Bali, often going there to see her close friends. “After moving away [to Singapore] aged nine I felt a consistent longing for my country’s cuisine,” she says. “We’d return to Indonesia once or twice a year, and leading up to the trip I would fantasise about the local foods I would soon enjoy. Ahead of each return trip we’d fill our luggage to the brim with packed treats and ingredients we could relish for months to come.”

After relocating to London to study 11 years ago, Stephanie experienced a “culture shock, to say the least”. “My palate had always been blessed with authentic flavours. I noticed widespread inaccurate representations of Indonesian cuisine and I found almost no Indonesian restaurants. I was compelled to reclaim my culture and correct misconceptions of the cuisine.”

That feeling found her launching Spoons, a pop-up Indonesian supper club, in late 2019, as “a means to share delicious foods and little-known recipes from my country with friends”. Two years on, spots at her sought-after events are one of the hottest meal tickets in London, known to sell out in under a minute.

But her work as a chef extends beyond simply providing delicious menus at these clubs, instead cutting through whitewashed versions of her culture’s food. “I strive to put authentic Indonesian flavours firmly and accurately on the western map,” she says. “To me, cooking Indonesian dishes serves as a way of reclaiming, decolonising and celebrating the foods of my heritage.”

Late last year she published Pedas, a beautifully designed recipe zine compiling some of the fiery (‘pedas’ means spicy) dishes that she loves. “Through this book, I’m casting a light on the diverse culinary range of Indonesia, placing emphasis on lesser-known, regional dishes,” she says. She’s also about to add a new dish to the menu of Wagamama’s Noodle Lab test kitchen: a sambal fried chicken recipe inspired by ayam geprek, a popular meal from the Indonesian island of Java. Think: lightly battered chicken coated in garlic and pepper powder, served with tomato sambal, and coconut rice with a crispy sesame sprinkle.

Balinese food, Stephanie explains, is all about “fresh, light and aromatic ingredients”. “Unlike the rest of Indonesia which consists of a majority Muslim population, Bali is an island that is predominantly Hindu. As such, you'll find pork being served up regularly.” What are the dishes that she recommends sampling? To her, there are two clear must-tries: “the varieties of lawar: a mix of finely chopped meat, vegetables, grated coconut and spices, and babi guling: spit-roast pig stuffed with rich traditional spices and vegetable mixes such as cassava leaves, slowly rolled over a coal fire – guling means ‘to roll’ in Indonesian.”

When visiting the province, she says, it’s easy to fall into the plethora of tourist traps on offer, “but much of Bali is often overlooked”. “Beyond beach clubs and smoothie bowls, Bali provides a diversity of experiences and atmospheres, from the bustling cityscape of Denpasar to the serene rice paddies of Tabanan (just half an hour away from Canggu) and the culinary explorations throughout Gianyar.”

Below, Stephanie takes us through her favourite places to eat in Bali, from typical roadside eateries to bougie set menu spots, where to grab a coffee, plus her selection of the best bars to drink at, pre- or post-dinner. Brb, booking a trip asap!

Nasi Ikan Bakar Manna, Kuta

Warungs are humble, street-side restaurants and cafés that you find all over Indonesia. This family-run one is in Kuta, in the far south of Bali, and it specialises in grilled fish with corn rice, which comes with its own recipe sambal manna, its take on a spicy Indonesian relish that’s been passed down through generations. The place is run by a couple and their daughter Kyla, who is also an artist and an illustrator. She designed the menus and curated the interior, which is all flashy colours and graphic table mats. You also find her often working the tables. As Kyla puts it, the warung is a place filled with love and tradition. It’s very rare in Bali to find a place that’s so unpretentiously stunning – in a contemporary sense – while maintaining warmth and a genuine family atmosphere that makes it feel like you’re walking into someone’s dining room.

Fed by Made, Seminyak

This reservation-only restaurant is run by four friends, two of whom used to run pop-ups in Melbourne before they moved back to Bali to open their first brick-and-mortar place. Fed serves no-choice six-course set menus, which change biweekly and take inspiration from restaurants all over the world, including Planque and Mangal II in London. Their approach is to reconceptualise that kind of modern approach to cooking by incorporating Indonesia-specific ingredients: lemongrass sausages, pork chops with green sambal, raw fish with kecombrang torch ginger. For pudding, they’ve done a snake fruit crumble which is really special. They’ve also got a really gorgeous natural wine list with some locally produced low-intervention wines by Park Juice, a side-project of one of the owners. And it’s great value for money: the six-course menu costs 350,000 rupiah, which is less than £20. It’s one of the best eating experiences I’ve had in Bali, and a must-try when you’re there.

Klepon Gianyar, Gianyar

A klepon is a traditional sweet snack of glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar and coated in freshly shaved coconut. Over the years I’ve eaten a lot of klepons, but none have come close to the ones at this traditional warung in Gianyar. They’re usually made with dry palm sugar, but here they use liquid sugar to ensure that they retain that explosive bite. And they’re made fresh, which means you might have to wait for about 30 minutes, but it’s worth it as you can watch the production line of ladies: one hand-moulding the glutinous rice batter, another filling them with the sugar, a third tossing them into a large pot of boiling water and a fourth who coats them in freshly shaved coconut. It’s the most beautifully intricate and strategic assembly line I’ve ever seen. And the results are incredible: perfectly bouncy balls with a hint of saltiness, that explode with warm palm sugar.

Dapur Bali Mula

Head to the island's northern coast, where Chef Jero, a local priest, leads a one-of-a-kind kitchen, offering special menus on a pay-by-donation basis. Each dish takes shape over a wood-fired clay stove, a testament to Jero's skill and dedication. Embracing traditional methods and local ingredients, his creations capture the essence of the region with dishes infused with palm wine, coconut and mango. You can even stay on site to take in uninterrupted views of the coastline and watch dolphins over the morning sunrise.

Lawar Marlin Bu Devi

Lawar Marlin Bu Devi is a modest establishment that specialises in the Balinese kingfish ceviche. It’s an unbelievable dish, in which tender kingfish is transformed into ceviche and served with a fragrant rice platter and spiced aromatic salads. These are flavours you won’t find elsewhere.

Bhineka Djaja (Kopi Bali)

Step into history at Bhineka Djaja, Bali's iconic coffeeshop, established in 1935 during the Dutch colonisation of the islands. Specialising in authentic Balinese coffee (known for its floral acidity), enjoy your cup alongside a unique mix of patrons, from newspaper-reading elders to motorbike groups and students.

Tandjung Sari

This quaint beachfront hotel is steeped in history. Over the years, it has welcomed a string of iconic guests including David Bowie, Eurythmics and Yoko Ono. The hotel is all about understated luxury, with Balinese antiques and timeless hospitality. Even if you don't stay, book a beachfront dinner to enjoy a menu of Indonesian classics on the soft white sand, serenaded by the rhythmic crash of waves – total bliss.

Cahyati Press

Cahyati Press is a little literary oasis manifested from the collaboration of two friends, Avi and Kat. The store features the most stunning and carefully curated selection of publications (books and zines alike) by both local and international authors [it also stocks limited copies of Stephanie’s Pedas zine]. You’ll find an array of genres – from cookery and political literature to music and poetry, set against a backdrop of lush pastel hues of lilac and mint. A must-visit for fans of literature and print.

Kawi, Ubud

In the heart of Ubud is Kawi, a charming cocktail bar with a laid-back and intimate atmosphere. The focus here is clear – your drink takes centre stage. The menu is full of unique flavours, all inspired by local ingredients only found in this region.