Tanpa Daging: A Vegetarian’s Guide To Bali
It’s often challenging to find good vegetarian food when you travel abroad, and one does feel the instinct of sticking to tried-and-tested Indian cuisine wherever you go. But you don’t have to feel confined, not in Bali, that beachy island paradise with a selection of dishes large enough to rival the waters surrounding it.
Contrary to popular belief, Bali is a fairly vegetarian-friendly place. The island’s cuisine is made from a flavourful combination of meat, fish, and vegetables, with flavours derived from liberal use of coriander, peppers, shallots, Kaffir lime, ginger, and nutmeg, among others. Because the island is predominantly Hindu, its culinary traditions are noticeably distinct from other Indonesian islands, and while they do enjoy a variety of nonvegetarian ingredients, you’ll rarely see beef on the menu.
Nevertheless, Baliense food will accommodate your vegetarian preferences. There’s no shortage of plant-based dishes to pique your appetite and satisfy your hunger.
1. Nasi Goreng
You may have heard of Nasi Goreng if you frequent Asian restaurants in Indian metros. It is essentially fried rice, and can be cooked with any kind of meat or fish. But it’s also vegetarian-safe, because you can always request your chef to make it “tanpa daging” or “without meat”, so you’ll receive delicious rice cooked with vegetables. To be extra sure, you can also request it to be “tanpa daging dan tanpa ikan”, so you’ll avoid the chance of your meal being topped with anchovies, as they sometimes are.
2. Gado Gado
This is one healthful salad you’ll be sorry not to try. Gado-Gado is made from lettuce, potatoes, cabbage, tofu, and root vegetables like carrot. Bean sprouts are also added. It’s served with scrumptious peanut sauce that adds a dose of unique flavour. If you avoid adding eggs or prawn crackers to your Gado Gado, you can add this traditional meal as a great option to your vegetarian palette.
Rujak is made differently across Indonesia. It’s essentially a salad composed of fruits and vegetables, made spicy with a peanut chilli sauce. Rujak in Bali is likely to have raw mango, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes. The one thing you have to watch out for is a shrimp paste, terasi, which is often cooked into Balienese food. Ask them if it includes terasi to make sure your rujak is 100% vegetarian.
This rice porridge is easily available at food stalls. Its flavour comes from being cooked with cilantro, onions, and peanuts, with crackers to add a crunch. To eat it vegetarian, clearly inform the chef that you would like it “tanpa ayam”, which is to say, without any chicken.
The taste of an island is the taste of coconuts, reminding you of blue waters and huge palm leaves drooping over hot sand. And to capture that mood in your mouth, you need to try Urab. Made from an array of fresh vegetables and topped with coconut dressing, this vegetarian dish has no catch–it’s yours for the gorging, worry-free.
6. Sayur Asem
Tamarind lends this dish its distinct sour taste, and is even somewhat responsible for its name. Sayur Asem means ‘Sour Vegetables’. This soup is completely safe for vegetarians, and is often eaten with rice.
7. Sayur Lodeh
Luckily, the Balinese version of this coconut-milk-based soup is shrimp-free, unlike how it’s made in other parts of Indonesia. This means that Sayur Lodeh is safe for vegetarians, with ingredients such as gourds, carrots, and tofu. Have it with rice.
What’s a vacation without a deep-fried, unhealthy snack? (You’re on holiday, you’re allowed to cheat.) When you’re feeling snacky, that’s when you reach for the gorengan. Gorengan are fritters, and as a vegetarian, you ought to be having Bakwan – vegetable fritters. You can have them by themselves or with rice. Also check out Bakwan Jagung, or corn fritters. You’ll also love the Pisang Goreng, made from bananas.
9. Kari Sayur
This delicious curry is completely vegetarian, and includes an assortment of vegetables like eggplants, onions, cabbage, and bell peppers. It’s cooked with galangal, coriander, lemongrass, and coconut milk. Just be vigilant and make sure that your chef doesn’t add shrimp paste to the preparation, and you’ll have a 100% vegetarian curry to be enjoyed with rice.
10. Nasi Campur
Think of this like a buffet on a plate. Nasi Campur means “mixed rice”, and you can have this rice with a selection of meat or vegetarian accompaniments. Just pick the vegetarian options, there’ll usually be enough to give you a decent choice. You can have this with sambal, a spicy red sauce, but it’s often made with terasi, so check with your chef before making the decision.
In Bali, there’s no shortage of vegetarian options, but you do have to be clear in conveying what you want and what you can’t have. Chefs and servers will accommodate you, but always remember to ask if a meal contains fish toppings, terasi, eggs, or meat before you order. Bali is a great place to expand your palette, try traditional dishes, and eat until you’re stuffed–all while maintaining a vegetarian diet.