A week hanging around the beach in Kuta might seem like a decision to explore a bogan tourist hell. Yes there's touts, the beach is covered with crap, there are Aussies everywhere (especially from Perth), it's loud and busy and it can be as frustrating as all get up. But we like something about this end of town, it has a little more rawness and edginess than the plastic bubble encased Seminyak (or Kuta Heights as we prefer to call it). Kuta ain't for everyone, but it's got everything you need.
One of the best things about staying in Kuta is the location to food, it's not far to walk to the beach and the back streets to find something to eat. Warungs set up along the beach wall around midday, there are some near the gate just outside McDonalds at Kuta and others we found along the beach between the Pullman and Citadines hotels. They're pretty simple menus, mostly bakso, nasi campur, ayam bakar and pop mei noodles. Get in early while the food is fresh.
We grabbed some grilled chicken (ayam bakar) with tempe and rice, served with some cooling fresh cabbage leaf and green beans and a knock out chilli sauce.
Noodles and meatballs (bakso) in soup, great for the morning after the night before.
After the heat drops a little at night we get wandering around the roads leading back to the airport.
This satay stall had set up in the front of a supermarket car park, right about in the location where we had run out of puff and didn't want to walk any further.
Satay prep. There should be international rules around satay meat on the stick size, no longer than an index finger is about right.
Served with a side of lontong, a compressed rice cake that pairs so well with satay and peanut sauce and is easy to stab with the skewers and coat with leftover sauce.
There are endless small stores selling one or two specialties along the busy roads from the airport.
We decided on a day trip into Denpasar to go to Pasar Badung only to arrive to a burnt out shell and the surrounding streets bursting in a smelly end of days chaos. The market had burnt down in the first week of March, a blow to many stall holders who lost their stock and their business and to us who were looking for some good market food.
Just because the main market was closed didn't mean that trading had to finish.
The surrounding streets were filled with stalls, trucks, even just selling off the back of the ute. One thing that hadn't gone away was the market tout, one of the most annoying creatures that we have ever encountered on our travels. Shawn had the same experience last time he came, and here she (or someone very similar, there are a few of them) was again. This woman will follow you around and try and lead you to certain stalls so she gets a commission, pointing out the most obvious things as great insights ("see these, they are bananas!" "we call this 'food'"). She cannot be shaken off, persistence is her game and man, it sorely tested us.
We found one lone seller (all by ourself!) with all the magical bits we were after.
This was her cart first thing in the morning, jam packed with goodness.
It was mainly the Balinese style vegetables and salads we were after, green beans in coconut, with sides of shredded chicken, ikan bilis, fried tempe and a knockout sambal of fresh chilli and lightly pickled red beard style shallots which was mouth magical.
Our tout waited for us to finish and we slipped out a side gate to get away. Only to find another entrance to the back of the markets where we wandered a while longer.
This part of the market was wet, stinky and incredibly busy. Most of it seemed temporary, an organic growth formed from the loss of the main three story building.
Around the back of the Pasar Kumbasari, up a side street leading to Jalan Gajah Mada, were some strange and excellent stencils and street art. We're really not sure what this one is about but we love it, Boba Fett lounging around with his pussycat?
Before heading back to our hotel and some extreme relaxing, we needed to get in a few extra snacks. The sweet selections in this small store has us a little giddy.
The small brown squares wrapped in banana leaf are small brown sugar cakes, the pick of the lot. Other delights were sticky rice and pandan, plain eggy sponge cake and a slice of what looked like murtabak. We ate these with a quick local black coffee sitting on the street.
Across from the markets is another street selling even more things, leading up to a temple.
One last snack before heading back.
Bubur kacang for 5000rp is a magical, sweetly peanutty soup. Such tiny little peanuts, what genius thought of making a sweet peanut soup.
More paste ups, back street art.
Art by Quint.
At the end of Poppies Gang I is a big sign for Masakan Padang (Padang Cuisine). While we're not in Sumatra, there's still some good looking Indo food piled up in the window Padang style.
Eating at a one of these places involves pointing to what you'd like a serve of and you get charged for how many different dishes you eat, either veg or meat priced accordingly. The hardest part is narrowing it down to just a few selections.
