Let me start by saying the food in Bali is delicious. Especially in places like Ubud, you will not have any problem finding good and various types of food for varying prices. Food here is CHEAP, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a really good meal. A cheap priced meal may be about 25,000/person; medium priced 50-70,000/person, high priced 100-120,000/person, and really expensive 150-200,000/person. Prices will depend on what part of Bali you are in and how touristy it is.
One problem with Bali is that the water is not clean, and I will discuss that in more detail later in the safety & disease page. This impacts the food whenever you want to eat something raw. If you want to eat, say, a raw salad, you MUST make sure that everything is washed in purified water. Any restaurant that is really nice will definitely wash their raw food in purified water, but the cheaper places probably don’t. For this reason, I recommend not eating any raw food for at least the first couple days to avoid getting Bali Belly. After this, you can start to eat raw salads in really nice restaurants, and maybe add more raw food further along the way if you have an iron-clad stomach. If you get the feeling a place may not use purified water, then just be safe and order something totally cooked. This is the rule that I used while in Bali and I never had a problem with Bali Belly.
There are a few local, Indonesian dishes that you will find pretty much everywhere. The first is nasi campur (nah-see cham-poor), which is probably the most popular Indonesian dish. You can order this regular, in other words with meat, or vegetarian. This usually includes some satay (chicken, tofu or tempe on skewers with peanut sauce), boiled egg, pork or beef (or tofu, tempe), vegetables, peanuts, and fried rice. Its sort of a mix of lots a local dishes, kind of like a sampler platter, and usually very good. Nasi Goreng (nah-see go-rang) is another dish with translates to fried rice. This is literally what it is, but usually has some vegetables and meat or tofu in it as well. Another good thing about Bali is that it is super easy to eat vegetarian here, and Gado-Gado is a traditional, vegetarian dish. This comes with rice, vegetables, tofu, peanut sauce, and boiled eggs. With all of these dishes you may also be served shrimp crackers that look like pink foamy semi-circles. I personally think they are disgusting, but a lot of people like them. Another vegetarian dish is Cap-Cay (chap-chay), which is simply rice and steamed vegetables. Places close to the coast usually offer these dishes with seafood as an option as well.
Another thing to know is that the coffee here is called “Bali Kope.” It is a powdered coffee that is simply mixed with hot water, and is usually pretty terrible. You have to mix it in with the hot water and then let the coffee settle before drinking it, and even then it doesn’t really taste like anything of quality. Of the packaged coffees, the “Good Day” brand is pretty good and you can get flavors such as vanilla and café latte in supermarkets for really cheap. Other than that, I only drink coffee in places that have espresso machines (order cappuchino or café latte), and stick to tea otherwise. Another popular drink is “lemon, ginger, honey,” which is essentially hot water with fresh cut ginger, honey, and lemongrass. It is very good as well. You can also purchase a whole young coconut for around $2, which will probably take two people to drink. Coconut water is extremely nutritious, and it tastes delicious as well.
Tipping is something that is not required in Bali. If you don’t tip, you won’t be scowled at, but also know that if you don’t that your waiter is essentially serving you for free. If I get bad service, then I definitely don’t tip, but I try to leave a couple thousand rupiah, or just round up and give that as a tip otherwise. For instance, if my bill is 67,000, Ill tell them I only need 30,000 back and to keep the rest as tip. That’s not very much, but they will be stoked on anything. I think a reasonable and generous amount is about 5% of the bill. Some places automatically add a service charge to the bill. If this is the case, then DO NOT leave a tip, it is completely unnecessary. If it’s a petty amount of small change then ill leave it, but otherwise I don’t because usually when they add this amount it is them just taking another attempt to secretly screw you for more money.
Note: Unless I am by the coast, I generally stay away from seafood in Bali. The typical fish to serve with dishes is tuna, and it is usually way overcooked and therefore dry and chewy (and usually fishy because its not fresh). The chicken is generally good quality and fresh. You will see how fresh it really is when you see the chickens running around all over. Beef is something that can be good or terrible, so probably only get it in nicer places or places that specialize in beef dishes. Pork is probably ok too, with the same rules as beef. If you are sensitive to grissle, I would recommend just sticking to tofu or tempe in your dishes. Most places have this as an option, and I have rarely gotten any tofu that is not good (its pretty hard to screw up tofu). Tempe, if you don’t know what it is, is made from soynuts, but is not totally processed like tofu is. It is a lot nuttier and creamy in texture, and is generally safe as well. The vegetable that is pretty standard here is green beans and a spinach like leaf that is cooked. You will also see a lot of onion, pepper, and tomato, but probably not much else unless you are in nicer places.
As far as types of food to eat, the Indonesian is obviously great. Other types of food that are really good are thai, pizza, American, and Chinese. Italian is generally pretty good too, but the sauces can be REALLY sugary, and they tend to just put a lot of sugar in things here. The best food is found in Ubud, hands down. In my experience the Japanese food is not very good here, and definitely isn’t the Japanese-american food that we get in the states. I just stick to restaurants that look busy and clean, and that’s a good rule of thumb to follow. Some other good dishes that are a little different than what you get in the states (or that we don’t have) is the pancakes and the jaffles. The pancakes here are more like crepes and can be eaten for breakfast or dessert, or really any time you want. The best ones are with banana and then drizzle honey on top. Jaffles are something that Bali adopted from Australia. They are two pieces of bread filled with whatever you choose and then pressed in a little iron that creates a pouch with compressed bread at the edges. Its sort of like grilled cheese, but better. You can have them for breakfast with eggs, onion tomato, etc, or any other meal with different fillings. They are also good with banana, peanut butter, and honey.