My husband and I hadn’t given much thought or research into dinner on our vacation. We’d had a full day of running around Ubud, visiting birds, meeting with a volunteer site, and checking out gift centers. When it came time to chow down, we simply pulled our our phones, typed in “fish”, and hit up yelp reviews with somewhere reasonably close to us. As we made our way out of our rain forest villa and up to the restaurant, we had forgotten we were in a tourist town, and yelp rankings weren’t sketching out the local mom and pop shops. In fact what we thought was going to be a moderate to low key dining experience was blown out of the water as well pulled up besides a huge one story poster board advertising our destination: Bale Udang.
We got off our motorcycle a bit stunned with the extravagance. Our legs carried us down a dimly lit corridor surrounded by bamboo columns and beautiful flower arrangements on water. I personally felt like I’d been transformed into a fairy tale. Dinner was obviously not going to go as planned. Somehow though, we were going to be okay with that.
As we broke out of the beautiful entrance, we were asked to choose our seating. A live guitarist was singing a mix of yesteryear hits with touches of modern favorites. I’m not sure why but every Indonesian guitarist I’ve heard in a restaurant seems to know You Were Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton. There are tables and chairs in the traditional setting. However we were able to opt for the restaraunt’s highlight experience of choosing and sitting inside our very own Bale! These are thatched roof pavilions, usually with no walls, that serve different purposes. Some bale styles are places to eat, serve as small altars, or communal spaces. The style is found all throughout Bali. Here they serve as beautiful, spacious eating quarters for you and your party.
The bales hover over a huge pond filled with tons of Koi fish. If you feel like eating with more friends, you can buy a bag of fish food and feed them off the side of your own dining area! Traditional Indonesian seating would have you sit on the floor, but as a consideration to tourists the floor under the table is actually carved out and covered in netting so that you may sit as if in a chair without the potential of falling in the lake. Notice the pronounced dark area under that table? Very clever.
We were really taken aback by the lighting and grace of the site. I wasn’t sure if the place was real, or if we’d accidentally crashed someone’s wedding. We saw several families, a few romantic dinners, and someone even had a birthday nearby. Since it is the beginning of the rainy season there aren’t as many tourists in the month of October. It was by no means quiet however. The live music kept us swinging as we waited for our food. While the place is famous for their prawn dishes, we were looking for fish and by gosh did we find it!
Indonesians do not waste food. The whole fish got a nice deep oil bath and we picked it rather clean. Our accidental stumble into this dining escapade meant our budget was much greater than we had expected. So we ordered a fish to split for two. The menu is pricey, but the money was well worth the ambiance as well as the food, and we were pretty happy with our fare. Our only regret was the sambal, or spicy paste. It was a Westernized version that included more whole pieces of traditional ingredients with sliced shallots and cabe (small hot red peppers) instead of all ground up. This is an emerging theme with our travels. Westernized dishes that serve a predominantly Western tourist base, and therefor Western tastes. C’est la vie, no? It sometimes feels like walking into Bland Land since Western dishes don’t use as many hot spices. Eating locally has really upped the spicy ante. Still, the fish was quite excellent.
One thing that I never stop enjoying on my trips to Bali is the attention to beauty, and detail. I really enjoyed the fresh, pink flower and prawn tail sculpture placed on our table.
Would you like to know an Indonesian secret? All good meals end with ChaTime. If you’re a fan of bubble tea, make sure to head to one of the thousands of branches that float across the whole globe. The chain mostly dominates the Asian markets but you can find them sprinkled lightly on the coasts of the USA. Think of it as the Indonesia’s answer to Starbucks. Sumatran coffee? No big whoop. It’s an Indonesian product after all. Bubble tea however? Now we’re talkin’! Downtown Ubud has its own branch and you can expect every major mall, outlet, and market in Indonesia will have one too. We recommend the Taro tea with pearls or their Chocolate Mousse drink.
Is it an overpriced cup of sugar? Yes. But it makes us happy and we hope it will do the same for you. So sit back, relax, and drink tea.