Our choices finally get narrowed down to tempe, rendang, chilli fried fish and slow cooked green vegetables with an extra little fish patty.
Selection two goes a bit more veg with jackfruit curry, stuffed eggplants and a piece of grilled chicken. Sauce is poured over the rice for extra flavour and add oomph to the mix, sambal on the side for more heat intensity.
Each morning we walk off the food from the day before. We start to notice the same locals running up and down the beach every day as well. This gang becomes a particular favourite, especially the little terrier running a few yards behind the rest. He gets declared 'Dog of the Holiday'.
From the walk up the beach we head into some back streets up around Kuta Heights. There's so many of the same old shops as back around Poppies, you almost don't notice them after a while.
Outside a primary school this drink seller takes up camp, ready to whip up a hot three-in-one coffee or a super sweet ice drink for the kids and the not so little kids.
We are slowly walking the back streets back from the beach and spy this warung around Legian way.
It's located inside a small community compound and serves up a selection of ready made dishes nasi campur style.
I don't think there's ever been a time we haven't passed up tempe in a selection, one or the other always gets it. The deep fried the better.
There's more vegetable selections here as well, jackfruit seems to be the most common veg/fruit made into curries. You can't go wrong with a good old egg and a pillowy soft cube of tofu either. And satay. And chilli!
We sneak in a second breakfast/early lunch at a nearby to home babi guling stall. Where Antika Hotel used to be is now Lawon Shopping Centre, a small group of stores just getting started. Malabar Warung, a short lived Indian eatery has been replaced with Warung Babi Guling Men Gede. They haven't even bothered to paint over the graffitti on the walls extolling the wonders of the previous owners Indian food.
The serve of pork is good, with lots of extra porky inner bits served with it. A generous piece of crisp pigs skin is layered on top.
What usually gets us the most excited is the veg and salad sides, there is a way to our hearts and that's a good Balinese vegetable dish. They're often fragrant and subtle in their spice, sometimes lightly pickled or cooked in coconut milk. The sides here are a slow cooked greens and a knock out chilli sambal on the side.
In the evening we wander up past Bemo corner and up to the road that heads out to the aiport, Jalan Raya Kuta. This stretch of road is so close to the tourist heart of Kuta, we find ourselves wondering why there aren't a few more tourists eating along here, we can count them on one hand including us.
Jl Raya Kuta seems to offer some of the best value dishes in the area, from bubur ayam just at the end as the road bends at the Chinese temple up further past JL Benisari with bus load sized ayam penyet eateries.
We guess that some folk come to Bali to eat Jamie's Italian or Tony Romas, maybe some Asian food in a prettied up place with a western chef 'inspired' by the local markets and produce, perhaps even some tapas at Movida if you feel a little splashy, but never on a rickety plastic chair along a busy main road. We watched this invisible barrier in place just near the supermarket at the start of the road, people just walked by seemingly oblivious to what was around them until they made it somewhere around Legian and 'safety'.
C'mon, what's not to like about eating at a place like this?
We pick this stall mainly on the strength of its greens in the window.
We are itching for some lawar, the kind of half cooked 'salads' found in Bali. This place has a few different styles served with crispy bits of fish and some meat.
Across the road is a soup stall selling a style we hadn't tried before.
New dish for us, soto cecek, chicken feet soup. Loads of good chicken meat, slightly roasted and pulled apart off the legs, with boiled egg and tomato. Add soy, chilli and a shot of lime to taste.
This man makes a chicken feet soup we'd gladly travel back to Bali for.
Street food sellers come in all shapes and sizes, with different ways of getting their goods around and setting up shop. They often need to clear out in a hurry as well in case they're selling in the wrong place, or move on to another location to get some more sales. Sometimes they're around, sometimes they're not. They need to have everything ready on them, including water and emergency peanut snacks.
This guy just pulls up right beside the 'stall' and gets some breakfast.
We grab two packets to go and eat on the beach.
This folks is nasi jinggo or jenggo, a street food classic comprising a fist of rice, some noodles, chicken and egg and a good dollop of spicy sambal. Its bought in little packets all over the island and doesn't cost much. A small serve it makes a first breakfast, pre lunch or inbetween snack.
