On the road in…Indonesia (Bali)!

I’ve been to Bali numerous times in my life. I surf. I scuba dive. And Bali’s cheap. Not much else to say!

As a kid, I went with my family. I ate pretty much anything back then, except for dairy. As an adult, I went and also ate pretty much anything except for dairy and pork. I’d had food poisoning from it too many times, so I started this “I’m not eating pork” thing. Then I went again a couple of times after I’d been diagnosed as gluten intolerant (which apparently I had been all along, it was just undiagnosed). And again once more after I went vegan.

I’ll comment here on the times I went as a gluten free and vegan traveller.

I always travel to Bali on Garuda Indonesia. I know other airlines fly the route, but I have pure unadulterated loathing for low cost carriers. I’m spoiled in that regard. After one truly epic fail on Jetstar many years ago, I flat out refuse to fly low cost carriers unless there is literally no other option. And since Garuda Indonesia flies to Bali from Australia, and is not a low cost carrier, it’s my airline of choice. Unfortunately, the vegan meal option on Garuda Indonesia always seems to be full of gluten. Which sucks, but it’s just the way things are. After a couple of trips to Indonesia, I figured out that the best option for me is to order the “raw vegetable meal” or the “fruit platter” rather than the vegan meal. Since the flights from Australia to Bali are relatively short, I can deal with not having a substantial meal on the plane. The reality is that I can always eat at the airport before I board or I can tuck into my ever-present stash of rice cakes and Vegemite that I keep in my backpack on overseas trips.

The food in Bali itself is very hit and miss. Unfortunately Bali is pretty much the land of “yes men”. People will lie to your face. With a smile. Always with a smile!

Vegetarian food in Bali is incredibly easy to find. The problem for vegans is that often it contains egg.

I have honestly lost count of the number of times I was told “yes, yes, we can get you gluten free/vegan meal!”. It never usually eventuated. I’d generally get served something with pork. It’s always easy enough to pick up on the non-vegan food. It’s a little more difficult with the gluten free food though, because you can never tell what’s gone in to the sauces (Balinese food is all about the sauces). The restaurant and hotel staff all understand what gluten free means, there’s enough tourists that pass through the place, but here’s an example of what happens…

Me: Do you have anything that is gluten free and vegan?
Waiter: Yes! Yes! We can make you vegetable meal that is gluten free and vegan!
Me: Are you sure the sauce is gluten free and has no dairy?
Waiter: Sure! Yes! No wheat or gluten and no dairy.
Me: Ok, if the food comes and I can’t eat it, I’m not paying for it.
Waiter: I understand! No animal. No wheat.
(waiter goes to kitchen)
Cook: …But the sauce contains wheat?
Waiter: She’ll never know.
(waiter brings out vegan dish with random sauce)

Now before you accuse me of making this up, I’m not. This actually happened at a resort I was staying at on a dive trip to Tulamben. Because I’d overheard the conversation, I didn’t actually eat it – in this case. But this has happened to me so many times in Bali. I get told to my face that they can make me a gluten free and vegan meal and they can’t. I have been sick more times in Bali from inadvertently eating gluten than anywhere else in the world. If the places I stayed at had their own kitchen or something, I’d simply give up on eating out and just cook for myself. Which is the ultimate shame, because I love Indonesian food. But not at the expense of my health. When I go to Bali, I want to go surfing. I want to go diving. I want to go climbing volcanoes. I do not want to be stuck in a bathroom for days on end being sick.

Now before I go writing off the whole island as being dodgy…It’s not. Some areas are better at catering to dietary restrictions than others. For example, in my experience, Ubud (in the middle of the island) is better providing vegan and gluten free food. As are the restaurants at the 5* resorts in Nusa Dua. I hate the idea of going all the way to Indonesia and eating out at the Four Seasons rather than some local hole-in-the-wall, but at least they serve me what I’ve ordered.

I can always just eat fruit in Bali – I know that. There’s tons and tons of fresh fruit in Bali, and it’s cheap. But one of the main reasons to go to Bali is to eat Indonesian food. And I try. It’s just that I always fail at some point.

I love Bali, I really do. It’s beautiful, the surf is awesome, the diving is still pretty good during mola mola season, and the people are lovely. However it’s the one place that has really reiterated to me the dangers of having to take people at their word when eating out when you have food allergies or intolerances.

“Vegan” Nasi Goreng…What’s that on top?

Vegan and gluten free Gado Gado…Vegan? Sure. Gluten free? My stomach disagrees!


5 thoughts on “On the road in…Indonesia (Bali)!

  1. Pingback: On the road in…Indonesia (Sulawesi)! | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

  2. Pingback: On the road in…Indonesia (Raja Ampat)! | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

    • Oh, it is! It’s basically just sliced vegetables and tofu (usually comes with a sliced boiled egg as well) with a spicy peanut dipping sauce. The problem for me is that the sauce normally contains kecap manis, which is a sweet Indonesian soy sauce – full of gluten. Otherwise it’s a fantastic vegan meal!

  3. Pingback: Why food allergy fakers need to stop | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

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