Maya Kerthyasa

Born and raised in Bali, food and lifestyle journalist Maya Kerthyasa is passionate about sharing her island’s food culture. She co-hosts Indonesian food video series Masakan Rumah; is co-creator of The Dinner Series, an events program that celebrates and connects the island’s brightest culinary stars; and contributes to publications throughout the region. Whether you’re after local breakfasts or Italian by the beach, follow Maya’s guide to avoid the tourist traps and make the most of your time on the Island of the Gods.

The Dinner Series
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The Island’s Best Nasi Ayam

Nasi campur – the Indonesian staple of steamed rice and various condiments – is a very subjective dish. Most Balinese diners have their own preferences when it comes to spice levels, condiments and whether the rice is white, yellow or red. My favourite comes from a little home warung or eatery in Ubud called Men Juwel. The ayam kampung – village chickens that are free to roam and are full of flavour – that they cook are the secret weapon. The birds are braised in a powerful family recipe sauce laden with garlic, red shallots, galangal and ginger. And the sambal – a finely-chopped mix of raw red shallot and torch ginger flower – packs a serious punch. You pick and choose the other components of the dish. I usually opt for sautéed greens, roasted peanuts and a good handful of saur: fine shavings of smoky coconut made sweet with palm sugar. The trick is to get there in the morning when the food is fresh off the burners. There’s no better way to start the day.

Refined Indonesian

Indonesian food is finally having a moment in Bali’s upmarket dining ranks. For me, Kaum at Potato Head is the strongest player when it comes to bringing traditional flavours into a modern context. Chef Wayan Kresna Yasa spent nine years in the US, cooking for the likes of Dan Barber (Blue Hill Farm) and Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), and he’s a real genius when it comes to refining ethnic eats. The beauty of Kaum is that it spans the archipelago. There’s everything from Bali’s ayam sisit (shredded chicken made zingy with chopped red shallots and chillies) to West Javanese prawn-and-fish dumplings and gohu ikan tuna – Maluku’s coconut-spiked answer to ceviche with ginseng leaves, starfruit and calamansi lime. When I’m in the mood for revelling, the beach club downstairs never disappoints, and I’m really looking forward to the opening of Tanaman – Potato Head’s plant-based answer to Kaum – in the coming months.

Locally-Accented Drinks

Night Rooster is a smart little bar along my favourite Ubud eat-street, Jalan Dewi Sita. It’s operated by the team behind Locavore: the restaurant group that one can argue has singlehandedly elevated the calibre of fine dining on the island. Bartender Raka Ambarawana works with fruits, leaves and spices sourced from small-scale producers and Locavore’s own farm. He distills local grapes and kintamani oranges, creates ferments from salaks (snake fruit) and makes his own sweet vermouth. There’s no shortage of theatre either with smouldering shards of Cassia bark and blow-torched pine-cones part of the offering. It’s my favourite watering hole without a doubt.

Bright Italian By The Sea

I’m a sucker for sunsets and old-school charm, and La Luciola ticks both those boxes. It’s set along the now-booming Petitenget Beach strip and framed by a line of swaying coconut trees and a perfectly manicured lawn. Eats-wise it’s all about breezy beach-side Italian: textbook fritto misto (fried seafood), summery pasta offerings and house-baked bread. It’s consistently delicious and understatedly beautiful. A Seminyak classic through and through.

Street-Side Peruvian in Ubud 

Just down from Night Rooster is Pica, one of my favourite non-Indonesian restaurants. It’s pint-sized but it doesn’t lack in polish or flavour. The freshness of Cristian Encina’s bright ceviches – sometimes octopus, other times mahi-mahi – is a revelation in a land-locked town like Ubud. His side dishes are all-time, too. I often make a party of a couple of sides – the parsley-and-onion-spiked tomato salad and the Chifa fried-rice, perhaps –  rounded into a complete meal with a goat-cheese soufflé and a glass or two of Gamay.

Inner City Eats With A Side Of Nostalgia

Denpasar proper – which is nowhere near the airport – is definitely where it’s at in terms of local flavours. It’s a part of the island which is often overlooked by foreign visitors, but the traditional eateries here are the true local haunts of Bali: the places our parents used to eat when they visited the city to shop, study or socialise. Along Jalan Gaja Mada, the island’s first real commercial hub, sits a sweet little coffee shop called Bhineka Jaya. It was the first shop of its kind in the city and it’s been serving the same smoky, delightfully sludgy Bali coffee since 1935. Just around the corner sits Badung Market: a monstrous multi-level complex of food, household supplies and arts and crafts. It’s well worth a visit in the early hours of the morning if you’re interested in how the non-touristic side of the island eats and shops. My favourite Denpasar all-rounder is Warung Wardani. It delivers a mean nasi campur replete with all the classics: deep-fried wedges of tempeh, coconut-infused stewed jackfruit, smoke-licked spiced eggs and snake beans tossed through a perfectly balanced urap salad. When you need a hug from the inside, there are big steaming bowls of the classic Indonesian chicken noodle soup, soto ayam.

Seafood Sate and Fish-Ball Soup

I love a staycation along Bali’s east coast, partly because all road trips east involve a meal at Lesehan Sari Baruna. Across from the beach, just before the holiday town of Candidasa, this bare-bones open-air eatery specialises in seafood sate made with tuna which is minced, mixed with grated coconut, spices and palm sugar, then grilled over glowing coconut husks. The sticks are served alongside white rice, sautéed snake beans and meat balls – in this case, hand-rolled tuna –  known as bakso floating in a glassy fish-stock broth. I combine that with roasted peanuts, a good dollop of sambal matah (Balinese spicy shallot relish) and a glass of sweet iced tea for good measure.

A Sugar Hit You Won’t Forget

The buzz you get from 20 desserts and petit fours is difficult to erase from your memory. Fortunately, Will Goldfarb has added seven brilliant savoury courses to his degustation offering at Room 4 Dessert. For me, bites like the jackfruit taquitos, little shots of mushroom broth and light fried banana hearts are the real highlights of his revamped menu, but the sweets and the cocktails remain a triumph. Skip lunch to really dive in to the experience: it’s one for the books.

Guide last updated October 2019

Our guides are fact-checked and updated every three months. Read more here.

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