We find this guy selling some different sort of snackage.
Lots of fried morsels, especially tempe, served with small 'I can't feel my tongue' bitey chillis.
Competition for Army of Nerds from this back of a bike book shop. Could be a future business model when internet selling goes bung.
The beach back roads can be a hazardous place for tiny little puppies.
We had to assist this little one get across the road, with a little cuddle along the way just to be sure. How he didn't get slipped into our back pack and brought home I'll never know.
Next to the Babi Guling store is a no name nasi campur place that also does a mean fruit shake.
They served a lot of different fish pieces in their nasi campur, we thought most of the food was Javanese in style, not surprising when so many of the workers in the area come from the bigger main island.
Brilliant purple from a dragon fruit shake, it seems slightly unreal in colour.
Another version of nasi jinggo, it's really Balinese fast food, a portable snack wrapped in a banana leaf and held together with a wooden skewer.
Another soup first was soto babat (tripe) soup. The soup was quite salty but the chunks of tripe more than made up for it.
Trippin' on tripe.
And so the day ends yet again with a beer on the beach before dinner. The construction on the side was for a Balinese festival where hundreds of small offerings were left behind for the sea to take up.
We adventure further up Jl Raya Kuta to seek out Nasi Bebek Warung Bu Rima, specialists in bebek goreng.
It's the thing here. Or fried chicken. Or fried catfish. Just fried.
The duck is deeply fried, the duck bones are crisp and chompy and the skin is good and crackly while the flesh is tender. About 50 rph for a serve.
Duck close up, there's a spoonful of a curry sauce on top, a spicy sambal on the side and a bed of fresh cabbage, cucumber and greens below, served with rice.
We shared one serve of the very over the top duck and headed a little further up the road to have ayam penyet. You can't miss these huge barn like restaurants. They could fit a bus load of tourists inside, and they probably do.
We're happy to see big pictures with prices to make it easy to order.
Just like the sign suggests, we get an ayam penyet (chicken that is fried then 'smashed') and an ayam bakar, grilled chicken.
The chilli sambal is smokey and has an angry mule kick to it, the chicken is grilled to black crisp edged glory. The ayam penyet piece is moist and meaty, a big serve with all the tempe, tofu and eggplant sides.
The next day more mobile food gladness greets us as we step outside into Poppies Lane I.
This time it is small bundles of ready to eat meals, each served wrapped in a clear plastic bag. You pick a few of these, including a bundle of cooked rice wrapped in waxed brown paper, and take them home to eat.
We'll take just one more.
Our lunch haul.
Our travel melamine plate comes into its own when we find this sort of food. A travel spork helps as well. Our feast included ikan bilis, a soft wet beef stew, tofu and a chciken curry, sprinkled with tiny peanuts coated in flour and deep fried.
Then a swim. This is the view from our balcony at Kuta Puri Bungalows. This place was incredibly quiet considering the location along Poppies Gang I, right at the end close to the beach. We were central to all the food, avoided where we didn't need to go and could hole up and get away from it all when the heat came up.
Our night crawling took us back up to Jl Raya Kuta to the bubur ayam stall right at the start next to the temple.
Bubur ayam is our new favourite Indo dish. a bowl of very soft rice porridge with enough starch to hold it together, like reduced congee or mochi. Into the bowl goes a ladle of rich chicken soup, topped with chicken bits and peanuts. Order some chicken skin skewers for extra joy. 10rp a bowl, comfort food peak.
We were also intrigued by this Indo Chinese joint, 'Chinese comfort food'.
Mr Tie-dye was the server while the other fella did all the cooking in the small kitchen.
The menu was short and we focused on the lamb dishes. Lamb noodle soup, a more unusual soup dish than we had found elsewhere. The broth was homestyle, a little cloudy and less refined.
Special nasi goreng kambing (lamb) fried rice. A dark and dirty fry up with a side order of pickled veggies and crackers. Although it was Chinese, there was still those little Indo food touches.
Lunch the next day wasn't far from base, the small cluster of shops in the Lawon Centre had another place we wanted to try out, Nasi Pedas Bu Anik. It was closed on and off on the days we were staying nearby, and this day we got lucky.
We had a straight up nasi campur here, tempe, green kangkong cooked in garlic and chilli and a coconut curried piece of chicken. Tucked underneath there are bamboo sticks with the ends covered in minced meat, like small rissoles.
While the small centre was developing there wasn't much to the decor here, it was something like a street stall just sheltering inside a shop front.
Later in the evening we went on a bigger walk away from the main beach area to a spot we spied from the cab on the way to Denpasar.
The Dewi Sri Food Centre looks like a truckstop, each of the restaurants are housed in a large car park with ceilings high enough to park a big rig. It's on Jl Raya Kuta, but out toward the Legian end.
Many of the stores had no visible name besides 'Indonesian Food' or 'Chinese Food', we chose one that looked like it had some different options, some fish and some chilli heat.
A simple bit of fish in broth. Looks brown, don't it. Looks boring, don't it. This little soup deceived both of us with a really deep flavour. We didn't quite get to try their best looking dishes which were sold out, but this was a good second.
Grilled 'firm white fish' as they would call it in a cookbook, possibly mackerel. Chilli packed dollop of sauce on the side, with more on the table to serve and shave off some taste buds.
Our ice kacang with coconut was served at the same time as the meal so we tried to eat everything else before it melted.
Our favourite veg standby, kangkong with chilli and a nice simple sauce. Can't ever go wrong.
This place was pumping with live music and a happy crowd as we left. There's always another place you have to come back for.
Finally we have one last morning before we head out. It's back for another shot at the bubur ayam stall on Jl Raya Kuta (Kuta end).
Here's the goods. As filling and comforting as the best porridge/congee you've ever tried. Fish ball sticks a bonus.
We were lucky to get a seat, the place was packed mid morning.
The markets were clearing up as we rolled off up the street, get up here earlier in the morning for the morning market groove.
Wandering down some back lanes between Jl Raya Kuta and Jl Blambangan Shawn's uncanny nose for sweeties was twitchin' strong.
First small shop we came across sold these crisp peanut and sugar sweets, almost like wafers solidly embedded with nuts.
Next up were these milk pies, you could stock up by the boxload. We scored a box for the plane trip home.
Taste tested before the flight, of course.
Wandering and rain don't make a good mix, we started to head back towards home and some final beach beers.
The rain didn't deter this temple cat.
We did find a real gem on the way back, Warung Nikmat. It's well known as a great Padang resto and we were so happy to come across it. Only problem was we were slightly full from the bubur ayam which has a habit of setting like concrete in your stomach.
Warung Nikmat had one of the most stupendous arrays of dishes, this shot shows only half of the glass front with two tiers of selections.
So many meat dishes to choose from, curried, chillied, satayed, braised and boiled. Fish fried and piled high, so many different styles and flavours.
We shared one plate of fish, boiled egg, squid, super crunchy tempe and a token spoonful of green veg leaves. These places aren't the most vegetable friendly, it is a festival of meats.
Flat price for the meal, pay at the counter when you're done.
We'll be back for more than one meal here next time.
So the rest of a lazy afternoon was spent with countless others drinking Bintang and dodging the massage ladies, sarong sellers, toe manglers and random wooden bowl / sunglasses / cross bow sellers. One last sunset beer or five.
Yep, these are the faces you'll mostly find in Kuta (and they look a lot like we do), especially if you stick around close to the hotels and Jl Legian. We won't pretend we stayed in some exotic section of Bali full of locals and authentic food.
Walking is hell in the heat along the lane ways, trying to dodge the pleas to buy from the sellers, the plaintive calls for massage and the pushy bikes is hard enough, but throw in huge 4WDs and SUVs barging through and the experience is far from pleasant. These are things that can grind you down in Kuta and possibly make your holiday less pleasant than you expected. These are things that might make you never, ever visit.
But we do love it here for our own strange reasons. We met people who had been coming here for thirty years, one fellow on the beach had just retired as an electrical engineer and was living up whatever trips he had left. Others were still getting out on motorcycles and doing things they probably wouldn't let their children do. We all have our reasons to be in Bali, and we all know we will be back.